When he left in free agency, he probably assumed that was it with his time in the city that brought him in. It was the Pittsburgh Steelers who drafted Sean Spence in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft, and who stood by him through a career-threatening injury that helped rob him of his first two seasons in the league.
He ended up making it all the way back to the field and was a regular presence in his third and fourth seasons with the Steelers, getting the opportunity to start a number of games due to injuries to Ryan Shazier. Spence’s first healthy season was Shazier’s rookie season, and the rookie missed much of that year because of injuries.
When Shazier suffered a severe spinal injury last season, Spence had already been gone for more than a year, but by that point he was on the couch after having been cut earlier in the year by the Indianapolis Colts. The Steelers gave him a call because they needed a body that could step in.
While he worked his way into the proceedings initially, rotating with L.J. Fort and even Arthur Moats, Spence ultimately became the primary starting mack linebacker for the remainder of the season, even if he showed the rust of a player who had not been on the field in months.
He has admitted that he was rusty when he first returned, but believes he worked back into form as the season progressed. He did not play well in the playoff loss, though really nobody on the defensive side of the ball did.
Coming back to Pittsburgh was something that he likened to “a family reunion”, Spence told the team’s website. “I felt like I never left. The guys embraced me with open arms, this organization embraced me. It was a great feeling. When I left I missed that feeling with those guys and the relationship and the bond we had. When I got back it was great to reunite and fire that up again”.
As mentioned above, he spent his first four seasons in the league with the Steelers, from 2012 to 2015, and when he did leave, he did so to join Dick LeBeau, the team’s former defensive coordinator, in 2016. He clearly has retained a certain level of attachment to Pittsburgh.
In fact, he hopes that the reunion doesn’t end prematurely.
“I want to return”, he said. “This is my home away from home. It would be a blessing to be back here”. And he would not be the first player in recent years to start in Pittsburgh only to play somewhere else for a brief time and return. One of them, William Gay, is still on the team.
Other recent examples are easy to find, as well. David Johnson is one, and frankly he should have still been on the team. Matt Spaeth is another. Antwaan Randle El returned late in his career as well, as did Plaxico Burress.