I grew up in Cincinnati. I was born at Good Samaritan Hospital in the fall and was brought home in a Bengals onesie. I lived in a small town about 20 minutes west of downtown Cincinnati along I-74. I inherited my Bengals fandom from my father and I will pass it on to my son and daughter when they’re old enough for me to feel that spending money on a ticket for them wouldn’t be wasted with “can I play with your phone” or “where is the cotton candy guy?”
I also lived in Buffalo for two years when I was in the military in my early 20s. I moved there at the same time as J.P. Losman when the Bills struggled and the Buffalo Sabres were on fire. When I lived there, the city was on crazy with hockey fever. Chris Drury and Daniel Briére led the Sabres to two consecutive appearances in the Eastern Conference finals, and Buffalo, starving for a championship, couldn’t be more excited.
It was always a football town, though.
Watching the Bengals and Bills players surrounding Damar Hamlin as he received CPR on the field at Paycor Stadium was sobering. After all, we see professional athletes, sometimes especially NFL players, as somehow more than human, yet we saw one of these superheroes fighting for his life. All of a sudden, the game didn’t matter, and the NFL wisely suspended play. I was reminded how similar Cincinnati and Buffalo are.
Both downtown areas are similar in size. Neither are the size of L.A., Chicago or New York City, but both sit on a body of water and have beautiful skylines. Both cities have a similar population and both are recovering rust belt cities. Both cities have great regional foods, rich cultures, great colleges with exciting sports teams and wonderful people.
Watching the way these two passionate fan bases joined together to hope and pray that Hamlin pulls through was amazing. I do think that had the Bengals been playing against the Browns, Steelers or Ravens, the result would be the same, but there’s a friendship that has existed between the Bengals and Bills before this terrible event links them farther.
It started when Andy Dalton and the 2017 Bengals defeated the Ravens in Baltimore in Week 17. That win didn’t mean anything to the Bengals. They finished the year 7-9. It did however eliminate the Ravens from the playoffs. More importantly, though, it sent the Bills to the playoffs for the first time since the 1999 season.
When that happened, Bills fans flooded the Andy and Jordan Dalton Foundation with thousands upon thousands of $14 donations. In the end, the foundation received close to half a million dollars.
Then, last season in the divisional round, the Chiefs defeated the Bills in maybe the greatest playoff game in NFL history. So many Bengals fans posted pictures like this, all over social media:
The Bengals and Bills don’t play each other enough to form contempt for each other like the Bengals have with their division rivals, and it seems, in the recent past when the Bengals are good the Bills aren’t and vise versa. That won’t be the case anymore. The Bengals and Bills have two of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL in Joe Burrow and Josh Allen, and the two teams are destined to meet each other in the playoffs often in the future.
Now, this terrifying medical event will forever link the Bengals and Bills together. People will be talking about this for a long time and neither team will shake the image of what happened for years. What has happened since then, though, has been nothing short of amazing.
First, I will say the way medical professionals from both teams, the stadium, the EMTs and the doctors and nurses now treating Hamlin have all been amazing. The NFL had a plan for medical events like this, and we saw it work.
Bills and Bengals fans and fans of other teams all over the world donated money to Hamlin’s toy drive, which started with a goal of $2,500. In just over 24 hours, when I’m writing this, the GoFundMe has reached over $5 million. Bengals and Bills fans stood outside University of Cincinnati Medical Center, singing songs, praying, holding candles and coming together as friends. I’m so proud of the city of Cincinnati for the way they have responded. I’m proud to be a fan of the Bengals who are coached by Zac Taylor and led on the field by Joe Burrow.
Reports say that Burrow organized the team captains going to the Bills locker room to show their support. The news shows Taylor leaving the hospital after he went to check on Hamlin. I think most players and coaches probably would do the same thing, but watching your team do it makes you swell with pride.
And there are things like this:
I know rivalries are important to sports. College football wouldn’t be the same if the Buckeyes and Wolverines were best buds, and the NFL wouldn’t be the same if rivalries didn’t exist. It’s also nice sometimes to have a team that you root for when they aren’t playing your favorite team. That’s who the Bills are to me. Unless they’re playing the Bengals, I hope they win. I would be willing to bet most of you feel the same way.
I hope and pray that Damar Hamlin recovers. I pray for him and his family. I pray for his teammates and for the Bengals, especially Tee Higgins. And I pray for all the medical professionals working so hard to help Hamlin recover.