Damar Hamlin’s cardiac arrest rattles Bears as practice week begins

Hamlin, shown here playing against the Bears in the 2021 preseason, was hospitalized after suffering cardiac arrest during a game Monday.

AP Photos

The Bears began their practice week Wednesday morning with players returning to Halas Hall for the first time since seeing Bills safety Damar Hamlin suffer cardiac arrest in a game against the Bengals on Monday.

Hamlin’s situation was foremost on everyone’s mind, and chairman George McCaskey and coach Matt Eberflus addressed it with players when they arrived. Eberflus said his players “see that reflection in the mirror,” meaning they know they’re taking the same risk every time they play.

“I was kind of uneasy,” running back David Montgomery said of going back to work. “You put yourself in the situation and understand that it could be you. It’s definitely been on the forefront of my mind because… he’s in there fighting for his life.”

Hamlin remained sedated in the intensive care unit at University of Cincinnati Medical Center, and the Bills released an update Wednesday saying there have been “signs of improvement.”

The NFL hasn’t decided what to do about the Bills-Bengals game, which ended at the 6:12 mark of the first quarter after Hamlin took a hit while tackling Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins. Hamlin got up, then collapsed on the field — an extremely rare image, even in such a violent sport.

Every football player knows that’s possible. The Bears were shaken by their most sobering moment of the season last month when right guard Teven Jenkins was carried off on a stretcher with a neck injury. He was hospitalized, and the injury proved to be far less severe than was feared in the moment.

But even then, Jenkins was clearly conscious and moving his legs. Seeing Hamlin motionless on the field was unprecedented for players.

“You’re just looking for that thumbs up,” center Sam Mustipher said. “And there was no thumbs up.”

Mustipher, a stoic person by his own description, cried while empathizing with Hamlin’s family.

“His mother didn’t sign up for that; She thought she was going to watch her baby on Monday Night Football,” he said. “Being a parent, that’s tough, man. I can’t imagine.

“I want my son to play football. I do. I love this game, I love what it’s taught me, the life lessons, the responsibility, the accountability, the teamwork. And I can’t imagine seeing my son out there like that. I know how my mom would feel. I know how my dad would feel.”

Bears backup quarterback Nathan Peterman, who will start Sunday against the Vikings, played one season with Hamlin at Pitt and chatted with him after the game when the Bears hosted the Bills a week and a half ago.

“I just went up to him and said, ‘Hey man, great to see you’re doing well,’” Peterman recalled. “Told him I was happy for him, proud of him. I’m praying he pulls through.” 

Nothing felt quite right at Halas Hall as Hamlin’s hospitalization rattled the league. Eberflus encouraged players to meet with team chaplain Teddy Matthews and mental health clinician Carla Suber.

Eventually, they got back to something resembling a normal day of preparation to face the Vikings. While the NFL mulls options for the Bills-Bengals game, it is keeping the Week 18 schedule intact.

When asked if he felt anxious about the game, Montgomery said it is “incredibly tough” to compartmentalize Hamlin’s situation but, “I’m playing Sunday. It’s my job.”

The Bears opted for a walk-through that was closed to the media and kept their locker room closed as well. Some players did not feel comfortable discussing Hamlin.

“It will be tough for a lot of guys,” Mustipher said. “But I’ll do my best.”

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