Damar Hamlin was nearing his ninth birthday when Mike Tomlin was hired as the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers. He was just a kid playing youth football in McKees Rocks then, only a few years older than Tomlin’s own sons.
But Tomlin watched as Hamlin would go on to star at Central Catholic High School, while his boys Dino and Mason would go on to play at nearby Shadyside Academy. All three boys were chasing their dreams. And Tomlin, who first forged a relationship with a 12-year-old Hamlin, was able to watch the whole way.
“I’ll say this about Damar Hamlin, it’s really personal for me being a Pittsburgher,” Tomlin said at his weekly press conference Tuesday. “And that young man being a Pittsburgher. I’ve known that guy probably since he was about 12.
“Just got a lot of respect and love for him as a human being. His commitment to the pursuit of his goals and dreams and doing what it is he’s doing right now, which is playing in the NFL. And to watch him make personal decisions and make that a realization, it’s just an honor to get to know young people like that.”
Full video of Mike Tomlin on Damar Hamlin.
Tomlin doesn’t often show emotion to the media and he holds back here, but it’s clear this is personal.
After two questions about Hamlin, Tomlin asks if anyone has questions about this week’s game. pic.twitter.com/e27a2JfUJn
— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) January 3, 2023
The relationship between Hamlin and Tomlin continued as he decided to stay home — truly at home — at Pitt. Hamlin committed to the hometown Panthers over his choice of basically any college in the country because he wanted to stay close to his family.
A shared facility between the Steelers and the Panthers allowed a relationship forged in Pittsburgh to continue in the Steel City, but even after Hamlin left for his chance in the NFL, Tomlin has been fortunate enough to continue seeing him on a regular basis.
And while the last couple of meetings have come as rivals, on opposing NFL teams as a player and coach, Hamlin is living out his childhood dream right alongside Tomlin.
“I’ve had an opportunity to express that to him whenever I see him,” Tomlin said. “We’ve played Buffalo each of the last two seasons, and he and I get to have a moment because it’s just cool to not only appreciate these guys in terms of where they are now but to know them since they were younger people, to watch their maturation and development, to watch them earn what they’ve been chasing is just really a cool thing. He’s an example of that; I’ve got a lot of love for that young man.”
Tomlin said that he’s reached out to Buffalo Bills head coach Sean McDermott, a collegiate team of Tomlin’s at William & Mary in the 1990s, to lend whatever assistance he could. And he said that the Steelers as a whole are lifting Hamlin, McDermott and the Bills organization up in prayer.
Hamlin, now a safety for the Buffalo Bills, suffered a cardiac arrest during the first quarter of the Bills’ Monday Night Football matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals and was hospitalized at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, where he is currently in critical condition.
Hamlin’s family released a statement Tuesday expressing their gratitude for the outpouring of love and support he has received since being hospitalized Monday night and shared that updates on his status will be released when they become available.