It will be 285 days since Jason Pinnock has seen his friend Damar Hamlin go down on “Monday Night Football,” 285 days since Damar Hamlin nearly lost his life on a football field.
Sometime before Pinnock’s Giants try to revive their season against Hamlin’s Bills, they will embrace on the field at a Highmark Stadium in an emotional reunion that neither of them will soon forget.
“I remember the last time I watched it live, I was in tears,” Pinnock told The Post. “It’s probably a different set of tears this time.
“Always good to see my brothers still going in this league, but this one’s gonna be pretty special to me.”
Jason Pinnock loved Damar Hamlin as a brother long before the rest of the country fell in love with him in the immediate aftermath of his life-and-death fight following his harrowing cardiac arrest during the Bills’ Week 17 Monday night game in Cincinnati when he collided with Tee Higgins.
Pinnock was a freshman at the University of Pittsburgh when he met Hamlin, a sophomore, in the defensive back room.
“He was kind of like the old savvy vet,” Pinnock said. “I was just 17 years old, lost, just trying to find a way.”
Hamlin helped him find a way.
“He was the big player who led all the extra player-led meetings,” Pinnock said. “He was a young guy, but an old soul.”
Pinnock was a cornerback from Windsor, Conn., Hamlin a cornerback from McKees Rock, Pa.
“Him being a Pittsburgh guy and me being out of state, his family always took me in, if I had nowhere to go Thanksgiving, or all the holidays that we missed during the season,” Pinnock said.
Pinnock won’t ever forget that fateful night when America was left frozen in fear and prayer for Damar Hamlin. Pinnock was watching the Bills-Bengals game in Cincinnati from Morristown, N.J., with his girlfriend.
“I was right on my living room couch,” he said.
“I was in such denial. I saw him go down. We all saw the hit, we didn’t think anything crazy, and then I’m like, ‘OK.’ And then once it got delayed and canceled, that’s when I kind of start panicking. Just like the rest of the world.”
Pinnock did not immediately reach out to the Hamlin family to allow them privacy.
“I was kind of letting them grieve and process what was going on and do what they had to do,” he said. “ ’Cause I knew that they were there, and I knew they were way more worried than I was.”
When the media sought reaction from Giants players in the immediate days that followed, particularly those who knew Hamlin, Pinnock was not ready to speak. “It was family to me. It was beyond a sport,” Pinnock said.
He monitored the news for updates every day. “Almost every hour,” Pinnock recalled.
During Hamlin’s stay at Buffalo General Medical Center/Gates Vascular Institute, Pinnock spoke to someone he declined to identify in the room with him.
“I didn’t speak to Damar directly until he was released,” Pinnock said.
Pinnock was encouraged and heartened when he was informed that Hamlin’s condition had improved, albeit slowly.
“Kind of just explaining his vitals and stuff, and like he’s coming back, he’s doing pretty good, he’s responding, giving thumbs-up, like he knows who’s around him, things like that,” Pinnock said.
“That was all I needed to know. Nobody really cared about football at that point. Just wanted to know he was all right.”
Finally, after about two weeks, Pinnock and Hamlin FaceTimed.
“Just wanted to hear his voice, see his face, see that smile,” Pinnock said.
It was a brief call.
“I’m good, I’m blessed,” Pinnock remembers Hamlin telling him that day. “I didn’t want to hold him too much. That’s obviously all he’s been talking about, and all he’s been answering. I’m not one to bug somebody too crazy.”
No one, maybe except Damar Hamlin, the epitome of perseverance and resilience, could possibly have envisioned that he would one day return to play safety for the Bills.
“It shows exactly who Damar is, man,” Pinnock said. “He’s never gonna stop. Never gonna stop.”
All of America never stopped cheering on Damar Hamlin. Maybe Jason Pinnock cheered longer and louder. For months now, Pinnock and Hamlin have been texting and exchanging messages on a weekly basis or so. Hamlin made his emotional return to the Highmark Stadium field on Oct. 1 on the kickoff return unit against the Dolphins. You can only imagine how proud Jason Pinnock is of his friend. “For sure,” Pinnock said. “For sure.”
And when they reunite on the Highmark Stadium field Sunday night before kickoff, Jason Pinnock will tell Damar Hamlin how happy he is to see him back where he belongs and doing what he loves. Because his friend has written a comeback story for the ages.
“And let’s do it!” Pinnock said.