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Praying for Bills announcer John Murphy to author a comeback like Damar Hamlin’s

It was my job to be a writing sherpa. I needed to guide us up the metaphorical mountain and through the manuscript like I had done in previous collaborations with rock star Lou Gramm, World Series hero Johnny Antonelli, and Buffalo Bills Wall-of-Famer Steve Tasker. I needed to keep us on track in order to meet this summer’s publication deadline for John Murphy’s book about his wonderful Bills broadcasting career and life.

While sitting in Murph’s comfy, cozy, living room numerous times since March, I would play word association with him, asking him to reflect on a particular player, coach, or game. Invariably, we would wind up getting side-tracked the way old friends often do and start laughing or becoming emotional about some moment we had witnessed while covering Western New York’s beloved, beleaguered National Football League team.

The conversations and subsequent editing sessions were great fun; enjoyable trips down memory lane that gave us an opportunity to rekindle a friendship that began in 1985 – my first year covering the team for the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, and Murph’s second year as Van Miller’s sidekick on Bills radio broadcasts. A few months ago, we submitted the as-told-to manuscript, and the publisher loved it. The only thing left to do is provide the final chapter about this season once it ends.

I’m hoping that chapter winds up being spectacular and inspiring. I’m hoping it is capped by Murph shouting into the microphone the words the Voice of the Bills has yearned to say since attending his first game on January 1, 1967, at old War Memorial Stadium.

“The Buffalo Bills are Super Bowl champions!”

Those words would put the exclamation point on one of the most challenging stretches in the history of Buffalo, the Bills, and John Murphy.

Sadly, Murph’s family announced last week that he had suffered a stroke. That unnerving news came just days after the world witnessed the shocking scene of Bills safety Damar Hamlin almost dying on the field in Cincinnati after suffering cardiac arrest during a nationally televised Monday night game. These terrible events were a continuation of a taxing, occasionally tragic nine-month span that has seen Buffalo endure the racist mass shooting that killed 10 innocent people, two cataclysmic snowstorms (including one that resulted in 44 deaths) and a house fire in which five children perished.

Talk about piling on.

The team that’s been our region’s connective tissue has endured its share of adversity, too. In addition to the Hamlin and Murphy challenges, the Bills have been forced to deal with co-owner Kim Pegula’s serious health issues, as well as a spate of injuries that threatened to de-rail the team’s Super Bowl run. As a result of the “Snovember” storm, the Bills were forced to move a home game to a neutral site and play three games in just 12 days. Through it all, a town and a team known for its tenacity, togetherness, and resiliency has motored on. One step, one shovelful at a time.

As we’ve seen with the Damar Hamilin story, triumph and beauty occasionally sprout from tragedy, like crocuses through snow. Heroic, quick-thinking, calm-under-immense-pressure first responders helped save Damar’s life in the precious seconds and minutes following his collapse. To see him progress this past week has been so inspiring and such a relief. That first question of his – “Did we win?” – following his awakening from sedation, and the doctor’s “You won the game of life” response resonated deeply.

And so, too, has the kindness and support of people, not only from Buffalo, but throughout the world. In the aftermath of this near-death experience came an outpouring of love. From the widespread jerseys and signs bearing Hamlin’s No. 3, to the nearly $10 million dollars that have poured into Damar’s charitable foundation, we’ve been reminded that goodness still exists; that the better angels of our nature can prevail.

It all came to a head Sunday at Highmark Stadium in arguably the most emotional game in Bills history. On the team’s first play since the one that took down Damar, Nyheim Hines ran the opening kickoff back 96 yards for a touchdown.  “I can’t remember a play that touched me like that, I don’t think, in my life,’’ emotionally wrought Bills quarterback Josh Allen said afterward. “… it was just spiritual, and I was going around to my teammates saying, ‘God is real.’ ’’

Whether you believe in God or not, it felt divine. And it marked the first time in three years and three months that a Bills player had returned a kickoff for a touchdown. Once again, the number three came into play: Damar’s number. Hines would repeat the feat later in the game, this time going 101 yards as the Bills capped a 13-3 regular season with a 35-23 victory against New England.

As I watched this unfold from my living room, it was difficult not to get choked up. I couldn’t help but think about Murph, and how I wish he were there, describing this incredible scene.

One thing that struck me during my book conversations with him is how he is Buffalo, through and through. He had several opportunities to leave for bigger markets, but it was never a true consideration because this is his forever home. We talk a lot in the book about how resilient Buffalonians are; how they slough off hardship and criticism, pick themselves up, and carry on. And we talk about how they repeatedly live up to their slogan, “The City of Good Neighbors.”

This was underscored again in the aftermath of the shootings, the storms, and Damar’s near-death experience. “If you get a chance to show some love today, then do it,’’ Damar wrote in a tweet that sums up his life’s philosophy. “It won’t cost you nothing.”

There has been an outpouring of “Buffa-love” for kind-hearted Murph, his loving wife, Mary, and their remarkable family in recent days, and I’m hoping that continues as he makes progress. Damar’s story reminded us that miracles do happen. So, here’s hoping and praying for another one.

Get well, Murph, and keep fighting. There’s another chapter to write, another comeback to chronicle, my friend, and I believe it is going to be amazing – just like you.

Best-selling author and nationally honored journalist Scott Pitoniak is the Rochester Business Journal’s sports columnist.

One comment

  1. Thanks Scott. Beautifully said… as always.

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