This story has been updated from a previous version.
The Bills and Bengals will play an emotional game — perhaps the most emotional of the 2023 NFL playoffs — when they meet at Highmark Stadium on Sunday in the AFC divisional round.
It will be the teams’ first meeting since their canceled “Monday Night Football” game on Jan. 2. Both teams elected not to finish the game after the frightening medical emergency involving Bills safety Damar Hamlin, who suffered cardiac arrest on the field at Cincinnati’s Paycor Stadium after tackling receiver Tee Higgins.
Hamlin, who has made a stunning recovery, will be at the forefront of everyone’s minds when the teams kick off at 3 p.m. ET. Whether Hamlin will attend the game remains to be seen.
Hamlin has not attended a Bills game since the incident. He watched the regular-season finale vs. the Patriots — in which Nyheim Hines returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown — from a hospital bed, live-tweeting the action. He was rumored to have appeared at Buffalo’s 34-31 wild-card victory over the Dolphin but was absent.
While Bills fans doubtless want to see Hamlin at the game, his ongoing recovery after being discharged from the hospital makes his attendance questionable, at least.
The Sporting News looks at whether Hamlin will attend Sunday’s game:
Is Damar Hamlin at the Bills-Bengals game?
It’s uncertain whether Hamlin will attend Sunday’s divisional round game, and he has not given any indication what his plans are.
For what it’s worth, Bills coach Sean McDermott told reporters during the week the Buffalo safety was at the team’s facility on Tuesday and Wednesday, adding he’s taking it “one baby step at a time.”
“It’s limited, just overall,” McDermott said Wednesday. “But he comes in and really just started really (Wednesday) or (Tuesday) and just trying to get back to a little bit of a routine and just get himself acclimated again and taking it one step, one baby step at a time here.”
The following day, Jordan Rooney, Hamlin’s friend and business partner, issued a statement to ESPN illustrating how much remains in the safety’s recovery:
“Despite being out of the hospital, Damar still has a lengthy recovery,” Rooney said in the statement. “Damar still requires oxygen and is having his heart monitored regularly. He has visited with the team a few times but he still gets winded very easily.
“He’s upbeat and positive and ready to continue to overcome this.”
Update 1: Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reported on Sunday that Hamlin “may end up showing up at the Bills game today.” He added that “nothing has been firmly and finally decided,” explaining the Bills want to ensure he is comfortable before showing up.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) January 22, 2023
Update 2: Hamlin tweeted out a video of him that suggests he will be in attendance at the game. CBS Sports’ Tracy Wolfson later reported the Bills safety is in the team’s locker room.
GameDay.. 3️⃣pm 🏾💕 pic.twitter.com/BwRrc5PAv9
— 𝐃𝐚𝐦𝐚𝐫 𝐇𝐚𝐦𝐥𝐢𝐧 (@HamlinIsland) January 22, 2023
— Tracy Wolfson (@tracywolfson) January 22, 2023
Update 3: AJ Feldman of Rochester, N.Y. news station WROC tweeted a video of security escorting a person presumed to be Hamlin into the Bills locker room:
— AJ Feldman (@AJFeldmanTV) January 22, 2023
Update 4: The Bills have confirmed Hamlin is in Highmark Stadium. The only question now is where and to what extent he will make his appearance.
— Buffalo Bills (@BuffaloBills) January 22, 2023
Update 5: Hamlin is sitting in the press box and looks like he’s having a grand ole’ time, saluting the crowd with his signature heart celebration. You gotta imagine he’s feeling the love right now.
It’s all love for Damar Hamlin. pic.twitter.com/BbsqzFOkGV
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) January 22, 2023
Update 6: Wolfson reported after halftime that Hamlin exited the suite to enter the Bills’ locker room. She speculated he spoke with the team, which was down 17-7 at the half.
Regardless of whether Hamlin can attend, one person in particular would like to see him: Higgins, who was tackled by Hamlin right before the safety went into cardiac arrest. He reportedly has not spoken to Hamlin since then.
The Bengals receiver said a reunion wouldn’t be overly serious.
“I’m pretty sure we’re just going to chop it up, laughs and giggles,” Higgins said, “and just be happy to see him.”
Doubtless the same goes for Bills and Bengals fans, as well as the NFL world at large.