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Buffalo Bills celebrate a win over the Patriots and Hamlin's continued recovery


The Buffalo Bills and their fans, known as the Bills Mafia, have a lot to celebrate this morning. Their team scored a decisive win at home over the New England Patriots, and safety Damar Hamlin continues to recover after collapsing during last Monday's game against Cincinnati. David Sommerstein with North Country Public Radio reports.


DAVID SOMMERSTEIN, BYLINE: Hammer's Lot is the epicenter of Bills Mafia tailgating, legendary among NFL fans for breaking folding tables, doing shots from bowling balls. But on Sunday, Tina Bramhall was handing out hundreds of red hearts with No. 3, Damar Hamlin's number, on them for fans to show their love.

TINA BRAMHALL: I think it's going to be emotional in there before the game. I'm nervous during the game for the guys. You know, I can't even imagine.

SOMMERSTEIN: The Bills watched their teammate collapse due to a cardiac arrest during a Monday game in Cincinnati. The team's medical staff did CPR and literally saved Hamlin's life right there on the field.

KRISTEN KIMMICK: It's a roller coaster going from that low of a low and worrying that hard to going to the very top and seeing that, like, he's neurologically firing on every - I mean, the man woke up and asked who won the game.

SOMMERSTEIN: Kristen Kimmick is a megafan and president of #BillsMafiaBabes. She says Hamlin's ongoing recovery did something special, and not only for Buffalo.

KIMMICK: Damar Hamlin is, like, not just a miracle survivor. He did the impossible. Like, he brought the entire nation together, at least just for a few days. And it's been, like, such a long time since we've seen that.

SOMMERSTEIN: The game started with a tribute to Hamlin, the medical staff, and then on the very first play...

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Today we celebrate Damar's recovery, our love for Damar and our gratitude. Please rise...

SOMMERSTEIN: ...A 96-yard kick return for a touchdown. Hamlin was watching from his hospital bed and live tweeting with lots of exclamation points. Oh, and then kick returner Nyheim Hines did it again in the second half.


SOMMERSTEIN: After the game, the Bills talked about how despite the victory, the trauma was still raw. Fellow defensive player Tre'Davious White said he just wanted Hamlin back.

TRE’DAVIOUS WHITE: I can't wait to hear his voice and able to touch him and just hug the [expletive] out of him and hear that again. So it's been a hard week.

SOMMERSTEIN: Buffalo needed this. The city's also suffered through the racist mass shooting at a Tops supermarket and a deadly blizzard.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing) I'll be your friend...

SOMMERSTEIN: As Bills Mafia filed out, "Lean On Me" played on the loudspeakers. Paula Pericozzi paused, looked around and smiled.

PAULA PERICOZZI: Shows the resiliency of Buffalo. We can come back from anything, and we can make things right.

SOMMERSTEIN: And let's not forget four straight Super Bowl losses in the '90s. As the playoffs get underway, the Bills and their fans hope Hamlin's inspiration can help them conquer that one, too.

For NPR News, I'm David Sommerstein in Buffalo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Sommerstein, a contributor from North Country Public Radio (NCPR), has covered the St. Lawrence Valley, Thousand Islands, Watertown, Fort Drum and Tug Hill regions since 2000. Sommerstein has reported extensively on agriculture in New York State, Fort Drum’s engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the lives of undocumented Latino immigrants on area dairy farms. He’s won numerous national and regional awards for his reporting from the Associated Press, the Public Radio News Directors Association, and the Radio-Television News Directors Association. He's regularly featured on NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Only a Game, and PRI’s The World.