Cleared to play by his own and the team’s doctors, Hamlin seemed to wonder what the fuss is all about. "I’ve been hearing people making a big deal about the pads, and I’m out here going through the regular practice like we’re going through,” he said. “I normally don’t take big hits from my teammates anyway.”
“I have been working ever since I got approved to play, I’d be out there working everyday doing different things. Its training camp, I’m here like everybody else and am just doing the same work.”
It was the morning of October 17th when Hamlin was involved in an altercation in Seattle’s Pioneer Square. Hamlin and a female companion (identified as his girlfriend) were leaving a congested area on First Avenue S. and S. Main Street in Seattle. Hamlin was walking ahead of his companion, leading her through the crowd, when Hamlin placed his hand on the back of one of the two suspects and said, “Excuse me”, asking the suspect to move. The suspect replied with a remark to the effect that he was “not one of Hamlin’s girls”, and to “stop pushing (him)”. Hamlin and the suspect began shoving each other, and Hamlin struck the suspect in the face. At that time, the second suspect approached the scene and began fighting with other people at the scene.
At some point, one of the suspects was seen hitting Hamlin at least once (possibly twice) with a magnetic street sign. At that time (the police report lists the time of incident as 2:04 a.m.), police arrived and began dispersing the crowd. One officer approached Hamlin, who was surrounded by various individuals who were trying to render aid. Hamlin was lying on the ground, and was not able to remember what had happened. He complained of severe pain in his head, neck and chest areas.To this date, no suspects have been apprehended in the assault.
Hamlin was taken to Harborview Medical Center and diagnosed with a fractured skull, blood clot near the brain, bruised brain tissue and a fractured bone in his right hand. He was released from the hospital a week later, and the long recovery period began. Hamlin visited the team’s Kirkland practice facility in an emotional November return. Wearing a black sweatsuit, he was alert and in good spirits, a little down in weight, but clearly enjoying the company of his teammates. Soon, he was a visible presence on the sidelines through the end of the season as his workouts progressed and his ability to recover increased. Hamlin raised the 12th Man flag before Seattle's divisional playoff victory over the Washington Redskins on January 14th.
In February of 2006, the team expressed the first bits of cautious optimism regarding Hamlin’s ability to come back to football. Cleared for non-contact workouts by his own doctors in late April and full-contact one week later, he made it through his first post-injury minicamp in May with flying colors. "I worked hard, took the advice of the medical staff and did the steps I needed to take to get back out there. It's looking good right now,” he said at the time.
Now, as the simulations become more real, Hamlin seems ready to meet the challenge. “I looked forward to getting back and to start working. I’ve been lifting weights and doing all the running and all the strenuous stuff is not fun, but you have to do it. To get back and start practicing and get some game mode is great,” he said.
Does this camp feel any different for him? “Training camp is training camp. It’s the same, but we have to go through it, and I am definitely delighted and fortunate to be out here.”
A fierce hitter on the field, Hamlin has done his best to follow in the footsteps of NFL predecessors Ronnie Lott and Steve Atwater – defensive backs who could bring the pain. Now, the shoe is on the other foot, everyone wants to know how he will take the hits, and Hamlin doesn’t seem to know how to respond to that – in his mind, the comeback is a foregone conclusion. “It’s going to be just like the other times when I’m on the field. It’s going to be the same. I’m out here just to get better as far as being on the field and doing the plays, I’m going to put myself in position at practice so that in the games I’ll be ready.”
Missing the remainder of the 2005 season, and the most incredible postseason in team history, was certainly tortuous for Hamlin. Did it add to his determination to return? “I’m determined anyway. I have a chip on my shoulder because I have things to prove for myself and as a team we have things to prove. I think we’re going out and we have to accomplish things. Attitude doesn’t mean anything.”
In the end, that might be what gets Ken Hamlin over the hump in one of the more amazing sports recovery stories in recent memory – the fact that in his mind, it’s not so amazing at all. It’s just day after day, moving forward and progressing.
“It’s not a question to me. I’ll keep answering your questions because you’re going to ask me, but I’m out here playing,” Hamlin told the assembled media.
Though it may be business as usual for Hamlin, his teammates, coaches and fans will be looking with ever-increasing focus…at the first hit, the first tackle, the first game, the first start.
And all involved will be praying for the most positive and inspirational conclusion.
Doug Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief of Seahawks.NET. Feel free to e-mail him here.