Damar Hamlin’s three written words offer united nation hope


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As the words came tumbling off the tongue of Dr. Timothy Pritts, they seemed borrowed from the very best sports movies ever made. This was Gale Sayers declaring: “I love Brian Piccolo, and I’d like all of you to love him too.” This was Adrian telling Rocky: “Win!” This was Norman Dale telling his quintet of Hickory High Huskers: “I love you guys.”

But this was more than mere heart-tugging dialogue.

This was a nation’s prayers being answered in real time.

“Did we win?” Damar Hamlin wrote, moments after waking up Wednesday evening, delivered to a bedside nurse and relayed to his doctors at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.

“Yes, Damar,” his doctors told him, “you won the game of life.”

As Pritts further explained in an hour-long press conference Thursday afternoon: “Not only are the lights on, but he’s home.”

There is belief that very little can unite us as a country anymore, regardless of subject. But these past few awful days proved that wrong, at least in this case. From the moment Hamlin collapsed on the field at Cincinnati’s Paycor Stadium just before 9 o’clock Monday night, there was an immediate and obvious sense that people across America weren’t just concerned for Hamlin’s well-being, but also were determined to do what little they could to help.

For those who pray, they spent endless hours since Monday night completing the second half of that forever Sayers line from “Brian’s Song” (and from real life, from a speech he gave in New York City on May 25, 1970): “I love Brian Piccolo, and I’d like all of you to love him, too. And tonight, when you hit your knees, please ask God to love him.”

Damar Hamlin

For others, there were checks to be written and cash to be donated to Hamlin’s charity, Chasing M’s Foundation, which delivers toys for children in need. Before Monday, Chasing M’s fundraising goal was $250,000; by Thursday that number had soared past $7 million.

And everywhere people asked, people wondered, people kept refreshing their social media accounts, people kept searching for updates. Hamlin’s No. 3 became a standard billboard item everywhere from Seattle to South Beach, Baja to Buffalo. Every major sporting event conducted since Monday night included a moment of silence so folks could ask, in their own way, of their own higher force, to intercede.

Across the NFL, players scarred by Sunday afternoon skirmishes bonded as only NFL players understand, since they all know just how precious these careers are, how fragile, their bodies forever at risk for sprains, strains, breaks. And now this. Players rushed to pay tribute; the Jets’ Sauce Gardner ordered a Hamlin jersey from Fanatics to wear before the Jets-Dolphins game Sunday, but was told it wouldn’t arrive in time. So he took to Twitter asking: “Any way somebody can hook me up with a Hamlin jersey to wear for pregame this week?”

It turns out that Fanatics CEO Michael Rubin hooked him up, guaranteeing delivery of a blue No. 3 by game time in Miami. Everyone doing their bit. Everyone doing their part.

Everyone hoping for Damar Hamlin to wake up.

Wednesday night, Damar Hamlin woke up. He asked about his team, which from everything we’ve been told about him sounds exactly what you would expect him to do. He is still in critical condition, and anyone who has spent long hours tending to loved ones understands the happy ending isn’t written until they walk through the threshold of home.

But this sure was something.

“He continues to be critically ill and undergo care in the ICU,” Pritts said Thursday. “He still has significant progress he needs to make. This marks a turning point in his ongoing care.”

“He still has a ways to go in terms of liberation from the ventilator,” said Dr. William Knight, also of the UCMC.

We get it. We understand. We can’t simply fast-forward life the way they can in those sports movies, scrawl “Six months later” at the bottom of the screen and see that it all worked out as we wanted. The body is a remarkable thing, a healing wonder, but it mends at its own pace, on its own schedule.

Still, those three words — “Did we win?” — sent a shiver down the spine of a very much united United States, sent chills pimpling across arms among its citizens whether they care for football or not. Sometimes, all you ask is a sign that good things do sometimes happen to and for good people, that hope can rise from the ashes of heartache. We got that Thursday.

Those three words gave it to us.

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