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Damar Hamlin’s progress eased Chiefs players' minds against Raiders

An NFL tragedy has officially been avoided — which was great news for everyone involved in the sport of football.

Kansas City Chiefs v Las Vegas Raiders Photo by Chris Unger/Getty Images

At the opening kickoff of the Kansas City Chiefs’ Week 18 battle with the Las Vegas Raiders, professional football returned for the first time since Buffalo Bills’ safety Damar Hamlin suffered a cardiac arrest after making a hit against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 17’s Monday Night Football matchup.

While we knew he needed resuscitation immediately, we learned little else about his condition before he was taken to the hospital. The game was postponed (and eventually cancelled) as the NFL community focused almost exclusively on Hamlin’s recovery. The Chiefs called off Tuesday’s media availability as we all waited for news — and then shared their feelings when positive word emerged about Hamlin’s progress.

In the days since, Hamlin has gotten even further down the recovery road — communicating with family, calling teammates and posting on Instagram. He is making great progress on his way to being discharged from the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.

After such an emotional week, Chiefs’ defensive tackle Chris Jones sounded relieved, knowing Hamlin was winning a frightening battle that anybody might have to fight.

“Thoughts and prayers go out to Damar,” Jones announced to reporters after Saturday’s game. “I read that he is actually talking now; he sent a message to the team. That’s tremendous. To watch that from home, knowing it could have been one of my brothers that I play with, I definitely was affected emotionally.

“Going into this game — it being the first game played since the event happened — it’s heavy on my heart. I said a prayer for him — and I said a prayer for my teammates also to ensure their safety.”

Kansas City Chiefs v Las Vegas Raiders Photo by Chris Unger/Getty Images

Hamlin’s medical emergency was powerful enough to hold up an NFL calendar that rarely stops. While there have been horrific injuries, games are rarely even postponed — much less cancelled. Football players understand the risk they take every time they fly around the field.

However, no player is expecting to lose their life minutes after making a routine tackle — exactly what Hamlin faced after colliding with Bengals’ wide receiver Tee Higgins. While the NFL is a business, football is still just a game — and the people who play it are just kids who grew up and never wanted to stop playing.

Injuries are a part of that kids’ game. Sometimes — like a 13-year-old with a broken arm — they can be worn as a badge of honor. But there’s no redeeming quality to be found in nearly losing a life. That’s why the Hamlin incident was handled so much differently.

“It’s a game that you love and have played your entire life,” Chiefs’ quarterback Patrick Mahomes shared with reporters on Saturday evening. “You’ve enjoyed so many great moments and it’s brought so many great things to you... With the situation that happened on Monday night with Damar, you still have that in the back of your mind. Not him going down or anything like that, but just you want to be there for him. There’s so much stuff bigger than football.”

Mahomes hit the nail on the head: this past week made the football feel irrelevant, highlighting the fact that under each helmet and set of shoulder pads is a human being who is a part of a family — one that expects him to return home after each game’s final whistle.

Kansas City Chiefs v Las Vegas Raiders Photo by Chris Unger/Getty Images

In the same breath, the NFL is a source for entertainment — not only for the fans watching, but also for the grown-up kids who make up each team’s 53-man roster. Once Hamlin was reported to be in good shape and good spirits, Mahomes felt right about playing the game he loves.

“Guys were able to just go out there enjoy and have fun again,” he reflected. “It helped out a lot that he was able to make that video... where he was able to talk to his teammates again. Everything is looking great because that gives you a little bit of that final thing like, ‘Alright, this is what we’re supposed to be doing. Let’s go out there and give joy — to not only us but the rest of the world watching us.’”

So the Chiefs went back to spreading joy — but in Saturday’s 31-13 beatdown, forgot to share any of it with Raiders fans. But that’s OK. It was part of getting back to normal — just as Hamlin works his way back to normal.

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