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You'll see Nyheim Hines again
One month ago, Go Long sat down with the Buffalo Bills running back. He planned a takeover. Then? Everything changed.
BUFFALO — This is the smile Nyheim Hines maintains for most of three hours over wings at Nine-Eleven Tavern. The Buffalo Bills running back knows the 2023 NFL season is his season.
There’s zero doubt at Nine-Eleven Tavern.
And for this organization, the timing’s beautiful. Nobody knows how long the Super Bowl window will stay open in Western New York but the offseason was littered with red flags. Leslie Frazier’s bizarre departure. Those in charge advising Josh Allen to not be Josh Allen. Whatever the hell’s going on with Stefon Diggs — a “very concerned” Sean McDermott sure dove headfirst into a pile of manure during minicamp. All while new contenders emerge in this AFC gauntlet, the Bills were down to pennies, lint and a free drink token in their pocket. Brandon Beane couldn’t do much of anything in free agency. But the general manager was returning Hines, the dual-threat back he spent two years chasing.
After so much quarterback madness in Indy, after what he calls a “redshirt” first season in Buffalo, Hines makes it clear he plans on balling up a fist and smashing that Super Bowl window. A zero in 2022, he expects to be No. 0 embarrassing defenders in 2023.
Afraid that Kansas City and Cincinnati have officially relegated the Bills to a lower weight class? Hines isn’t.
“I try to make something spectacular happen. Something remarkable happen.”
Panicked over a clunky offseason? As the news of the day loops on a TV above — Diggs’ anger and absence — Hines quells fears. Asked if he can be a source of optimism for locals, he interjects.
“I am that source. I’ll make sure I am.”
The future is limitless.
He’ll take full advantage of his outlandish genes — right freakin’ now. He’ll invite you to his “Rock Band” bash because Hines loves the sense of community in Buffalo. The same player who took two kicks to the house vs. New England totaled a whopping six carries and seven catches on 12 targets in 11 games. Yet, he sincerely doesn’t come close to complaining about his usage one time. He knows that when the ball’s in his hands — this season — he’ll put his V8 engine to use.
Everything’s about to change.
“Adversity does not strike me,” he says. “I look at it in the face and smile. I’m ready for a big year. It’s time. It’s my turn. I’ll be ready.”
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That was June 13.
By now, you’ve seen the first major headline of NFL training camp.
Nyheim Hines will not get this chance to win his team a Super Bowl. Instead, one Jet Ski reportedly crashed into his stationary Jet Ski, he tore his ACL and his 2023 season was effectively over before it began. All bizarre and sad and a chilling reminder that the NFL dream is extraordinarily fragile. The line between a player lifting 80,000 fans out of their seats with one electrifying burst into the open field and a player disappearing is razor-thin. In theory, Hines was precisely what this Bills offense needs.
A slight tweak. A form of innovation to be unleashed creatively.
Now, it’s hard to say what his football future even entails.
His position is devalued. He’ll be 27 in 2024. Maybe you even received this alert on your phone, felt approximately 5 ½ seconds of empathy and then Iverson-stepped right over the news. There’s a good chance you assumed this is the last you’d ever hear of Nyheim Hines. Hell, when I referred to the injury as a “major loss” on Monday, a handful of Bills fans swiftly dismissed the injury as a nothingburger. Perhaps they’re right. We’ll see. The goal here is always to think beyond 280 characters — the chum — so, no, we won’t throw this interview into the incinerator. I came away from this night convinced Hines was the secret sauce Buffalo needs. Untapped, extraterrestrial athleticism was one reason. But a team clearly wound too tight through four straight playoff heartaches was another. The Bills needed his perspective. When so many players were admittedly unsure how they’d even play football six days after Damar Hamlin nearly died, it’s no coincidence Hines was the one who returned two kicks for scores.
This is someone who feels an inherent urgency to maximize each day and this urgency doesn’t trigger anxiety, stress.
The sensation is freeing.
What his 56-year-old mother deals with on a day-to-day basis, now, that is real life. The fear of what still lies ahead for Mom, now, that is more serious than getting blindsided by a Jet Ski.
Muscular dystrophy debilitates Nannette Miller day… to day… to agonizing day in one direction only. That’s what hurts the most. Everyone already had a front-row seat to the ruthless inevitability of this degenerative disease when it took the life of Nyheim’s grandmother in 2004. Hines was only seven years old but the images are seared in his mind. He can still picture the feeding tubes. How his grandmother could only speak after relieving the salvia from her mouth through suction cup.
Now, he’ll relive it all as an adult. Twice. His uncle also has MD.
“We know what’s in-store,” Hines said, ominously. “I’m actually watching my Mom wither away.”
Every time he wraps up an NFL season and returns to Raleigh, Hines braces for the worst. This past season was particularly painful because Hines never had a bye week or even a long weekend to sneak back home. The running back was traded on Nov. 1, before the Indianapolis Colts’ bye and after the Buffalo Bills’ break. An injury prevented him from flying home when Indy played on Thursday night. The flu grounded him when the Bills played on Thursday.
Which all meant not seeing Mom from July to late January — 6 1/2 months' worth of erosion.
From afar, he could tell Mom’s memory was getting worse. After a little research, he learned the disease also affects cognitive ability. No wonder he cannot help it certain days. The weight of this all overwhelms Hines. He sobs. And sobs. And sobs. But never, ever in front of Mom. The latest reunion was painful — again. Mom’s face continues to thin. Only thin. But when Hines looked into her eyes, he refused to crack.
“She ain’t crying,” he said. “I can’t cry.”
Of course, Mom’s nervous. She’s 100 percent aware of what lies ahead.
“But she’s one of the strongest people I know,” Hines continued. “Every day she wakes up looking down the barrel of a gun. You don’t know when that gun’s going to go off. She’s not flinching.”
So, neither will her son. He won’t cry.
He’ll play football again.
Start with the athlete. Because if you want to know anything about Nyheim Hines, it’s that he’s not normal. Not even by NFL standards.
There’s only one way Hines can begin to explain why, too.
With an epic tall tale from Dad.
OK, fathers will forever embellish high school sports stories to their sons. There’s a pinch of Uncle Rico in all of us. The instinct is hardwired into our X and Y chromosomes. Science. So even though Hines heard this story as a kid, he never thought much of it as he grew up. Dad was clearly off his rocker. Until, as an adult, he noticed the same exact story appear on Twitter. In a reply to the local newspaper’s tweet about Nyheim, one person from Dad’s class opined that Nyheim’s father was a hell of an athlete and — one time in phys ed? — Darrin Hines pulled off the stunt of all stunts.
He kicked the backboard with his feet.
He stuck the landing.
And this was the same exact story son had heard countless times from his father growing up. One of Darrin’s best friends, the brother of NBA coach Nate McMillian, was especially vocal. He’d scream from the mountaintops that this is true.
Fact? Fable? Either way, Hines is obviously in possession of rare genes. Last summer, at age 58, Darrin did a full split. Like a gymnast. A defensive back himself, Darrin was set to make the Dallas Cowboys’ roster in the late 80s but just missed out on the budding dynasty after tearing the hip off the bone at the end of training camp. He fought in three professional kickboxing fights. And even as his son emerged as one of the fastest teenagers in the nation — Nyheim took three top 5 finishes at the New Balance Nationals as a H.S. freshman — he couldn’t edge out his father in a race until age 16.
His parents split early but Nyheim always had strong relationships with both… and benefitted from their DNA.
Dad was a “superhero.” Mom, a collegiate swimmer.
“As a kid, I could do all this freaky stuff,” Hines said. “I had to get it from somewhere.”
Asked exactly what he was able to do himself and his eyebrows pop. Once, Hines explains, he saw someone else pull off a “palm flip” on YouTube and figured he’d give it a whirl. He grabs his phone and scrolls back, back, way back to his college days. And voila. There it is. The video of himself in the woods, staring down a shed, completing the feat after a friend…
Remember the full 360 he did after a touchdown in Detroit? He did this off a wall, too.
The video proof:
No athlete in sports is getting slapped directly across the face quite like the NFL Running Back. Financially, they’re devalued. Ask all those poor souls on that Zoom call. But the right weapon in the right scheme can still detonate a game and Hines is the sort of athletic anomaly capable of juking around bodybuilding linebackers and sprinting past DBs with 4.2 speed.
In hoops, he’s ambidextrous. Hines has always finished all layups, all dunks, all floaters around the rim with his left hand but shoots jumpers righthanded.
Anything we ever see on a football field is rooted in track. Darrin used to tell Nyheim his time at his son’s age — 13 to 14 to 15 — and Nyheim became obsessed with beating it. Handy considering Dad was a two-time national champ himself and could accurately pinpoint his son’s weaknesses and fix them. Looking back, what helped Nyheim more than anything was the fact that he was born late in 1996. The way the USATF and AAU events were structured, off the year you’re born, Hines was always competing against kids much older. This could get discouraging. When a 13-year-old Hines took fifth at nationals in the 14- and 15-year-old bracket, he took one look at the first-place finisher and couldn’t believe what he saw: a “kid” with a full beard and dreads.
Over time, Darrin promised this would give his son an edge. He was right.
“It makes you a dog,” Hines said.
The Bills opted not to use him much at all on offense, and Hines admitted the complexities of the offense had a lot to do with it. This is the old New England system, full of funky terminology everyone else had 30 weeks to prepare for ahead of the season. Yet, there’s beauty to simplicity, to trading for a talent like Hines and aligning him on a Point A-to-Point B track that leaves bodies in the dust. We all saw his speed in Week 18. Those two touchdowns vs. the Patriots lifted the collective spirits of an entire team. A city. He’s the only player in NFL history to score twice on kick returns in a game and twice on punt returns in a game. Suggest to Hines that NFL coaches shouldn’t make football complicated — that it’s on the OC’s to figure it out — and Hines shrugged. He pointed out that the Bills were also winning and didn’t want to disrupt chemistry. His entire career, people have been in Hines’ ear saying he should be getting the ball more.
The new guy watched in envy as Devin Singletary and James Cook got to the second level untouched. Unlike Indy’s downhill scheme, the Bills deploy a flurry of counters and outside runs. He loved it. All of it. “If I can get one of those,” Hines told himself, “I can make something happen.” With a full offseason, Beane’s grand prize would’ve gotten his shot. Don’t forget how dogged the GM was in his pursuit of a pass-catching back. Last year, he thought he had a done deal with J.D. McKissic before the Washington Commanders stole him at that last split-second. (Beane was livid.) Chase Edmonds told us he was extremely close to signing. State taxes scared him off. Buffalo drafted Cook in the draft. Even into the season, Christian McCaffrey rumors swirled.
And that’s only what we know.
Hines was the winner and Hines said the Bills have actually been after him for two-plus years.
His athleticism would’ve been put to use because his athleticism transcends everything activity.
With no wife, no kids, his schedule’s always clear to try something new. Hines is a black-diamond snowboarder who’s been to Vail and Breckenridge. Shredding a steep decline has given him the same high as scoring a touchdown in the NFL. He has tried just about everything: four-wheeling, wakesurfing, paintball, golf, hiking Camelback Mountain in Phoenix. And yet, the cruel irony is that Hines made a point in our June conversation to say he quit taking it to the limit.
He’s been playing it safe. Even quit snowboarding a while back.
True, most of Hines’ free time as a Bill has been spent learning guitar. He’s up to 10 chords. His fingers were already calloused from lifting weights and music’s been a part of his life. His uncle taught him how to play the drums at eight and he played the clarinet and saxophone in middle school. (Classmates called Nyheim a “band geek” back then.) Former American Idol champion Scotty McCreery is a fellow Garner, N.C., native and a close friend. One day he’d love to rock out to The Arctic Monkeys. Or Paramore. Or Fall Out Boy. Until then, he pretends. The plan was to host a “Rock Band” night with Bills fans, plans kiboshed with that torn ACL.
And as Hines rehabs that knee, there’s a good chance he’ll turn to one of his favorite pastimes.
Ripping through all of Roy Jones Jr.’s classic fights.
This is the pro athlete he’d emulate as a kid. Not a running back like Barry Sanders, not a basketball star like Michael Jordan. No, Hines was glued to this pro boxer’s rise through the weight classes and he’s still pissed about that 2003 knockout loss to Antonio Tarver when Jones was 49-1. “Hate Antonio Tarver to this day,” Hines said. “F--k him.” Hines believes the general public never fully appreciated Jones because he was so arrogant. He’d taunt an opponent with his mitts behind his back. But when friends recently raved on about Shakur Stevenson and Devin Haney as elite boxers, Hines scoffed. He doesn’t even consider Tyson Fury one of the best ever because there’s barely any competition.
To him, boxing peaked with Roy Jones Jr. When his father would point at the screen and say, “Son, this is greatness.”
Today, Hines believes he has Jones’ same killer instinct. Same drive. Now, he’ll enter his own heavyweight fight — one he certainly did not expect to face while eating these wings. During the darker days, he’ll likely think of his father and the NFL career he never had. That’s one reason he’s so determined. Nyheim is convinced his father could’ve starred.
He’ll absolutely think of Mom, too.
The hourglass he cannot flip.
The horror of one innocent trip and fall is not complicated. If we fall, we’re getting back up. One loud “Son of a (bleep)!” or “Damnit!” and we’re good. But if Nannette Miller falls? There’s no telling what the blunt force will do to her deteriorating body. Muscular dystrophy makes her weaker — only weaker — to the point where it’s now impossible to catch herself.
One hard hit to the head may be fatal.
Son replays the close calls through his mind and shakes his head.
“She should be dead,” he said. “My Mom should be dead.”
Last year, she fell. Banged her head on the way down. Laid sprawled out on the floor for seven-plus hours because there was no way to alert anyone. It was roughly 2 a.m., and her home nurse didn’t arrive until 9 a.m. When the nurse knocked and couldn’t get in, she alerted the authorities and the fire department arrived to bust the door in.
Not only did Miller suffer a concussion. She also broke her hip.
Nyheim never asked Mom how she survived the night.
“I don’t know how she did it,” he said. “Can you imagine laying there for like seven hours with a broken hip?”
Before this episode, there was Christmas 2021. Miller flew out to Arizona to see her son’s Colts play the Arizona Cardinals and sneak in some treasured family time on a holiday. Hines flew out his aunt as well to help care for Mom. Everyone had a jolly good time and then — before boarding her plane back east — Miller suffered a stroke. She couldn’t move the right side of her body, sucked it up and spent the entire day of travel in extreme pain. Right on through a layover.
Hines is still in visible awe.
Crushing losses to the Las Vegas Raiders and Jacksonville Jaguars ended the Colts’ season, but football was remarkably trivial in Hines’ world. For 30 days, Miller couldn’t move her body. For two months, she needed to stay right at Duke Hospital. Through the recovery, Hines watched playoff games at her bedside.
If there’s a blessing in disguise today, it’s this. It’s the fact that Nyheim Hines won’t need to go seven months without seeing his a mother whose health only worsens.
Any time he thinks his life is hard, and he wants to quit, wants to cry, he’ll have her.
Miller didn’t explain her condition to Nyheim until he was in college, but he put it all together in high school. He remembered his grandmother’s regression and started seeing the same troubling signs in Mom. As much as Miller tried to fight on, she’d fall down the stairs. She wasn’t out and about like the mothers of Nyheim’s friends. Which hurt Nyheim. Which made him cry. But on to N.C. State, he quickly realized the very thought of Mom took his game to a different level. Two hours before one 2017 game against rival UNC — “hate ‘em to this day” — Nyheim got a call from his mother. In tears, she said she couldn’t make it. Hines had spent the entire practice week in concussion protocol and assured his coach he’d need to amputate parts of his body to keep him out.
With Mom on the mind? Hines scored touchdowns on back-to-back runs and ran for 196 yards in all.
That’s why he calls Mom his good luck charm. If he’s thinking of her, chances are, he’ll score a touchdown.
Through those college years, Hines lived a life most 19- and 20-year-olds cannot fathom. Thankfully, Garner was only a five-mile drive from campus. He could hustle over to the house to assist any time Mom fell.
Even now, he lifts her out of bed. Bathes her. Dresses her. Lifts her into the car.
His twin sister has been a godsend. But now she’s living in Denver with her boyfriend, Broncos wide receiver Kendall Hilton. Mom does have a nurse visit during the week but each time something potentially fatal happens, the more everyone realizes moving into a nursing home may be the logical next step. Mom gets around via electric chair. She hasn’t walked under her own power since breaking her hips. Yes, hips. Plural. Before that 2 a.m. spill, she fell and broke her other hip while working at the V.A.
Since 2020, Miller has spent at least 120 days in the hospital.
It all makes for difficult conversations.
“What are we going to do?” Hines said. “That’s hard to do when you’re trying to figure out your life. We have to take care of my Mom. She can’t bathe herself. There’s a lot of things she can’t do anymore. My Mom said she hasn’t taken a bath (on her own) in three years — that shit hurt me. She has somebody wash her. I hear stuff like that every day, and it’s perspective.”
The bills add up — fast. He’s not sure how they’d care for their mother if he wasn’t a pro football player and his sister wasn’t a program manager at Amazon.
Somehow, his uncle’s situation is even more dire. Hines calls Arthur Miller a “big brother.” Since his parents weren’t married, and Dad lived across town, Arthur often served as another father figure. They’d throw the football all the time and Nyheim can still see Arthur on the sideline of a football game telling him to switch the ball to his outside hand after turning the corner. Unfortunately, muscular dystrophy attacks males more aggressively than females. Arthur is only 43, and can still walk with a cane, but Nyheim knows life won’t get any easier for his uncle with a daughter off to college.
There’s no cure but Nyheim has found solace in fighting the disease head-on. As a Colt, he’d reserve ticket blocks for families affected by the disease. A group of seven turned to back-to-back groups of 10, which turned to a group of 15 last season. He’d pay for food, drinks, tickets and meet everyone before the game at 10:30 a.m. to chat and take pictures. Growing up, Hines never met anyone else affected by muscular dystrophy.
He knows stepping into such a role can lift spirits. Even if it’s just a few families.
“Obviously, you can’t meet a million people,” he said, “but I try my hardest.”
The more people he met, the more Hines gained perspective. Hines learned that there are 40-plus types of MD and that his mother actually has a milder version. Many males die by 18 years old. One child Hines met has passed away. That’s why he feels so fortunate and views every new day as a gift. Hines said that he sees “signs” — constantly — that inform him he has a true purpose. One such sign being that he’s “5-foot-nothing” and “100-and-nothing pounds” yet has missed only one game in his career. Obviously, that’s changed now.
If his mother can survive a stroke and a full night on the floor with a broken hip and Lord knows what’s next, he said he’d never demand the ball. Or stress about anything at all.
“For whatever reason, God hasn’t opened that door yet,” Hines said. “When he does, I’ll be ready to kick through it.”
This night, Hines made a point to emphasize his health. He declared himself the most durable running back in the NFL. Not only did he only miss one game in five seasons — due to a concussion, when his head hit the ground — but Hines didn’t even miss a practice his first four years. Defenders rarely ever get a good lick in. He’s too fast, too elusive, too low to the ground.
Most of all, Buffalo felt like home. Even if more than a few locals gave him hell for spinning the pregame siren at a Carolina Hurricanes game. He heard you. Loud and (very) clear. When one diehard Bills fan recognizes him this night, Hines stops to chat for 15-20 minutes about the team without the slightest itch to end the conversation.
The plan was to play 12 seasons. He viewed 2023 as the turning point.
After spending so much time discussing his potential role in the Bills offense — words reserved for another story, another day — no way did Hines expect this obstacle. More emotional pain awaits. Mom’s time is running out. But where most may view his future as objectively bleak, expect Nyheim Hines to find the speck of light. It’s his nature.
Through the madness this Monday, Hines even found time to respond to a text message.
“It’s going to be just fine,” he wrote. “Just gotta come back stronger.”
Next up is his greatest test yet.
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Get Andrew Brandt’s take on the Nyheim Hines injury and the business implications toward the end of this week’s Happy Hour.