Sean McDermott gives personal account of how he experienced Damar Hamlin injury

    Orchard Park, N.Y. — Josh Allen’s head fell, his shoulders slumped, and after a few moments, he reached his left hand underneath the brim of his blue Buffalo Bills hat to wipe away some tears.

    Allen was at a table inside the Bills’ stadium media room sitting next to coach Sean McDermott, who was holding back tears of his own. He paused several times, cleared his throat, and bit his lower lip while trying to get the words out.

    McDermott doesn’t spend a whole lot of time on social media, but when Allen texted him a post from earlier in the day about the moment Damar Hamlin’s mother, Nina, told her son about how the world rallied around him while he was sleeping, he was overwhelmed with emotion.

    “It’s amazing to me to know the impact (sniffles) that this has had on so many people,” McDermott said. “And for now, Damar to be awake and his mom to be able to share that with him is incredible (tears up).”

    Hamlin woke up on Wednesday night about 48 hours after his heart stopped on the field at Paycor Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Monday Night Football game was still in the first quarter when Hamlin collided with Bengals receiver Tee Higgins. The trauma specialists who treated Hamlin said on Thursday during a conference media call that he made substantial improvement over the previous 24 hours.

    McDermott and Allen spoke to the media at Highmark Stadium for nearly 40 minutes on Thursday night, providing the Bills’ perspective on the traumatic series of events. When Hamlin went down, the Buffalo coach had a lot on his plate. One of his young players was seriously injured and the rest of his team were horrified onlookers, and most were crying.

    Bengals coach Zac Taylor revealed on Wednesday that the first thing McDermott said when the two were deciding what to do about the game was that he needed to be with Hamlin and that he couldn’t coach. Thinking back to the night three days later, McDermott said it’s hard to remember everything.

    “It unfolded so quickly,” he said. “and things have happened so quickly since that point in time with balancing everything that we’re balancing. … after Damar got loaded into the ambulance, I remember thinking to myself, ‘We’re going to need some time.’”

    As McDermott attended to his players and communicated with the league and its officials, he made a quick stop over to Leslie Frazier. The 63-year-old defensive coordinator provided McDermott with an open ear and the two shared a conversation. McDermott couldn’t recall what was said, but he said it helped him.

    “I went back to (referee) Shawn (Smith) and said ‘I don’t feel good about this’ or something to that effect. And then Zac comes over,” McDermott said. “The league helped in this way as well as saying, ‘Hey, it’s OK to go back in your locker rooms.’”

    Once the teams retired to their locker rooms, the Bills congregated outside of their room for a few minutes. The players were speaking with each other and trying to regain composure after the difficult moments out on the field when their teammate and brother was hauled off to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center. A few minutes later, McDermott brought the entire team into the locker room, stood in front of his players, and asked them a question.

    “I wanted to give them the option to go back out there if they wanted to,” he said. “And led by Josh and a couple of the other captains they decided not to go back out there.”

    The game was postponed at 10:01 p.m. The NFL officially canceled the game on Thursday and is set to vote on a proposal agreed upon by the competition committee that’ll change the dynamics of the playoffs (read more on that here).

    In the moments of chaos that transpired in the 66 minutes from when Hamlin went down until the game was called off, McDermott leaned on Taylor.

    “It was amazing how compassionate Zac was, and his players,” McDermott said. “Their captains came down to our locker room and met with our team and captains and just an amazing show of compassion, empathy, love. It’s just so amazing because minutes before that, we were going at each other and so my hat goes off to Zac and the Bengals.”

    McDermott tried to shift the focus off of himself on Thursday. He wanted it placed on Hamlin when he was asked about how he managed his players’ intense emotional reaction to the injury.

    “This is not about me, this is about Damar and his family,” he said. “I really feel like I did what anybody else would have done. And so when you’re in those situations, you just react.”

    Hamlin woke up in part because of the heroics of Bills assistant athletic trainer Denny Kellington. The former Syracuse trainer administered life-saving CPR and assisted in defibrillation to jumpstart Hamlin’s heart on the field.

    Watching Kellington and the team help save Hamlin’s life, McDermott called it amazing.

    “For an assistant to find himself at that position and needing to take the action that he did and step up and take charge like he did,” McDermott said. “and there were others on the field as well, is nothing short of amazing. And the courage that that took, you talk about a real leader, a real hero and saving Damar’s life (sniffles). Just admire his strength.”

    Bills center Mitch Morse watched as McDermott led in the most difficult crisis a football coach can face. He didn’t learn anything he didn’t know about his football coach. He just continued to be the right man for the head job.

    “When it comes to player safety, our personal lives, he’s been unwavering in this,” Morse said. “This is kind of the most paramount time, doubled down on the fact he’s a human being. … When the stakes were at its highest, not only for football but for the young man’s life, that there was no thought about football, rather just the welfare of his team, and of course Damar.”


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