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To Buffalo, via Kuwait Bills quarterback finds a home

There should be a picture of Gibran Hamdan in the dictionary next to the words journeyman and persistence. He defines both.

The Buffalo Bills' well-traveled third-string quarterback is with his fifth team since entering the NFL as a seventh-round draft pick by Washington in 2003. And that doesn't include two years in NFL Europa, where he was league MVP in 2006.

But Hamdan never gave up his dream, a quality derived from his parents, who rebuilt their lives after losing everything in the Persian Gulf War in the early '90s.

"I think I've worked hard to be where I'm at," Hamdan said. "So I'm thankful for a lot of things I have in my life, not only being an NFL quarterback, but my family, my friends, my health, a roof over my head. I'm blessed to be in the position I am."

Hamdan, 27, seems to have finally found a permanent NFL home in Buffalo. Being settled into one place is a departure from a time when he was never in one place for very long.

He was born in San Diego, the son of a Palestinian father and Pakistani mother. Latif Hamdan, a nuclear engineer who graduated from the University of Illinois, was 36 when he met Laila, 16, on a business trip to Pakistan. The two married three months later and eventually settled in San Diego, where Gibran was born.

When Gibran was 3 years old, Latif was offered a job by the Kuwaiti Institute of Scientific Research. Just as appealing as the job for Latif was the chance to move his family closer to his homeland.

But while vacationing in San Diego in 1990, the Hamdans' lives were turned upside down. Under the orders of leader Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi Army invaded Kuwait.

Caught in a hail of bullets and falling bombs, the Hamdans' home was destroyed. Their savings, their personal belongings, their most treasured possessions, everything. Gone.

"I was too young at the time to realize I lost my house, but you know what your parents are going through," Hamdan said. "Think about the current financial crisis that is striking this country, and you see how it's putting people through tough times. My father knows what it's like because he experienced it. He lost it all and had to start over."

The Hamdans tried to put their lives back together, but Latif was overqualified for most jobs and was out of work. Laila cut hair to help make ends meet.

Most of Gibran's clothes were in Kuwait, so he was forced to wear his favorite Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles T-shirt at least twice a week.

"Back in Kuwait, Teenage Mutual Ninja Turtles were a big deal, but it had already run its course over here," Hamdan said. "I got a lot of [flak] for it, but kids don't understand the tough times you're going through and that it was my only shirt."

Gibran's father eventually got a job with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and moved the family to Potomac, Md.

But Gibran won't ever forget the struggles his parents endured to provide for him and his younger brother, Bush, who was born in Kuwait.

"I've been blessed with two parents that had everything taken from them, literally, and they fought back," Gibran said. "Because of the example my parents showed to me, there's not really much in my life I can't handle."

In those days, Hamdan didn't think about football that much until he began playing with his eighth-grade classmates after school. His first exposure to organized ball came in his senior year at Bishop O'Connell High School in Arlington, Va., but only after being prodded to play by the coaching staff after the starting quarterback transferred.

"I had a baseball scholarship to Indiana, so it was a little bit of an injury risk," said Hamdan, whose brother is a senior backup quarterback at Boise State. "But a couple of nights before the first practice my mom told me she had a dream that I should play football.

"Sure enough, I played. I threw the ball to the other team as much as mine, but it was a learning process."

Hamdan earned Virginia Independent Schools Player of the Year honors and Indiana offered him a chance to play football as well as baseball. He became the starting first baseman for the Hoosiers, batting .335 as a junior, but couldn't resist his passion for football.

After three years backing up Antwaan Randle El, Hamdan became the starting quarterback three games into his senior year and completed 152 of 293 passes for 2,115 yards and nine TDs. The highlight of his season came in a 32-29 upset of Wisconsin when he completed 24 of 36 passes for 310 yards and four TDs, and was named Big Ten co-Offensive Player of the Week.

Still, the NFL was the far from his thoughts. After graduating with a marketing degree, he was looking forward to a business career.

That changed when the Redskins had a workout for area prospects in 2003. Hamdan and Byron Leftwich were the only quarterbacks invited, but Leftwich didn't show up because he was going in the first round and the Redskins didn't have a No. 1 pick.

Hamdan took advantage of the situation, impressing Redskins coach Steve Spurrier, who drafted the young QB with the 232nd overall selection.

Hamdan made one appearance for the Redskins after being promoted from the practice squad in Week 11, completing 1 of 2 passes for 7 yards in the season finale against Philadelphia. But he was cut the following year, and thus began his nomadic NFL existence.

There were stops in Seattle, San Francisco and Miami before the Bills signed him to the practice squad last year after the Dolphins released him. Promoted to the Bills' active roster last October, he's been a fixture ever since.

"I admire and respect him a lot just from where he's come from, the path that he's traveled," quarterback Trent Edwards said.

Hamdan takes his job as the third-string quarterback seriously. On the scout team, he gives the defense an accurate picture of what it will see on Sunday.

"He's a true professional," offensive coordinator Turk Schonert said. "He studies like he's going to start. He has a good understanding of what we're doing. He's right in there with Trent and J.P. [Losman]. He sees things and offers his advice and helps them out. He can memorize formations and relay that to those guys. He's been real good for our team."

Hamdan hasn't taken a regular-season snap for the Bills, but he's confident he could run the offense in an emergency situation. The 6-foot-4, 220-pounder showed a glimpse of that in the last preseason game, completing 18 of 26 passes for 158 yards.

"He's got talent," Schonert said. "He's got a good arm and a nice feel for the game."

Perhaps Hamdan's most underrated contribution is being a positive presence in the locker room. He's an engaging personality who is as comfortable conversing with defensive linemen as he is quarterbacks.

It's a skill born of personal experiences.

"I've seen and know people from all walks of life," he said. "I hope people know that I understand where they come from. This is a locker room of guys who all took different paths to get here, and it's important to understand what their path was and how they were raised and maybe some of the tough times they've gone through."


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