Nine months after assault, Hamlin back for Seahawks

Updated: July 31, 2006, 11:07 PM ET
Associated Press

CHENEY, Wash. -- Ken Hamlin waited nine months for Monday.

It was the first day in full uniform for the Seahawks safety since two still-at-large suspects fractured his skull, bruised his brain tissue and created a blood clot near his brain during a brutal October street fight outside a downtown Seattle bar.

Ken Hamlin

"I have a chip on my shoulder because I have things to prove for myself," the 25-year-old Hamlin said after finishing the milestone practice.

Monday's practice was full-pads but non-contact. Hamlin's first true tackle may not come until Saturday, when the team has a scrimmage that coach Mike Holmgren said "will be just like a game."

"It'd be like a guy coming off a bad knee injury, the first hit and how he responds to things," Holmgren said. "My feeling is he'll be just fine -- but I've got to admit we're waiting for that first big collision."

Hamlin said that might not come until he sees an opponent again, in the Aug. 12 exhibition opener against Dallas.

AP Photo/Jim BryantHamlin (right) participated Monday in his first practice since suffering severe head injuries in an altercation outside a bar in October.

Early in the morning of Oct. 17, Seattle police reported two men beat Hamlin with at least a forearm and, according to one witness, a metallic street sign after a bar altercation moved outside.

Police spokesman Rich Pruitt said recently the investigation remains open. No arrests have been made, largely because very few witnesses who were in the crowded street just after the bar's closing will talk.

Hamlin spent six days in a hospital, three in the intensive care unit. Seahawks teammates who visited him in those first days came back visibly shaken.

"I mean, he was in a situation where he had the potential to die," fellow safety Michael Boulware said. "That was a very, very hard time, a very emotional time for our team."

"I think about that every day," Hamlin said.

Hamlin is also fortunate to be playing for one of the pioneering NFL teams in head injury management.

Seattle's proactive testing of players' brain functioning dates over a decade, according to the NFL's top consultant on head trauma, the University of Pittsburgh's Dr. Mark Lovell.

Lovell is the league's director of neuropsychological testing. He said Seahawks team physician Stan Herring, who rushed to Hamlin's bedside almost immediately after he arrived at the hospital, is a rehabilitation doctor by trade.

"So he is more trained in brain rehabilitation than most guys," on NFL team medical staffs, Lovell said. "They've always done careful and informed testing."

So while Hamlin slipped in and out of consciousness, Herring and the Seahawks dived into their specialty. And as they continued to test Hamlin's memory and cognitive recovery, the Seahawks had their baseline test results on Hamlin's normal brain functioning -- gathered prior to the assault -- for comparison with the new results.

Once those results began resembling the old ones, Hamlin was cleared for practice.

"One of the reasons we do testing is so we can make sure everything has healed," Lovell said by phone from Pittsburgh. "A guy can look healed from an X-ray, CAT scan or MRI, but you don't know."

Hamlin got some ribbing on his first day in pads. He dropped an interception in the end zone on a pass that linebacker Lofa Tatupu deflected to him.

"He's moving awfully well," Holmgren said. "I teased him, I said I guess your hand-eye coordination is the last thing that comes back,' since he dropped a couple passes.

"Then I realized, 'Wait a minute, you didn't have great hands before you got hurt."'

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press