HEAD COACH LOVIE SMITH
"Just like all of you, I was watching Monday Night Football too, which I normally do. I witnessed what we all saw. Our game can be violent. It's a contact sport. Injuries happen, but you assume that an injury like that won't happen. I don't know Damar (Hamlin). I've never met him, but I think we all feel like we do, when you're part of this close-knit football fraternity. On our football team, we do have members that do know him personally. Jacques Cesaire that coaches our defensive line coached him last year on the staff there. Mario Addison and Jerry Hughes were teammates with Damar last year with the Bills. Then it goes all the way back, Jimmy Morrissey spent five years at the University of Pittsburgh with Damar. Kurt Hinish was a high school teammate, so when people that you know personally are that close, you feel like you even know him a little bit more. Watching it, it was tough. You had to think about as a parent, his parents and everybody that loves him, as he fought for his life on the field. What I also saw was natural emotion on how much people care, from the opponent across the field, with the Cincinnati Bengals, and watching their team from coaches, administrators and players. What I also saw that night was how people pulling together, the medical team, and how they went into work to save his life. But that is football, and somethings can happen like that. On how we've handled it since then, I thought it would be wise to let the guys have another day yesterday to just kind of reflect and take this all in. We made our mental health clinicians and all the people that can help guys that may need to talk to someone available. Our players came back in today. We tried to get on as much of a regular routine as much as we could. We normally start our day off with a team meeting. We were able to do that today and had the person that's in charge of our mental health here leading the meeting. We just let the guys know that what they're feeling right now is kind of natural. We're all kind of feeling the same things, but we're going to get through this together. Let everybody talk a little bit. The one's that really wanted to. The guys that I mentioned that know Damar personally, I think it was good for them to let the team know a little bit about him and let all of us know a little bit about him. That's where we are with that. Organizationally, we're going to do whatever we can to help the Bills and anyone else that we feel like we can help, doing our part. I know one thing that I, and when you feel like you're far away and you can't do awful lot, I'm a believer, so I believe in prayer, that it helps. I know he had a lot of people praying for a speedy recovery, and we hope that he gets better and better each day. Football-wise, on where we are, we have another game to play. As I said, we're going to try to get into it as much of a normal routine as we possibly can today. Get ready to play our last game of the season. That's where we are."
What sentiments can you share on what you know and have heard about Damar Hamlin?
"The general thoughts are just that. He's a great guy that loves to play the game of football. I think most of us are aware of the outside charity that he formed to collect toys for kids in his area. He's a guy from the Pittsburgh area that played high school ball there, stayed there at the University of Pittsburgh. He was involved. That's what the sentiment was. The guys that knew him with the Bills just talked about how good of a teammate he was. Always had his iPad with him, talking football, trying to learn football. For me, just as a player, sixth-round draft pick, the odds are against him. The odds have probably been against him most of his life, and he's overcome them. But to know what he had to do to make the roster, and as we talk to our guys always you need to be ready. Unfortunately, another injury happened, and he got a chance to play. I know he was playing outstanding football this year for the Bills."
How difficult has it been to get this entire organization through this week?
"First off, it is hard. I have been in football a little bit longer than most of the guys in the locker room. I've been part of games and teams that have had some serious injuries. But not one like this that played out right in front of all of us. On how we get through it, I think when times like this happen you see how close you are. Everybody says it's a family here. We do have that, and guys genuinely care. I think what we all saw is that you can compete hard against someone and try to win and do everything possible, but once someone is in need, it's how you gather together. How you come together. That's where we are, and it's just starting. It happened Monday. There's a lot of tough days ahead, but I know we're all going to go through it together and just the emotions that you feel. For our guys to know that whatever you're feeling right now, we know him differently from different places and letting the guys know that's okay too. I talk to them as a head football coach, but also Nick (Caserio) our general manager talked to them organizationally, 'Guys, wherever you are, we are here to support you. Wherever you are in your journey going through all of this.' I talked a lot about my belief in prayer, and a lot of others, on things that we can do. These are all the things that we've done. What the guys wanted to do, they wanted to have that to talk it out. But what they also want to do, they want to play too. So, getting back into as much of a normal routine as we can is also part of it."
How do you feel about the talk of this week's games potentially being pushed back?
"During times like this, we have to follow the lead of our leaders, our commissioner. If that's the case, that's what we'll do. Right now, the games are still on. When tragic things happen, the best way to deal with it sometimes is to get back into your routine as much as possible. If that's the case, we'll deal with it then. Right now, we're going on like there will be a game this week."
Is anything that you saw with Damar Hamlin's situation that changed your view of the game?
"No, not at all. It's physical contact that happens throughout. I'm sure Damar (Hamlin) has made a lot of tackles. Each one of our guys, each play, and there's a lot of games that're going to be going on, not just in the NFL but college and all the way down. I have young grandchildren. We have a lot of people playing football. Not just football but other contact sports, where sometimes bad things just happen. But not, it hasn't changed anything. Right now, I think we try to make it as safe as possible for the guys with how we teach tackling, blocking, all of those things. How we protect defenseless players. There's a lot of safeguards in place right now to make our game as safe as it could possibly be."
When you think of the fragility of life, what do you have to get through to come back into this?
"When we start playing sports just in general, there's a lot of coaching and coach talk that you give. One is to always play each down like it's your last. As I get up into the years a little bit, I don't take life for granted. Just being able to live a full life each day, making the most of it and appreciating what we have here on our team. Now me talking about our Houston Texans football team, we have a bunch of special men. We genuinely care about each other. Now, if one of our players had a major injury or something serious happened to them, it would be obvious then. But what I see is that everyday guys are just genuinely caring about each other. We take that with everything that we do. Life is precious. It can change at any time. That's reality in our world."
Have you been able to reach out to the head coaches from Monday night's game?
"I have not had a chance to talk to coach (Sean) McDermott. On the Buffalo Bills staff, three of their staff have been on staffs that I've been a part of too. Leslie Frazier, Rob Boras and Eric Washington. Bobby Babich also, so four guys I know personally. What we all did, like everyone, is trying to reach out, 'What you can do to support you? We're praying for you.' A lot of our guys have already of course made donations. But what can we do? You feel their pain and know exactly what they're going through. Sometimes people just knowing that you're supporting them is enough to maybe make it a little bit easier. That's what we've done so far."
What have you thought about the millions of dollars of donations that have come in to Damar Hamlin's foundation?
"I think that shows you the good in our country and just the people in general from all different walks of life. As far as our organization, we, here, Uvalde, we've gone through some tough times, and our players have stepped up when people in our community have been in need. It's gone through tragic things. So, of course our organization, I knew what the organization would do officially, but there's so much more going on unofficially too from people in our organization that are trying to help out. Not just ours but all. Again, the opponent across the field, Zac Taylor and the Cincinnati Bengals, Mike Brown's team, how they handled it. Just thinking about 32 teams all trying to do whatever they can do just help."
Has there been any discussion about how the players might approach their first time getting back on the field?
"Yes, that's one of the things we've talked about too. First our organization about this game. You've got to live in the short-term world. That was first about a day off. Now coming back today, we're getting through the day with our routine and how we make that safe. Eventually, if there's a game, guys are going to have to put on the pads and everything that comes with it. We have a few days to prep as much as anything. But I think they've been dealing with all their life, knowing that there's some danger involved."
Do you think there should be games this weekend?
"Eventually, football will be played. Eventually. We understand that it's a violent sport. First off for me, what we're all trying to gather is exactly what happened. I wouldn't say that it's just football. I would say that every sport where contact is involved, some freak things can happen that are bad. So, I'm going to go with what our leaders tell us. By me being a football coach, I know there's risk involved, but that's something we've all chosen to be a part of."
Have you reached out to the players and coaches that we're individually impacted by this?
"Yeah, I've spoken to them, of course, each one individually. Before we met as a football team, I wanted them to tell me, again as I said earlier, I never met Damar (Hamlin), I wanted to hear what he was like in high school, college. Yes, I've talked to all of them. We talked about the players but (Defensive Line Coach) Jacques Cesaire too. I mentioned the coaches – what I also know, I know Sean McDermott is a heck of a guy, strong believer, great leader. I know how he's leading their football team through this tough time. I also know about the guys that I mentioned, Leslie Frazier, Rob Boras, Eric Washington, Bobby Babich. I know these guys. These are family men. I know they're giving the guys exactly what the players probably need right now. Guys, this sport football, these relationships, we talk and say it's bigger than football. It really is. Life is bigger than football. But for us, football is a part of our lives, and we accept that."
Do you have any experience like this that you can take from and tell the players?
"I've never (been around) something like this that has happened. I've been in a few games, and you go through seasons and some bad things happen. I've had a family member way back where tragedy surfaced from a concussion that passed away. I think there are a lot of things that could possibly happen. If you think about the amount of games that's played, there's not really that many serious injuries. One, is too many. It's hard to just be totally safe on some things.
Football players are thought of as warriors, how important is it for you to tell the guys this is the time to admit that you're impacted by this?
"I think we have a pretty deep relationship with our guys. Before we get into that situation, it's very important. Of course, we've done all of that. We've all let our guard down a little bit. Yeah, you're right, gladiators, warriors and all of the that, but not in these circumstances right here. If you just look at a snapshot of when Damar (Hamlin) went down and what's happening, and you saw the expressions on all the players faces, that was happening right then. How many other places do you think you could've gotten the same snapshot on what's going on, and especially from the football players who played. As I said earlier, I watched it as a parent. I'm a parent/grandad. I went into that role on what his parents are feeling right now, tried to. I also went into Zac's (Taylor) and Sean's (McDermott) role as a coach looking at one of our players out on the football field. It's the same feeling that you have. You're just sick. What can I do to help? When you're away and can't do an awful lot, times like this I'm glad I am a believer, where you can start praying. Think about all the people that have been praying for Damar. I can't wait for him to come back, be healthy and whole and for him to see how much of an impact he's had."
Did you get a first call after the event on Monday? What was that feeling like when your space was invaded by someone outside of your home?
"Monday night coaches grind. So Monday night is gameplan night, we were here. That's where we were. Most of the time on Monday night the Monday night game is always on. In my office, you have the Monday night game and the opponent's game. That's what I was doing. Once it did happen, you all start coming together and start talking about it then. Just like a lot of you, I went home. Call? Who is the first person that's going to call me? MaryAnne Smith. 'Did you see?' You go home, and I just open it up. We've been talking about it ever since."
QB DAVIS MILLS
What are your emotions and thoughts and how you processed what happened?
"It's extremely tough with the whole situation that's going on. Watching as a player in football, there's injuries that are always going to happen, but the extent of them and how extreme the whole situation is, you never want to see something like that happen. I know it was tough for both teams out there to have to go through that. Thoughts and prayers to Damar (Hamlin) and his family, the whole Bills organization. It's a tough situation. I know a lot of guys who are taking this extremely hard. We have a handful of guys on this team who have played with Damar before and known him a long time. It's just tough. You lose words when you talk about things like this. I think the result from what happened and how the NFL has come together, really just anyone who is a fan of the NFL and has seen anything about it, the outreach has been really good. I think everyone is glued to their phones and TVs trying to wait for positive news to come out. I think it slowly has been. Everyone is just thinking and praying about his to get better."
How emotional was it to hear from his former teammates?
"It's tough. I talked to Jimmy (Morrissey) the other day after it happened, and he was at Pitt with him for four or five years. They were in the same recruiting class. You only hear good things about Damar (Hamlin) as a person. Loves football, loves his family. It's just tough. People are going through it in different ways, finding ways to cope with it. Everyone's mindset is the same. We just want to see him get better, and hopefully come out on the other side playing football."
How do you feel about getting back on the field this week and playing a game after what happened on Monday?
"It's tough. You don't want to think about it too much. I've been playing football my whole life and injuries are a part of the game. I think when you go out there and you're playing timid, it makes it even more of a chance to get injured. I don't know what the decisions will be around the league. The mindset of all the players – first of all, we want Damar (Hamlin) to come back healthy, fully recovered. When we have the opportunity to go out there and play football, we're going to play full speed even though it's going to be tough."
How have you personally processed this?
"Probably similar to a lot of guys. You're just kind of reacting to what happened. You feel for all the guys who are on the same team as him, played against him or played with him in the past. First and foremost, we're just trying to keep up to date with how he's doing and making sure he's making a full recovery. It's one of those things where you're making sure he's okay before thinking about yourself too much."
When you see this happen on a routine tackle, does it put in perspective on how violent this game can be?
"Definitely. That looked like a routine play. I think there are worse collisions and worse hits that happen every other week. It shows how fluke things can pop up any given week. It kind of goes to show you can't take anything for granted. Each day is precious. Every breath is precious, and you just want to keep moving forward."
OL JIMMY MORRISSEY
What do you want people to know about Damar Hamlin?
"I've been fortunate enough to know Damar (Hamlin) since my senior year of high school, and then played five years at Pitt (University of Pittsburgh) with him. He's a great guy, comes from a great family, great family man. I'm sure you guys have seen on Twitter an interview resurfaced when he was in high school why he chose to stay at Pitt and not go to Ohio State, Notre Dame. He had like every offer, and he said the main reason was to be like a role model to his younger brother. That's the kind of guy he is. He's a great competitor, loves the game of football. He's just a great guy. Tragedy happened to him. It's really sad, but Damar is a great, great guy."
Did you see it live and what was it like watching a former teammate go through that?
"I did see it live. I was watching at my apartment with Charlie Heck who was over. It was scary. At first I thought it was just a concussion or something. Then, obviously the ambulance. What really freaked me out was the sideline reaction. I've never seen anything like that before from teammates. I called a teammate of mine, speaking to on the phone, trying to get any update we could. A lot of rumors were floating around and stuff no one really had an answer to. It was scary. It was really scary to watch live."
How has this impacted you personally?
"Personally, it's just more I feel terrible for him and his family because I saw his mom rode with him in the ambulance. I couldn't imagine my mom having to go through something like that. I know his mom and his dad, they traveled to all the games at Pitt. They were always around. His younger brother was always around. It's just weird being familiar with those people and knowing them. It's heartbreaking because like I said, Damar (Hamlin) is a great guy. His parents are awesome. I've never had anything but great experiences with him. My only memories of his parents when I saw them in college was just great. They're really positive people. They travel all around the country to watch Pitt and their son Damar play. It's really sad."
With all of the NFL provided resources, how are you doing?
"Personally, I'm doing okay. I'm fine, just all my sympathy goes out to the Hamlin family. I feel bad for him. I think the Texans and the NFL have been doing a good job, and the PA (NFL Players Association) is handling the situation. The support has been insane for his toy drive, which I believe he has been doing that since senior year of college, or maybe right when Combine training happened. He's like a hero in Pittsburgh. He always has been, even since he was in high school. The support has been amazing to watch. It's been incredible how people have reacted."
Can you talk about Damar Hamlin in a photo where he's leading the team at Pittsburgh?
"He was a leader for sure. That picture was from the jungle. Pregame, we always run out and one of the leaders stands up. Damar (Hamlin) was a leader for sure. He was a captain our last year together. He ran that entire defense. I'm sure if you've done enough digging, coach (Pat) Narduzzi said Damar is one of the smartest players he's ever coached on the defensive side. He was like a field general out there. He is definitely a leader. At Pitt, he was a leader."
What have you reflected on, and how have you processed this event?
"Same feelings for the family really and Damar (Hamlin). Hoping and praying they're okay and he gets through it. Damar is a fighter. It's really not about me or my feelings. I'm fine. It's just scary and heartbreaking that a guy I've known for a while and his parents, nothing but good people, have to go through something like this. Damar is living out his dream and next thing you know it's a different story. Hopefully he makes a full recovery, he comes back and gets to continue to live out his dream."
What's your favorite memory of Damar Hamlin?
"Damar (Hamlin) was a hometown kid from Pitt who was an All-American. Everybody knew him. He was the man on campus from day one. I just remember Damar being very inclusive. When you're a freshman in college and you're playing football, we were the first recruiting class coach Narduzzi had. There was about 30 of us. Everybody gets on campus and you're trying to be the guy, trying to be the alpha, feel people out. Damar (Hamlin) didn't buy into that. He was very comfortable with who he was. He knew he was the big man on campus. He included everybody if guys were going to do something on the weekends or if there was extra work. He was very inclusive of everybody. Always nice to me from day one and just a supportive guy. I just have good memories of Damar, especially when I first met him. He was really nice to me. I was a walk-on, and he was our No. 1 recruit."
Looking at the hit it was pretty routine, does it put it in perspective on how violent our game is?
"The game is violent. There is risk obviously with playing the game. Just like in anything, it was a freak accident. That's all I really have to say about that."
DL KURT HINISH
Can you tell us about Bills DB Damar Hamlin from your perspective?
"He's a great football player but an even better person. Speaking from my relationship and me observing his relationship with his family, he's a super family-oriented kind of kid. He obviously chose to stay home in Pittsburgh and go to the University of Pittsburgh to set a great example for his younger brother and everyone else he grew up with in that community. He means a lot to them and will continue to mean a lot to them. The example that he sets for everyone in that community is second to none, and it's admirable in the way he carries himself and the role model he is for his younger brother and everyone in that community. Everyone in Pittsburgh."
Were you watching Monday Night Football live?
"Yeah, I was sitting there. We were having our rookie D-line dinner. I walked into the restaurant, and I literally saw him tackle the guy, stand up and then collapse. My heart dropped. I didn't know if he had a concussion, and then it went into the whole fiasco that it turned in to. From what I understand, reading everything, it seems like everything is going in the right direction."
Have you reached out to anyone who is connected to Damar Hamlin?
"When stuff like this is going on, I really just try to stay out of the way. I don't want to be the kind of person to be reaching out because at the end of the day we can all show our support from the outside and really give them their distance. Let them handle their own stuff. They are family. Just kind of stay out of the way, let them handle their own stuff and we can support them from the outside. Kind of just let them do their own thing."
What do you know about his strength physically and mentally?
"We trained together back home too during the summer. We've known each other since I've been a freshman in high school, working out together for all these years. Mentally, he's just such a strong person that if anyone was put to this test, if I could see anybody coming out on the other side of this, it would be him. Just the mental fortitude that he has and the way we train, just the way he carries himself every day, that means lot. From an outsider's point of view, if it's anyone that's going to pull through this and come out fantastic and better than he was, it's going to be him. That's just the kind of kid he is."
Do you remember the first time you met him?
"That was a long time ago. No, I really don't. I don't remember half the stuff that went on in high school."
What was your relationship like with him in recent years?
"We just kind of support one another. Like I said, when we go back home we have the same trainer, so we train together. There's a group of us that train together. Just support each other, friends, all that stuff. We keep in touch here and there. Just kind of stuff like that. We've all got our own stuff going on."
What were your thoughts when you saw it on TV?
"I was telling someone yesterday, it's one thing when you see something like that happen on TV. It's another thing when you see something like that happen on TV when you know the person, when you have a relationship with that person. It kind of means more because I play football in the NFL. He plays football in the NFL. It just kind of puts things into perspective. It really hits you harder because you know that person. You know that person's family. You see his younger brother running around and the role model Damar (Hamlin) is for his family. You can only image what's going on with them."
What memories do you remember from Damar Hamlin in the community?
"His toy drive is one of the things you see. He's always giving back to the community with his toy drive. I believe he's done a number of events. I think he did a kickball tournament this past season, raising money for the community as well. Other than that, bringing his younger brother to his workouts with the NFL guys to see how he trains and sets the example for them. It's really cool to see."
How did you guys approach the team meeting today? What message did Lovie Smith give?
"Lovie (Smith) stood up and talked about the situation and if anyone needs any help, there's stuff available for us if we want that. Just stuff like that."
How important is it for you to talk to your teammates about him?
"I think it's a good idea because we all know what kind of person Damar (Hamlin) is and to kind of bring light to the situation, what kind of a person he is. How strong of a person he is mentally to fight this battle that's going on right now. He's going to be great. He's going to be just fine."