The Jan. 2 showdown between the Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals was one of the most highly anticipated football games of the season. Now the nationally televised game is being remembered for its unexpected outcome, as players and coaches from both teams circled together on their knees in desperate prayer to God.
Nine minutes into the first quarter of the gridiron battle between two of the NFL’s most dominant teams, 24-year-old Bills defensive back Damar Hamlin tackled Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins before standing up, taking two steps and collapsing backward on the turf.
Hamlin, who suffered cardiac arrest, was treated on the field by emergency rescue personnel for about 15 minutes before being transported by ambulance to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center. He remained hospitalized for a week in Cincinnati before being transferred to Buffalo General Medical Center, where he was released in good health on Jan. 11 to continue rehabilitation at home.
While stunned players and coaches pleaded for an on-field miracle, prayer requests flooded social media. Franklin Graham posted a photo on Facebook of the Bills huddled on their knees with the following comment: “The Buffalo Bills know who to call out to for help! They knew that Damar needed help that only God can give. Today, millions of people continue to pray for this young man, and I am one of them.”
And as news reports provided daily updates of Hamlin’s condition, the word prayer was heard repeatedly on various network talk shows. Former NFL quarterback and ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky bowed his head and voiced a prayer during a live broadcast the day after Hamlin’s admittance to the intensive care unit.
“God, we come to You in these moments that we don’t understand, that are hard, because we believe that You’re God, and coming to You and praying to You has impact,” Orlovsky prayed. “We’re sad, we’re angry, and we want answers, but some things are unanswerable. We just want to pray, truly come to You and pray for strength for Damar, for healing for Damar, for comfort for Damar, to be with his family, to give them peace. If we didn’t believe that prayer … work[ed], we wouldn’t ask this of You, God. I believe in prayer, we believe in prayer. We lift up Damar Hamlin’s name in Your name. Amen.”
Franklin responded on Facebook: “This warms my heart! Dan Orlovsky, ESPN analyst and former football player, cared enough for Damar Hamlin to pray for him right there on national television. He wasn’t afraid to say ‘I believe in prayer!’ I do too Dan—thanks for setting an example for others to follow. The Bible tells us to ‘pray without ceasing’ (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
While some in today’s culture criticize crisis-driven prayer, those who believe in an omnipotent God know that asking for His help is the most practical thing one can do, said retired NFL tight end and pro-life advocate Benjamin Watson.
“We go to prayer because these things are out of our control, but we know Who is in control,” Watson told CBN News. “So many times, when things are out of our control, we look for God to intervene, and that’s what you saw happening. We are praying to a God who has shown Himself strong over and over again in Scripture. We aren’t praying to a higher power. We aren’t praying to make ourselves feel better. We are praying because we believe that God can move and He will move and He listens to the prayers of His people. That is what He has proven to us over time. He is not a dead god made out of wood and stone. He is alive and well. When we seek Him, we seek Him because that is what He tells us to do.”
Meanwhile, a chorus of current and former NFL players voiced prayers for Hamlin via social media.
Bills quarterback Josh Allen tweeted after the game had been suspended: “Please pray for our brother.” Rival Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes tweeted, “Praying hard … please be okay man.” Former NFL linebacker Emmanuel Acho tweeted: “Join me in praying for: Damar Hamlin’s full recovery. Peace for his family and loved ones. Wisdom for doctors and physicians in contact with Damar right now.” Then he added, “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective (James 5:16b).”
Josh Holland, international director of the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team (BG-RRT) chaplain ministry, said that prayers born out of a crisis like Hamlin’s are similar to the responses chaplains encounter while comforting victims of natural disasters.
“I think it’s a testimony to the fact that the Scripture says we’re all created in the image of God,” Holland said. “When tragedy strikes, there is something deep within people that compels them to look to God. The psalmist writes that ‘in my distress I call to You.’ Sometimes it takes a crisis for us to look up and realize that we’re pretty helpless in and of ourselves, and we all need the Lord.”
“There’s nothing more powerful for believers to do in a time of need than to call out to God,” Franklin Graham said. “God promises to hear and answer pleas from His people according to His gracious will.”
Today, BGEA prayerfully calls people to accept Jesus Christ as Savior and follow Him as Lord.
In 2022, BG-RRT chaplains responded to 69 disasters around the world and prayed with 45,828 people, of whom 1,598 made commitments to Jesus Christ. “We’ve seen people come to Christ through the worst of circumstances,” Holland said. “It’s a beautiful thing to see how God loves us so much that He allows us to go through crisis situations to ultimately encounter His love.” ©2023 BGEA