Chargers pause to reflect on Bills’ Damar Hamlin, what happened

COSTA MESA — Before they went back to work Wednesday, before they returned to their practice field for a walk-through, the Chargers’ players and coaches met to discuss what happened to safety Damar Hamlin of the Buffalo Bills during Monday night’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Coach Brandon Staley asked Dr. Eugene Yim, the Chargers’ head physician, to speak to the players about what happened to Hamlin and how the cardiac arrest he suffered as a result of a first-quarter collision with Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins was so unusual that it was akin to being struck by lightning.

George Gregory, the Chargers’ chaplain, also spoke.

The meeting was at once informative and comforting for the Chargers as they began preparations for Sunday’s regular-season finale against the Denver Broncos.

“He explained the situation and what exactly happened and how rare that situation is and how freaky that situation is,” defensive lineman Sebastian Joseph-Day said of Yim’s talk. “The chances of that happening are so minute. It was a freak accident. Learning about it, talking about it with your brothers, and just praying for Damar, those are things that help athletes get through it.”

Watching what happened to Hamlin brought back difficult memories for Chargers tight end Donald Parham Jr., who suffered a concussion and had to be hospitalized after the back of his head struck the turf violently while he attempted to catch a pass in a Dec. 16, 2021 game at SoFi Stadium.

“It was very confusing to collect my emotions and how I felt,” Parham said of watching Monday’s game. “I caught myself feeling like, ‘Dang, that was me last year.’ I was out there on the field feeling kind of hopeless. We have faith that (Hamlin) will be back and healthier than ever. But, yeah, it was crazy overall.”

As difficult as it was for some players to return to work without thinking of Hamlin, it’s often more difficult for their friends and families to watch them play a dangerous game each week, hoping and praying for the best. It’s something linebacker Drue Tranquill speaks to his wife about before each game.

“You can’t necessarily promise you’re going to be OK,” Tranquill said. “Every Sunday I go out there, my wife’s always praying for God’s bubble wrap to be around me. … It makes you think, like, ‘Wow, that could happen.’ It seemed like a normal play. Just a nice play over the middle. Tee makes physical contact. Damar makes a physical tackle. The next thing you know he’s collapsed. It’s really, really sad.”

Watching the medical personnel swing into action and perform life-saving measures in real time was comforting in many ways for the Chargers’ players and coaches. It certainly was reassuring to know the players are in such good hands, no matter the situation, according to Tranquill.

“You can’t say enough about what took place Monday night from the medical perspective,” Tranquill said. “The fact that this brother, this teammate, this kid was down without a heartbeat and they resuscitated him on the field. There’s a lot of stuff happening on any given play and for him to go down and the medical staff to go out there and do what they did. The speed with which they worked is incredible.”

Said Staley: “I think that’s one of the things everyone is discovering, how incredible the response was. The poise and the level of expertise, the capacity of the people on the field that night and what they were able to do. They’re well-trained. I think all of us can take a huge lesson from that.”

Above all, Staley said it was necessary to meet and to talk about what had happened to Hamlin before getting back to work. The Chargers’ players and coaches needed to strike a balance between processing what happened Monday night and what must come next: A game Sunday in Denver.

It was a difficult but important task, especially considering Staley, defensive coordinator Renaldo Hill and wide receivers coach Chris Beatty had connections to Hamlin. Staley, then a college coach, recruited Hamlin as a high school standout in Pittsburgh. Hill and Beatty coached Hamlin at Pitt.

“You have to be able to do both of these things at the same time,” Staley said. “You have to be able to deal with what happened and also do your job at the same time. There’s work to do this week. That’s where our focus has been this week. You have to do your routine. This is what we need to get accomplished.

“Then once that’s all done, we also need to address what happened the other night, too. You can do all that at the same time. You lean into the leaders of your football team, whether it’s a coach or a player to get it done.”

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