KIRKLAND, Wash. (May 6, 2006) -- Ken Hamlin was trying to sit up in his hospital bed last October without the intensive care unit seeming to spin around him.
Merely staying conscious for more than a few minutes at a time was a good day.
No one has to tell him how much better his days are now.
"How do I look?" Hamlin said at the Seattle Seahawks ' minicamp.
His smile was as wide as his last seven months have been long.
To Hamlin, a helmet never looked so good. The one he is wearing this weekend is not to heal a fractured skull and a blood clot near the brain, which he sustained in an Oct. 17 assault outside a downtown Seattle nightclub.
This helmet is his familiar, metallic blue, Seahawks one.
The 25-year-old Hamlin is back on the field as a starting free safety. He is practicing for the first time since his life, let alone his career, was put in critical doubt by two men police are still trying to find.
He cherishes plays like the leaping interception he made during a morning practice -- and the playful razzing his teammates gave him after it.
Hamlin said there was a time "it was a little optimistic" to think he would ever play again.
So don't bother telling him this is a minicamp.
"I'm grateful to be back out there," Hamlin said.
He said he feels fine, has had no setbacks. Instead, he has the same soreness he always has after starting a preseason.
"And it's all lower-body," he said, chuckling. "It's great to be out there running around."
So far, that's all he's allowed to do.
The Seahawks' medical staff, in consultation with neurosurgeons and other specialists from around the country with experience in skull trauma, has yet to clear Hamlin for contact drills. Those begin in late July, at training camp.
"I don't know if there is anything to prove -- unless you just want me to line up and just run into the wall a couple of times," Hamlin said, laughing. "The doctors are still evaluating me on and on, so we are just taking it one step at a time to see how things go."
Coach Mike Holmgren said Hamlin just being back on the field is "amazing."
"If, in fact, he can come back and play, and play like he was playing before he got hurt, I think it would be one of the real good stories of the year," Holmgren said.
He and Hamlin traded huge smiles when Hamlin took the field for the first time May 5.
Holmgren and defensive tackle Rocky Bernard were among the first to see Hamlin half-conscious in the hospital after the two men beat him in an altercation that police say began at a bar and then continued into a street.
"When I saw him in that hospital, I was wondering, 'Man, would he ever be able to play again?'," Bernard said.
When Hamlin was asked what he remembers about the circumstances around the assault, he said, "Not much."
He also said his time away allowed him to evaluate "everything," including his friends and lifestyle. Yet Hamlin has no regrets about how those led to him being inside Seattle's Haborview Medical Center for six days.
"I'm here right now, so I'm grateful," he said.
His team remains hopeful.
"I just hope it all works out and when he bangs around, it's going to be fine," Holmgren said.
Holmgren would love to have Hamlin next to strong safety Mike Green, recently acquired from Chicago, as the proven, veteran backline of a revamped defense. Seattle also has added former San Francisco Pro Bowl linebacker Julian Peterson and first-round draft choice Kelly Jennings may start at cornerback.
For now, Hamlin is getting reacquainted with his sport. He began getting reacquainted with teammates late last season, when he was on the sidelines at games. By February's Super Bowl loss to Pittsburgh, Hamlin was perhaps the team's most active cheerleader and coach.
Now, he's finally off those sidelines.
"He's a little bit rusty, obviously," defensive backs coach Teryl Austin said. "But he's still got that spring in his step, which is great.
"It's a gradual process. We're following certain steps to bring him back."
Bernard has enjoyed Hamlin being back "laughing and hanging out with us. It was good to see that, good to see the same, old Ken Hamlin."
But will he be the same, old Ken Hamlin whose punishing hits on opponents earned him the nickname, "The Hammer?" Will he hesitate the first time he sticks his head in to make a tackle?
"I love what I do. I don't think I'm going to change my style of play," Hamlin said. "I'm just waiting for my time to happen."
He's also waiting for the police to find who assaulted him. He said the investigation is still active, though he hasn't talked to the police in "a while."
Meanwhile, he said his outlook of football hasn't changed.
"Still hate to lose," he said. "And I still love the game."
How about his outlook on life?
"Oh, that's the greatest thing you have," he said. "And I don't take it for granted.
"This is something you don't want ... to take lightly."
Then Hamlin flashed another, huge smile.
He thought of where he is, compared to where he has been, and said: "It's looking good right now."