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Bills safety Micah Hyde finding new ways to impact team after neck surgery

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Bills safety Micah Hyde is out for the season with a neck injury, but he is confident in his eventual return to playing.

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When Buffalo Bills safety Micah Hyde woke up, his wife, Amanda, already had a plan.

“I literally got out of that surgery, and my wife said, 'You're Frankenstein for Halloween,' " Hyde said. “Like, it might have been one of the first things she said.”

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The Hydes have an excellent track record when it comes to Halloween. At the team’s party Monday night, Hyde went as Frankenstein’s monster with the costume bolts on his neck prominently standing out. Amanda went as the Bride of Frankenstein. In perhaps an upset, the best costume award went elsewhere.

“I did not win, but we won last year, and I feel that played a part into it,” Hyde said Wednesday. “So next year, we’ll be coming back even stronger.”

Consider that Hyde’s motto these days.

The Bills safety is back in Buffalo, less than a month after he had a herniated disk in his neck repaired. On Wednesday, he was at practice for the first time since his surgery, finding new ways to impact his teammates. Since he joined the Bills in 2017, Hyde has played a key role in putting the team on the path to success. Now, the team captain is determined to keep helping, even if he's still uncovering what that may look like. 

Hyde injured his neck while playing against the Tennessee Titans in Week 2, leaving the field and getting transported to Erie County Medical Center. The injury was compounded by its history.

“It's something I've been dealing with playing for many years,” Hyde said. “It's something that scared me that I didn't think it was possible. And then it happened.”

It wasn’t naivete on Hyde’s part. The 10th-year safety knows the nature of the NFL.

“I understand that this is a violent game,” Hyde said. “Anything can happen on any given night, but that was just real eye-opening to me.”

While the game was still going, Hyde got in the ambulance to head to ECMC with his wife. The ride was sobering. He thought of his son, Micah Jr., and daughter, Maverick. He thought of everything a neck injury could mean outside of football.

“I got a 2-year-old, and a 1-year-old, and so, that life was put right in front of me,” Hyde said. “And it kind of scared me a little bit.”

Hyde traveled with the team to Miami five days later. On Sept. 24, the news came that he would be placed on injured reserve.

He got another opinion in Los Angeles from Dr. Robert Watkins, a noted orthopedic spine surgeon. The conversation with Watkins made Hyde feel “a thousand times better,” giving him the confidence to have the surgery on Sept. 29.

“Surgery went amazing,” Hyde said. “It happened quick, leaving here, getting second opinions, ended up in L.A., got a second opinion, next morning, 5 a.m., bow! Getting a surgery.”

His young family definitely played a role. Hyde, 31, admitted that the decision to get surgery felt different than it likely would have earlier in his career. It also helped, in talking to Watkins, that he felt medically confident he’d be safe to play again.

“I knew I wasn't … I was far from done,” Hyde said. “So, there was a little panic that Monday night, but my head's in a good space.”

After the surgery, he spent some time in San Diego with his family. But soon, it sank in how hard it was to watch his team from afar. It increased his desire to get back to the facility.

Hyde is early in his recovery process, but he is confident in his eventual return to playing.

“There's a lot of people thinking a 32 year old coming off neck surgery can't be the player he was before,” Hyde said. “So, I may enjoy this one.”

But before he gets to a comeback tour, Hyde is slowly deciding how to approach this next stretch. Bills coach Sean McDermott doesn’t want to call Hyde a player-coach quite yet.

“I’d say I wouldn’t use that label,” McDermott said Wednesday. “He just carries so much influence as a leader on our football team. He’s still on our football team, so he doesn’t really want to put on that coach’s hat. I tried to offer that to him, but I guess my size hat didn’t fit him.”

Hyde’s initiative to give advice to younger teammates – in meetings and on the field – is not new, but it is certainly welcomed.

“You need his perspective on everything,” linebacker Von Miller said. “He's had so much knowledge, and just his energy being in the locker room, it helps us.”

Miller can empathize with Hyde. He's had two season-ending injuries in his career. It is not a club players ever want to join, but there are plenty of Bills who can talk Hyde through the process.

So far, Hyde has leaned particularly on cornerback Tre’Davious White, who is still working his way back from tearing his ACL in November. The two had a long conversation a few weeks ago, with Hyde asking about what obstacles are still to come.

Fellow safety and close friend Jordan Poyer was also there for Hyde, offering a window into his comeback from a lacerated kidney in 2016 when he was with the Browns.

Miller knows how mentally grueling it can be to come to the facility, to be there when teammates are practicing and to be stuck watching. In those agonizing moments, a mission can emerge.

“I think, then, once you have a little break, especially after injury, you find your purpose back with your boys and your teammates and the guys that you spend your time with,” Miller said.

Hyde thinks it is too soon to precisely define what his role will be the rest of this season. McDermott imagines Hyde will be on sidelines for the games, but the two haven’t discussed it yet.

Hyde does plan to continue his rehab in Buffalo, giving him ample opportunity to stay involved. At Wednesday’s practice, he went down the line of defensive players during warmups, high-fiving guys and chatting as he went. When drills started, he kept checking in with the defensive backs.

Still, Hyde is allowing himself some time to see what his daily routine will look like. After all, it’s a big adjustment.

Ahead of this season, he missed just three games in nine years. Since he arrived in Buffalo, he has started every game he’s played in. His consistency on the field goes even further back than that.

“I can count on one hand how many games I've missed in my career. And I'm talking way back to when I started playing sports,” Hyde said. “So, this is just new to me. And I think it's eye-opening. And I know that there's a lesson to be learned, a blessing on the other side of this.”

Hyde is keenly aware what he may be missing. Short term, it starts with Sunday’s game, when the Bills take on the Green Bay Packers, the team that drafted him. This will be the second time the Bills have faced the Packers since Hyde arrived in Buffalo in 2017. In 2018, he had to leave the game after the first quarter.

Hyde lamented the fact that this leaves him without an opportunity to intercept quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

“Anytime you can get a Hall of Fame quarterback, that's something you put in your trophy case,” Hyde said. “But unfortunately, not able to do that.”

But thinking about the long term is harder.

“I want to be a part of what's going on,” Hyde said. “So, I think that was the most difficult thing for me, especially being away: knowing that a lot of the hard work – whether if it's studying film, or working out – and all these years, to finally be in the position that we're in, to know that we have a shot to, again, to win the Super Bowl, that I couldn't be … I might not be a part of it.”

He pauses as he says it, the gravity sinking in. Hyde’s influence in Buffalo has been critical. He’s been instrumental, first in the team’s turnaround, and then in the back-to-back division titles.

To be on the sidelines now naturally feels cruel. Hyde knows this team in contention for the title that has eluded the franchise – and Hyde – for so long.

But right after lamenting that he “might not be a part of” whatever is to come, Hyde corrected himself.

“I thought again, and I'm like, 'I am a part of it,' " Hyde said. “I'm here, I'm helping the guys out.”

To come to his own understanding of that, Hyde still needed tangible proof. To see his impact, not just trust in it. On the field, it comes when the Bills defensive backs draw on his advice as they make plays.

The proof also comes at home.

His namesake, Micah Jr., latched on to one of the team’s highlight videos from earlier this year. He watched the plays his dad made, and he took off.

“He's running around the house trying to be daddy and stuff like that,” Hyde said. “So, I just see that, and it just gives me confidence that my time's not done. I just got to sit out for a little bit.

“And I know there's a message on the other side of this, and I'm just excited for this new role.”

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