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“Yesterday, really, for the first time all week, the N.F.L. community collectively was able to exhale just a bit, maybe be able to smile just a little bit, as it appears that millions of prayers around the world have been answered,” Mr. Levy said before the game. “Damar Hamlin turning a positive corner, making progress, on his way, we all hope, to a full recovery.”
Dan Orlovsky, the analyst standing next to Mr. Levy, continued on the feel-good theme, saying that Mr. Hamlin “not only brought out the best in the N.F.L., he brought out the best in humanity.”
The game coverage mirrored ESPN’s 75-minute pregame show.
“You see us all smiling,” said the host Sam Ponder, opening the show with a panel of football analysts sitting around her in a New York studio. “We didn’t know if this is how we were going to be able to do this show earlier in the week. A collective sigh of relief after days of holding our breath.”
Ms. Ponder continued in that vein, saying, “A week that started with a lot of darkness comes to an end with so much light, so much hope and gratitude for answered prayers.”
Rex Ryan, the former head coach of the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills and current ESPN analyst, began crying when he recalled Mr. Hamlin asking doctors — via pen and paper — if the Bills had won the game on Monday. The game was initially suspended and later canceled.
“He’s a dang legend,” Mr. Ryan said, his voice shaking. “Thank you. I needed it — as a dad, as a coach and as a fan of this game.”
“Lots of silver linings we’re finding,” Ms. Ponder said.
Steve Young, the former player and current analyst, was one of the few to point out that Mr. Hamlin’s collapse also underscored the violent nature of the game, calling the incident “a referendum on the game.”