While NFL Honors is mostly about celebrating the league’s top stars, the crowd at this year’s event saved some of its biggest applause for the heroes who too often go unrecognized.
The medical and athletic training staff of the Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals and some of the staff from the University of Cincinnati Medical Center that saved Bills safety Damar Hamlin’s life were recognized on stage Thursday night at Symphony Hall in Phoenix.
Hamlin then joined them on stage and received an ovation of his own.
“Every day I am amazed that my experiences could encourage so many others across the country and even across the world,” Hamlin said. “Encourage to pray, encourage to spread love, and encourage to keep fighting no matter the circumstances. Sudden cardiac arrest was nothing I would have ever chosen to be a part of my story, but that’s because sometimes our own visions are too small even when we think we are seeing the bigger picture.
“My vision was about playing in the NFL and being the best player that I could be, but God’s plan was to have a purpose greater than any game in this world.”
Hamlin collapsed on the field and suffered cardiac arrest during the first quarter of the Buffalo Bills’ Week 17 game at the Bengals on Jan. 2. The game was postponed and ultimately cancelled.
Bills assistant athletic trainer Denny Kellington, who received a fifth-place vote for the NFL’s MVP award from ESPN’s Suzy Kolber, performed life-saving CPR on Hamlin. The people brought on stage Thursday night represented a portion of the medical personnel, first responders and more who played a role in saving Hamlin’s life. Hamlin thanked everyone on stage with him and all those who supported him, adding, “The journey will continue.”
Hamlin stayed at UC Medical Center for almost a week after the medical emergency. He then flew back to Buffalo, New York, and spent about two days at Buffalo General Medical Center/Gates Vascular Institute, before being discharged Jan. 11.
During his speech Thursday night, Hamlin shared that he met an ICU doctor on his third night awake at UC Medical Center. The doctor shared that he had a similar experience and showed Hamlin that he was now OK.
“There was so much uncertainty at the time, and just him coming to me, showing that I could live a normal life again, it meant so much to me in the moment,” Hamlin said.
He then went on to thank the doctor and everyone else on the stage with him, as well as those who prayed and hoped for him.
Hamlin was recognized at NFL Honors a day after receiving the NFLPA’s most prestigious award, the Alan Page Community Award. His parents, Mario and Nina, were alongside him to receive the award from the NFLPA.
Hamlin’s Chasing M’s Foundation raised more than $9 million in the days after he went to the hospital, with the money largely going through GoFundMe for a toy drive that had an initial goal of $2,500. Giving back to kids and the community in his hometown of McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania, just outside of Pittsburgh, has been one of Hamlin’s priorities.
“My entire life I felt like God was using me to give others hope and now with a new set of circumstances, I can only say he was doing what he’s always done,” Hamlin said. “I have a long journey ahead, a journey full of unknowns and a journey full of milestones, but it’s a lot easier to face your fears when you know your purpose.”