NFL-Bills’ Damar Hamlin plays in first game since January cardiac arrest

(Reuters) -Damar Hamlin competed in the Buffalo Bills’ preseason opener on Saturday, marking the safety’s first taste of competitive action since he suffered a cardiac arrest during an NFL game in early January.

After Buffalo scored a touchdown early in the first quarter of their home game versus the Indianapolis Colts, Hamlin came on the field to join the kickoff team and later played on defense where he made an immediate impact.

“It was fun, it was super fun,” Hamlin, who was credited with three solo tackles in the Bills’ 23-19 victory, told reporters. “It was a great experience you know what I’m saying? Just another milestone and the step of getting back to myself as far as in the football space and the NFL.”

On his second defensive snap, Hamlin was credited with a solo tackle of running back Evan Hull for no gain, denying the Colts from converting a fourth-and-one at the Bill’s 40-yard line.

The 25-year-old Hamlin then made tackles on two consecutive plays during the Bills’ next defensive series and later said he felt no reservations while on the field.

“When you step in between them lines, you are putting yourself at risk by hesitating and by reserving yourself,” said Hamlin. “I made the choice that I wanted to play. It wasn’t nobody else’s choice but mine. So making that choice, I know what comes with it.

“When you see my cleats laced up and my helmet and shoulder pads on, there ain’t going to be no hesitation. You can’t play this game like that,” he said.

“When I’m out there, I’m just not thinking twice, I’m just playing my game and playing how I was taught to play since I was my little brother’s age.”

Prior to the game, the NFL posted on social media saying “Welcome back, @HamlinIsland” along with a video that showed Hamlin arriving at the team’s stadium and flashing a heart-shaped gesture with his hands.

“What we just witnessed to me is remarkable, it really is,” said Bills head coach Sean McDermott. “It’s a true sign of a young man’s courage and obviously everyone that helped him get to this point.”

Hamlin collapsed during a Jan. 2 game against the Cincinnati Bengals moments after making a tackle and was resuscitated on the field, all in front of a packed stadium and national television audience.

He was discharged from hospital nine days after his cardiac arrest, and his remarkable recovery captivated the sporting world.

(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Hugh Lawson)