ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — The question that many had asked during the course of the week has been answered: Damar Hamlin is in the house.
Hamlin made his first public appearance since going into cardiac arrest after making a tackle against the Cincinnati Bengals three weeks ago, waving to fans from a stadium suite on Sunday as the two teams met again for an AFC divisional playoff game.
Hamlin, wearing a hooded jacket, stood in front of the windows and raised his arms as if saluting the crowd and encouraging it to get on its feet as the Bengals were facing second-and-goal at their 5. He ended by forming a heart sign with his hands, his signature gesture.
Before the game, the Bills posted a video to both Instagram and Twitter apparently showing Hamlin arriving at the team's locker room and the message “Welcome home, Damar."
The video showed Hamlin arriving in a golf cart about an hour before kickoff, wearing sunglasses and a face covering, with the hood of his jacket pulled up. He was accompanied by his 7-year-old brother, Damir, and mother, Nina.
He was not seen on the field before the game got underway in snowy conditions. The Bills made no announcement about his whereabouts to fans in attendance.
Bills quarterback Josh Allen described his presence as "a warm feeling.
“Obviously, we wanted to play for him ... We just ran into a team that played better than us tonight,” Allen said after the loss.
Hamlin has shown continued progress since collapsing after suffering cardiac arrest during the first quarter of the Bills-Bengals regular season game Jan. 2 in Cincinnati.
Bills coach Sean McDermott had indicated earlier in the week that Hamlin had returned to the Bills facility "almost daily" as his condition continues to improve. As of Friday, McDermott said he didn't know if Hamlin would be in attendance for this game.
McDermott said Hamlin was “dipping his toe back in here and getting on the road to just getting back to himself.”
During the week, a Hamlin spokesperson had said that he still faces a lengthy recovery, and that he needs oxygen at times. Hamlin had hoped to attend last weekend's playoff win over the Miami Dolphins but elected to watch the game from home.
His presence was enough to uplift his teammates, who after Hamlin's collapse surrounded him as medical teams used CPR and an automatic external defibrillator (AED) to restart his heart.
For several minutes, the television audience who tuned in for that Monday night game instead absorbed the fear and sadness on players’ faces, some streaked with tears.
A family spokesman for Hamlin said this week that he still faces a lengthy rehabilitation.
“Damar still requires oxygen and is having his heart monitored regularly to ensure there are no setbacks or aftereffects,” Jordon Rooney told The Associated Press.
The Bills have not disclosed the results of tests Hamlin has undergone to determine why his heart stopped after he was struck in the chest while making what appeared to be a routine tackle.
Hamlin, who is originally from the Pittsburgh area, live-tweeted while watching Buffalo’s 35-23 season-ending win over New England from his hospital bed at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center on Jan. 8. Last weekend, he live-tweeted from home while watching the Bills’ 34-31 win over Miami in a wild-card playoff.
“We’ll be back,” Hamlin tweeted a few hours after the Bills' season-ending loss to the Bengals. “Don’t even trip.”