During Monday night’s National Football League (NFL) showdown between the Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals, Jaquan Johnson stared in disbelief as a typical tackle by teammate Damar Hamlin went all wrong and caught the world off guard.
The former Miami Hurricanes standout defensive back gathered with stunned team members as they watched team doctors and paramedics try to revive Hamlin, who stood for a few seconds before collapsing to the ground.
“I thought he just had a stinger,” Johnson said. “Maybe he hit his shoulder a certain way that made it go numb or something like that; that’s normal football. But obviously that wasn’t the case. He stayed down and guys didn’t know what was going on at that point.”
Johnson, also a safety with the Bills, said one of the team’s trainers told players to go on the field and cover Hamlin so no one would see what was going on.
“I couldn’t, I couldn’t look. I couldn’t really look,” said Johnson, 27, adding that paramedics began using a defibrillator. “That’s when I started like freaking out because I’m like, OK, you have to shock him, that means his heart isn’t beating, and that’s when emotions took over.”
Hamlin, 24, who had suffered a cardiac arrest following the tackle, is showing improvement at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, according to the Buffalo Bills and Hamlin’s doctors. On Thursday, Hamlin began communicating with doctors and family by nodding and writing.
The first question he wrote to doctors: “Who won the game?”
They responded: “You won; you won the game of life.”
On Friday, Hamlin’s breathing tube was removed, and he has been able to talk to family and healthcare providers. Hamlin even participated in the team meeting, via FaceTime, telling his team that he loved them.
The NFL announced that the Bills-Bengals game, which was postponed following Hamlin’s collapse, will not be resumed. However, the Bills, who began practicing on Wednesday, will resume play on Sunday against the New England Patriots.
The NFL has plans to recognize Hamlin for Week 18 play. Players will have the option to wear pregame shirts that read “Love for Damar 3.” The Bills will have embroidered hats and jersey patches with the No. 3.
Johnson and Hamlin, both safeties for the Bills, have a good relationship on and off the field, Johnson said. Johnson was drafted in 2019 and Hamlin in 2021.
“I’ll say we are close,” said Johnson, who helped Hamlin learn the playbook during his rookie year. “I say we got close like that — me communicating with him on a work level and then outside of the facility. We just started hanging out, doing DB dinners, me going over his house and him coming over mine, just watching film and watching games.”
Johnson, who played for UM from 2015-2018, said he is grateful for what he learned with the ‘Canes. Manny Diaz, then defensive coordinator, referred to Johnson in 2017 as “the heart and soul of the Hurricanes’ defense.”
“Once I came in, it was just the mentality of attacking, and that’s what I did at UM, and it trickled over to the NFL. So, I love UM,” Johnson said.
Other former ‘Canes on the Bills’ roster include defensive end Gregory Rousseau and running back Duke Johnson, who were unavailable for comment for this article.
While Hamlin’s health seems to be improving, Johnson says prayers are still needed.
“He’s still fighting an uphill battle,” Johnson said. “Even after he gets off the ventilator, breathing on his own, he’s still going to have to deal with things. We appreciate everything that everyone’s saying and doing for Damar. Just pray for him every night, and I’ll be doing the same.”
CommunityWire.Miami is a news service staffed by graduate students at the School of Communication at the University of Miami.