Mike Tomlin managed to offer a smile when talking about Damar Hamlin at the start of his weekly press conference. Tomlin, who opened his presser discussing Hamlin, smiled when recalling the on-field meetings the two shared when the Steelers and Bills played each other during the past two seasons.
Hamlin, a Pittsburgh native who was in the middle of his second season with the Buffalo Bills, suffered cardiac arrest during Monday night's game between Buffalo and the Cincinnati Bengals. He remains in critical condition while continuing to receive treatment at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.
"It's a really personal thing for me," said Tomlin, who added that he has known Hamlin since he was roughly 12 years old. "Just got a lot of love and respect for him as a human being.
"His commitment to the pursuit of his goals and dreams of doing what it is he's doing right now, which is playing in the NFL. To watch him make personal decisions and make that a realization, it's just an honor to get to know young people like that.
"Had an opportunity to express that to him whenever I see him. We've played Buffalo each of the last two seasons, and he and I get to have a moment. It's just cool to not only appreciate these guys in terms of where they are now, but to know them since they were younger people and to watch their maturation, their development, to watch them earn what they were chasing, it's just really a cool thing. He's an example of that.
"I've got a lot of love for that young man. We lift him and that organization up in prayer."
Coach Tomlin shares his very personal thoughts on Damar Hamlin: pic.twitter.com/gymuijitfp— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) January 3, 2023
Mike Tomlin said he’s known Damar Hamlin since the Bills DB was about 12: “Just got a lot of respect and love for him as a human being, his commitment to the pursuit of his goals and dreams.”— Mike DeFabo (@MikeDeFabo) January 3, 2023
(Photo courtesy of Brian Cook, Golden Sky Media). pic.twitter.com/zYCbxTCrjs
Tomlin said that he has reached out to Bills coach and former college teammate Sean McDermott to offer his aid and support. Along with Tomlin, scores of other figures inside the NFL have also expressed public support for the Bills and Hamlin. NFL fans have shown their support by flooding Hamlin's foundation with donations. Over $4.2 million had been donated to the charity as of this writing.
A native of McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania, Hamlin starred at the prep level for Pittsburgh Catholic. He chose to stay home to play college football for the University of Pittsburgh. Hamlin said his decision to stay home was largely motivated to inspire his younger brother, Damir.
Hamlin flourished at Pitt, where he earned All-ACC honors during his senior season. His success at Pitt led to him being a sixth-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Hamlin thrived in a reserve role during his rookie season in Buffalo before earning a starting job in the Bills secondary this season.
Hamlin's athletic prowess has surely been an inspiration for his hometown. His character, however, is what has continued to shine through the tributes of those who know him best.