Damar Hamlin: Injured player cheers as Bills return opening kickoff for TD

BUFFALO, N.Y. — This was storybook.

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Moments after the Buffalo Bills honored injured teammate Damar Hamlin with an emotional ceremony before Sunday’s NFL game, Nyheim Hines returned the opening kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown.

That led to an emotional tweet by the 24-year-old safety, who went into cardiac arrest after he tackled Cincinnati’s Tee Higgins on Monday night.

And for good measure, Hines returned another kickoff 101 yards for a score in the Bills’ 35-23 victory against the New England Patriots.

Talk about numbers. The Bills said in a tweet that it the 96-yard return was the team’s first kickoff run back for a score in three years and three months. Hamlin wears No. 3. It was also the first time under Bill Belichick that the Patriots have allowed a kick return touchdown on the opening kickoff, ESPN reported.

Hines had caught the opening kickoff and ran straight up the field before heading to the right sideline. He motored past the New England kickoff coverage team and sprinted unmolested into the end zone.

Hines completed the long run by dropping the ball with his hands outstretched before leaping into the stands, ESPN reported.

“CHILLS,” the Bills tweeted.

Hamlin said on his official Instagram account Sunday afternoon that wanted to be on the field with his teammates, who were playing their regular-season finale against the New England Patriots.

“It’s GameDay & there’s nothing I want more than to be running out that tunnel with my brothers,” Hamlin wrote. “God using me in a different way today! Tell someone you love them today! #prayfor3.”

Before the game, the Bills honored those who saved Hamlin’s life by naming all the team’s medical personnel and training staff, WGRZ-TV reported.

Some Bills players ran onto the field before the game with “3″ and “Pray for Damar” flags before gathering in circle at midfield, according to the television station.

Hamlin posted for the first time on his social media accounts on Saturday, thanking fans and players for their support. He also posted a photo from his hospital bed on Sunday.

“When you put real love out into the world it comes back to you 3x’s as much,” the 24-year-old player wrote Saturday on Instagram. “The love has been overwhelming, but I’m thankful for every single person that prayed for me and reached out. We brung the world back together behind this.

“If you know me, you know this only gone make me stronger. On a long road -- keep praying for me!”

Hamlin, playing in his second season with the Bills, tackled Higgins with 5:58 left in the first quarter of a key game between two of the AFC’s best teams, The Buffalo News reported. Hamlin stood up but immediately collapsed to the turf. The Bills said that Hamlin went into cardiac arrest.

Hamlin spoke with his teammates during a Zoom call on Friday during the Bills’ team meeting, according to ESPN. He told his teammates, “Love ya boys,” made a heart with his hands and gave them a thumbs-up, the sports news outlet reported. Hamlin also flexed, a gesture that made his teammates clap and yell excitedly.

Hines second touchdown came after New England had taken a 17-14 lead in the third quarter. He is the first player since Leon Washington in 2010 to have two kickoff returns for touchdowns in the same game, ESPN reported.

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