Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin had a video-call message of love for his teammates on Friday after his breathing tube was removed overnight.
The 24-year-old suffered cardiac arrest in the Bills' Monday night NFL game against the Bengals in Cincinnati, where he was resuscitated on the field and hospitalized in critical condition at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center (UCMC).
Bills coach Sean McDermott said much of Hamlin's communication with his teammates on Friday remained through hand signals and gestures -- his trademark "heart" sign and a biceps curl flex to indicate strength that drew a chuckle from the coach.
"It was a little hard to hear, he said 'I love you boys,'" McDermott added. "Of course that got the guys."
Hamlin collapsed after taking a hard hit to the chest while tackling Bengals receiver Tee Higgins during the first quarter of the nationally televised game.
The frightening scenes saw medical staff restore Hamlin's heartbeat on the field using cardiopulmonary resuscitation and defibrillators.
Players and personnel from both teams were left stunned, with some crying and praying as doctors treated him.
The game was called off, and the NFL announced on Thursday that it would not be resumed or replayed, leaving both teams with one less game played this season than the other 30 clubs in the league.
The playoff-bound Bills, who still have a chance to capture the AFC's top seed for a first-round bye and home field advantage, will host the New England Patriots on Sunday in their final regular-season game.
McDermott said Hamlin's continuing progress had buoyed a team shaken by Monday's events.
"They're not robots," McDermott said of the players. "They're real people."
Already thrilled by Thursday's news that Hamlin was awake and able to communicate by writing, Bills players and team staff were overjoyed to see him on the brief video conference, McDermott said.
"When he came on the screen -- to see the players reaction -- they stood up right away and clapped for him and yelled some things to him," McDermott said. "It was a pretty cool exchange for a few seconds there."
Bills quarterback Josh Allen spoke Thursday of the impact of Monday's events.
"The scene just plays over and over in your head," Allen said, adding that the Bills were looking forward to a chance to "love up on" Hamlin when they can see him in person.
Fans around the country have also been galvanized by Hamlin's experience, holding vigils in both Buffalo and Cincinnati and donating millions of dollars to his charity toy drive GoFundMe.
The Bills had tweeted Friday morning that Hamlin's breathing tube had been removed.
"He continues to progress remarkably in his recovery," the team said. "His neurologic function remains intact and he has been able to talk to his family and care team."
Timothy Pritts, a doctor at UCMC, said Thursday that when Hamlin first woke up, he asked whether the Bills had won the game.
"The answer is yes, Damar, you won the game of life," Pritts said.