Damar Hamlin reached another major milestone in his return to football by suiting up for Buffalo's preseason opener against the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday.
And it didn't take long for the Bills safety to make an impact in his first appearance in a competitive setting since going into cardiac arrest and needing to be resuscitated on the field during a game at Cincinnati on Jan. 2.
On his second defensive snap, Hamlin crashed the line and brought down running back Evan Hull for no gain in preventing the Colts from converting a fourth-and-1 at Buffalo's 40. Hamlin was initially credited with an assist on the tackle, before being awarded a solo tackle.
On Buffalo's next defensive series, Hamlin made tackles on back-to-back plays, with a cheer going up from the crowd each time his name was mentioned. Hamlin was part of Buffalo's kickoff coverage unit following Dalvin Cook's 8-yard TD run 3:22 into the game.
Hamlin's return was briefly placed on hold due to a thunderstorm rolling through the region about 75 minutes before kickoff. Players returned to the field to conduct their pregame warmup after about a half-hour delay.
Hamlin was fully dressed in uniform and pads, and had his helmet on when taking the field with his fellow defensive backs.
Earlier, the NFL posted a brief videoof Hamlin's arrival at the stadium on its social media account with the message saying, "Welcome back, @HamlinIsland." In the video, Hamlin flashes his familiar heart sign and puts out three fingers to signify his jersey number as he entered the tunnel.
What seemed unfathomable in those frightening first moments, and the nine-day stay in two hospitals that followed, has approached reality for the 25-year-old Hamlin, who announced in April that he planned to resume his playing career after being medically cleared to return.
Since then, the Bills have eased Hamlin back on the field, starting with him taking part in individual drills in May, followed by team drills a week later. Two weeks ago, the third-year safety took another major step by experiencing his first thud of a hit in the Bills' first full-padded practice of training camp.
"I made the choice to play. But I'm processing a thousand emotions. I'm not afraid to say that it crosses my mind of being a little scared here and there," Hamlin said at the time. "My faith is stronger than any fear. That's what I want to preach up here. And that's the message I want to spread on to the world that as long as your faith is stronger than your fear, you can get through anything."
Hamlin said it was too early to look ahead to the preseason because he wanted to stay in the moment.
During pregame warmups, Hamlin exchanged a hug with Bills receiver Stefon Diggs.
And Hamlin had rooting support on the opposite sideline.
Receiver Isaiah McKenzie, who signed with the Colts this offseason after spending the previous four-plus years in Buffalo, has already arranged to exchange jerseys with Hamlin following the game.
After two more preseason games, Hamlin's next hurdle will come on Aug. 29, when the Bills make their final cuts to establish their regular-season roster.
Hamlin has displayed no signs of a setback or hesitation during training camp in seeking to re-secure one of the backup spots behind returning starters Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer.
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