After an Emotional Week, N.F.L. Players Return to the Field
LAS VEGAS — N.F.L. players are often sanguine about coping with the violence and serious injuries inherent to their sport. They have seen it all — or at least they thought they had until they witnessed medical personnel compressing Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin’s chest Monday night when he went into cardiac arrest after making what appeared to be a routine tackle.
“I’ve never seen something where someone had been getting CPR and stuff like that on the field,” Patrick Mahomes, the Kansas City quarterback, told reporters Wednesday. “I don’t know if any of us have seen it. It hadn’t happened in such a long time, and you don’t think about that stuff when you’re stepping on the field.”
Asked whether Kansas City should even be playing this weekend, Mahomes hesitated.
“It’s hard for me to say,” he said. “It’s not something that I can control either way.”
Ready or not, N.F.L. players will return to the field to close an emotional week that began with Hamlin’s life in jeopardy and ended with him still hospitalized but much improved and able to speak after his breathing tube was removed. Mahomes will be one of the first N.F.L. players to step onto the field since Hamlin’s collapse when Kansas City takes on the Las Vegas Raiders Saturday afternoon.
N.F.L. players are experts at blocking out distractions — family, the crowd, lingering injuries — and focusing on the task at hand. But even they may not be able to escape the feeling that something is different.
More on Damar Hamlin’s Collapse
“It’ll probably be in the back of people’s minds,” Raiders quarterback Jarrett Stidham said.
Hamlin, 24, collapsed after he tackled Cincinnati Bengals receiver Tee Higgins in the first quarter of a game shown on ESPN’s “Monday Night Football.”
For more than 10 minutes, medical professionals gave Hamlin lifesaving care as an ambulance backed onto the field and Bills players knelt in a circle around him. Players on both the Bills and Bengals wept and hugged each other before the game was postponed.
That terrifying scene, just a few days ago, seemed a distant memory on Friday afternoon as hundreds of Kansas City fans — bedecked in red and buying drinks with team-branded credit cards — packed onto every available plane and flew west for what was supposed to be, and maybe still will be, a typical Vegas weekend of fun.
With tickets already bought and hotel rooms reserved, they kept their plans. But the game they are attending will likely take on less of a celebratory aura, at least at first.
There will be a number of tributes to Hamlin at all N.F.L. games this weekend. There will be a “pregame moment of support” for him, his No. 3 will be outlined in Bills colors on each 30-yard line, and players will wear pregame shirts and patches honoring him.
Hamlin will also be present in less obvious ways, when players are likely to take a few extra seconds during their pregame prayers before they step onto the field.
But then, perhaps, it will be back to business as usual. “It’s Raiders, and it’s Chiefs,” said Kansas City Coach Andy Reid. “It doesn’t get any better than that, so we’re looking forward to going out there and playing them.”
Any tentativeness will have to be short-lived, as the game has important consequences for Kansas City. At 13-3, the team has the best record in the A.F.C. and hopes to clinch a bye in the first round of the playoffs. With the N.F.L. opting not to resume the Bengals-Bills game that was postponed Monday night after Hamlin’s collapse, Kansas City would clinch a first-round bye if it beats the Raiders or the Bills lose to the Patriots Sunday afternoon.
The first seed would not necessarily guarantee Kansas City home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, however. To compensate for the Bills and Bengals ending the regular season having played one fewer game than the other teams, there are scenarios in which Kansas City could play either the Bills or the Bengals in the A.F.C. championship game at a neutral site to be determined later.
At 6-10, the Raiders are playing only for pride.