ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — After their weekly day off on Tuesday, Broncos players returned to the team's UCHealth Training Center headquarters with a lot on their minds, like so many across the league.
When Bills safety Damar Hamlin collapsed on the field after what appeared to be a routine tackle on Monday night and was rushed to a hospital in cardiac arrest, much of the country watched on in shock. Broncos players, coaches and staff were certainly among that group, especially considering the tight brotherhood between players who make it to that level.
Some Broncos know him well, including his former college teammate Damarri Mathis, and as the regular season entered its final week in earnest, the team dedicated time Wednesday morning during the daily team meeting to talk about Hamlin and express support for him, his family and his friends.
After consulting with Mathis, who is recovering from a concussion, Interim Head Coach Jerry Rosburg communicated to the team about the kind of person Mathis observed Hamlin to be during their shared time at Pittsburgh — about Hamlin's character, his generosity, his dedication to loving and serving others.
Like so many across the league, the Broncos have expressed support for Hamlin — who "remains in the ICU in critical condition with signs of improvement," according to a statement by the Bills on Wednesday — and the team will continue to do so, Rosburg said.
"Today, Damar, we honor you," Rosburg said during an opening statement at his daily media availability. "Today, we will strive to be better, to be better in the areas of our lives that you were so good at and you will, with all due course and prayers, return to. We will strive not to exalt ourselves but rather raise others up, like you did — especially those that are laid low, like you did. For now, while you're recovering, we're here to raise you up, and we support you. Even those of us that don't know you, we offer our love. You're one of our football brothers. And to Damar's family and teammates: We extend our hands to you to provide you with strength and comfort and hope, and our prayers are there with you for your healing, as well. We can only imagine what you're going through."
Russell Wilson, who said he was watching the game with his kids, said it was "devastating to watch" the medical emergency unfold live during the broadcast of the game on Monday night.
"I pray that everybody continues to pray for Damar and his family and everything else," Wilson said. "To see that hit the other night and see him drop to the ground, it was devastating to watch, because that could be any of us. I know we've played this game since we were young. I know we've played a lot of college ball, high school ball. I know fans watch us every week and cheer us on. They have fantasy football and us as players, we watch every week, every game as much as we can and watch film and everything else. But … you never imagine one hit could possibly take your life away. Watching the guys on the field and how they all just got together in tears and praying, it shows you, one, we can't take this life for granted and this game for granted, [or] these moments. I'm glad his family was there and his teammates and everything else. But it was also good to see that all the players came together, both teams — from the quarterbacks in [Bengals QB Joe] Burrow and [Bills QB Josh] Allen to all the other players across the board — and just see how our community and our country can come together in moments like this. It just shows you what we can do if we do it together."
Like so many have done in the days since, Wilson leaned on his faith for support and as a way to support Hamlin.
"Prayer does work," Wilson said. "Every prayer, every kind note, everything that we can do, it encourages. I'm just praying that he can just overcome it all. I don't necessarily know his status right now, Damar's status right now, but I know that he's getting a little bit better. And we can't stop praying, we can't stop cheering, we can't stop rooting for him and his family and the Buffalo Bills and what they've gone through, obviously sitting there and his teammates and everything else. This game is a physical game, and a game that every time we step between the white lines, you never know. That was definitely hard to watch as a player, as a dad — to have three kids at home and to see them watch it, too, is heavy. I'm just glad he's still here with us right now, and I'm praying that he just overcomes it all."
In another way to show support, Wilson and his wife and their Why Not You Foundation donated to a GoFundme that Hamlin started before the holidays. Its meager $2,500 goal has been fulfilled nearly 2,700 times over as more than 214,000 donors contributed nearly $7 million as of Wednesday evening.
To safety Justin Simmons, that amount of support has been heartening to see in the wake of the tragic event.
"The [out]pouring of love that's been given to Damar and to his foundation, and seeing how the NFL community has come together to support what is just a tragic time, I think that's been a small but albeit really cool positive," Simmons said. "That's one thing I'm always appreciative of, is the brotherhood behind the shield and the guys that have your back. We may talk in between the lines, and you have your rivalries, but at the end of the day, we all know what we put our bodies through and we put our mentals through. For me, getting ready for Sunday, I think it's just going to continue being open and honest. Sometimes it's OK not to be OK. I know seeing that in that moment made me not OK, and just continually having that open conversation."
And for Mathis, the man in Denver's locker room who knows Hamlin best, his teammates are there for him, too.
"I've had some conversations with Damarri just to make sure he's OK," Simmons said. "Obviously he knows Damar really well, obviously were teammates at Pitt, and so I was just checking on him and making sure he's OK. I know he's reached out and all that good stuff. He seems to be in a pretty good place, but you never know with those types of things or what people are holding onto. Just continuing to let him know that, I don't know what I could say, I don't know if I could say anything, but just that I'm here for him, and not just me — the DBs, Kareem [Jackson], K'Waun [Williams], Essang [Bassey], P.J. [Locke]. There's so many guys in there that have Damarri's back — Pat [Surtain II]. So just letting him know that when we preach brotherhood and family, we really mean it."