As he sat at the podium reflecting on his first regular-season game since suffering cardiac arrest on the field in January, Damar Hamlin wouldn’t stop without paying homage to Tre’Davious White.
Hamlin, the Buffalo Bills safety, achieved another milestone during the romp against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday by playing 18 snaps on special teams in his first real game since the chilling episode in Cincinnati. Yet he also encountered another cruel reminder about the perils of football.
White, a former All-Pro cornerback, suffered what was confirmed Monday to be a torn right Achilles tendon near the end of the third quarter. And the injury, another non-contact case sustained on artificial turf, put quite the damper on Buffalo’s big victory. White, who returned last year from a torn ACL, left the field at Highmark Stadium visibly upset, his head wrapped in a towel as he rode away on the back of a cart.
“In Cincinnati, I was in the hospital watching T-White speak at this same podium, speaking so highly of me,” Hamlin said. “You know, I watched him come into the building every day and work his ass off. He’s probably the hardest worker on the team.
“Being a young player, they always tell you, ‘Find some older guys to find yourself through. By their routine. By the way they carry themselves. By just who they are.’ “
White, a seventh-year vet, has surely been one of those models for Hamlin, 24, in his third NFL season. Yet hearing the reaction to the injury from several Bills, including coach Sean McDermott, underscored the respect that White has earned within team.
Quarterback Josh Allen said, “It breaks my heart.”
White, a first-rounder from LSU in 2017, was McDermott’s first draft pick with the Bills.
“Yeah, he’s been through a lot,” McDermott said during his postgame news conference. “Sometimes you wonder why things like that happen twice to someone.”
Safety Micah Hyde was excited that White seemed to progress back to the level he established before tearing his ACL, which earned him first-team All-Pro honors in 2019 and two Pro Bowl selections.
“And to see that happen,” Hyde said of the latest injury, “it was sad.”
Hyde couldn’t ignore the connection from a human perspective.
“A ton of highs, a ton of lows,” he said.
Hyde wasn’t talking about the game. He was referring to the real men who play the game, who sacrifice their bodies and, regardless of the pay, are never certain how long their careers will be. He said he was extremely proud that Hamlin made it back, having witnessed the stages of his return that included rehabbing from his medical condition, being cleared to play again, engaging in contact during training camp and playing in preseason.
“That’s my brother right there,” Hyde said. “I love him to death. And then another brother went down today, Obviously, wins and losses are a part of the game, but seeing one of your boys go down like that is always tough.”
Of course, Hamlin’s experience was nothing like typical setbacks that occur on the field. He collapsed and his heart stopped beating after he made a routine tackle during a much-anticipated Monday night game against the Bengals on Jan. 2. He was resuscitated by first responders on the field before being transported to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.
To play again, nearly nine months later, was always part of the plan for Hamlin, who decided early during his recovery and rehab that he wanted to continue with his football career.
After playing in the three preseason games (in which he registered nine tackles), Hamlin was inactive during Buffalo’s first three regular-season games. He was earmarked for the 53-man game day roster after it became evident that safety Jordan Poyer would sit out the game due to a knee injury suffered the previous Sunday at Washington. Hamlin didn’t play any snaps on defense, but was on the field for 64% of the special teams plays.
“I knew it would come some day,” said Hamlin, a Pitt product who entered the league as a sixth-round pick for Buffalo. “It was just all about staying ready, just being ready to do my part. That’s been my goal ever since I became a Bill.”
Hamlin said the energy that he received from fans at Highmark Stadium was “amazing,” much like the positive vibes he has received from family, teammates and many others since his medical emergency became an unexpected unifying force across the nation.
On Sunday, he received a hero’s welcome as fans roared when he was the last player out of the tunnel for pregame warmups. He the length of the field with outstretched arms, soaking in the love.
“That moment meant everything to me,” he said. “I thought it was more about proving something to myself than anything else. Just showing myself that I have the courage, I’ve got the strength, I’ve got the pride, everything, all those words, in me to be able to go through something and come back from it.”
He certainly won’t take it for granted.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Tre'Davious White injury is another cruel reminder for Buffalo Bills