Bill Belichick offers emotional Damar Hamlin reflection: 'Life is bigger than this game'

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Perry: Belichick shows a different side with reflection on Damar Hamlin originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

FOXBORO -- Bill Belichick has a behind-the-microphone persona that is very familiar to the football-watching world. But when real-life events occur that he chooses to address, he has shown he has the ability to exhibit the kind of emotion not typically exhibited at a podium.

That was the case Thursday when he met with reporters for the first time since Bills defensive back Damar Hamlin collapsed on the field during Monday night's game against the Bengals. Belichick said he watched the Monday night broadcast -- something he normally doesn't do -- because he was interested in watching Buffalo before their Week 18 matchup, and the scene following Hamlin's cardiac incident impacted him.

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"Damar Hamlin has been, I think, on everyone's minds and in their thoughts since Monday night," Belichick said. "Our entire team and organization, on behalf of them, I've extended our thoughts and prayers to the Bills and their organization, Coach [Sean] McDermott and their team. Also to Coach [Zac] Taylor and the Bengals. We're kind of sandwiched right around those teams based on how the schedule has fallen.

"Certainly the news from a little earlier this morning about Damar's progress is great news and encouraging for all of us."

The Bills announced Thursday that Hamlin was making "steady progress," and despite being "critically ill," he appeared to be "neurologically intact." NFL Network's Ian Rapoport later reported that Hamlin's eyes were open and that he was gripping the hands of those close to him as he continued to receive treatment at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.

Belichick explained that when he saw what happened to Hamlin on Monday night, it reminded him of the injury suffered by Lions linebacker Reggie Brown in a game against the Jets at the end of the 1997 season. Brown suffered a spinal-cord injury that day, and according to the New York Times' report, he "lay motionless on the turf for 17 minutes."

Brown never played again. He told the Washington Times this week, "I live a not-normal life. I can walk... But there's a lot of issues that go along with just walking. I'm 48. I feel like I'm 98."

"It was a very chilling game," Belichick said. "One I'll never forget. I mean I've been in a lot of games, but there's some there's a moment that sticks out. That would be one of them... I was there and experienced that, and I think I have some sense of what the teams -- players and coaches -- went through Monday night. Like I said, it's something that you never forget."

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Belichick reflected further, adding, "Football is a very great and competitive game. Unfortunately injuries and things like this can and do happen from time to time. It's very unfortunate.

"... Life is bigger than this game. This is one of those humbling moments for all of us that stands out. I'd say, as a coach, it's different, and I've expressed this to the players multiple times, but the amount of respect I have for them and what they do and how they do it is immense... What they and their families deal with as participants is different than what I do as a coach, and I respect that, and I appreciate what they do and try to do the best I can to make the right decisions and coach them in the best way that I possibly can."

As for how the Patriots are dealing with things since Hamlin's injury, Belichick didn't want to get into great detail other than to say, "Everyone's doing the best they can."

He did contact other teams for input on how they may be handling the situation. He also mentioned that he's leaned on the leadership in the locker room -- mentioning captains Devin McCourty, Matthew Slater, Ja'Whaun Bentley, Deatrich Wise, Mac Jones and David Andrews -- and that he's found coaches Jerod Mayo and Troy Brown to be particularly helpful.

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"Two players, in particular, that carry a lot of weight with me are two staff members: Troy and Jerod," Belichick said. "They played the game at this level. I haven't. They've lived the life of a professional football player at a very, very, very high level. From a training, maturity, performance, longevity (perspective) -- all of the above -- their input and guidance has been especially valuable."

The Patriots are scheduled to play the Bills on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET. They'll practice Thursday for the second time this week, preparing themselves for a game that could vault them into the postseason with a win. The NFL has made it clear it hasn't discussed postponing the game, but it also hasn't ruled out that possibility.

"All those questions are out of our control," Belichick said. "Not going to worry about any of those. We're trying to control what we can control, which is what we're doing here, and how we're doing it, and we're doing the best we can."