The Pittsburgh Steelers returned to Paul Brown Stadium for the first time since Ryan Shazier suffered a severe spinal injury in December last year that left him temporarily paralyzed. 10 months later, he was able to walk under his own power to visit the physicians who treated him in Cincinnati. And to walk off the field with his teammates as a victor.
Head Coach Mike Tomlin has been resolute in his denial that outside noise is a distraction for his team, talking about adversity as simply a part of the game, but he was open about the variable of returning to this stadium today and not knowing how that would play a role.
After the game, and securing a win, he was notably emotional in talking about Shazier. “It’s just really good to be back in this building, and be back in this building with Ryan Shazier, and him walk that walk with us”, he said.
“We just love and respect Ryan. We’ve learned a lot from his struggle since the last time we’ve been here. He’s inspired us. Hopefully he’s inspired many outside of us. Just good to get a win today and good to have him with us”.
Shazier walked out of the tunnel before the game and greeted Steelers fans who were in attendance. For Tomlin, it was just one of a number of events along the course of a football season that trigger an emotional response, knowing that he would not be on the field, and that he would continue to battle after nearly losing his ability to walk forever.
“It’s a lot of those moments. It was the first home game. It was when we went to training camp in Latrobe”, he said. “It happens every now and then. Some things are bigger than football. Obviously. And this is one of them”.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was also visibly moved after the game being back in Cincinnati with Shazier less than a year removed from his frightening injury. “Walking off the field with him was emotional”, he admitted.
He mentioned that he expressed in his post-game prayer being “thankful that he is walking now and doing things”. While he knows that Shazier is not yet where he wants to be, wanting to get back to playing, “just the fact that he’s able to walk and we can see him walk off that field and walk off with him it was special”.
He added, “this is a place that we’ll always remember, not just for football, but for life”. Paul Brown Stadium has been very good to the Steelers in terms of football, but it now has far deeper meaning for the franchise, and especially for those players who were on the roster that December, and who have known Ryan Shazier.