The last time the Pittsburgh Steelers faced the Cincinnati Bengals, they came out of Paul Brown Stadium with a key victory on the field, but suffered a far greater loss when Pro Bowl inside linebacker Ryan Shazier was left temporarily paralyzed during a tackle attempt early in the first quarter.
The four-year veteran was immediately restrained and taken to a local hospital, and we slowly learned the full extent of the nature of his injury. Even to this day, we still do not know if he will ever be able to play football again, even if he has made a remarkable recovery up to this point, regaining the ability to walk, a continuing process.
The Steelers’ next game will be their first returning to the scene of that tragic incident, and Head Coach Mike Tomlin admitted during his press conference earlier today that he does not know and cannot predict exactly what emotional effect that will have on his players, or on the team as a whole.
He was asked about that directly. “We’ll kind of know that when we get there”, he told the reporter. “I’m sure there will be in some form or fashion, but I haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about that”.
It was Vince Williams, Shazier’s best friend and fellow starting inside linebacker, who was most affected by the injury as it occurred. He had to be consoled by Cameron Heyward and others on the sideline before regaining his composure and soldiering on as the rest of the team did.
“That wasn’t about football. That was somebody who we care deeply about that got injured very severely”, Tomlin continued. “It wasn’t about utilizing it as some motivational tactic or anything of that nature. It was a very difficult thing to get through. We had a job to do in terms of winning the game, but obviously our hearts and minds were with him”.
Shazier meant, and continues to mean, a great deal to the Steelers just as a person and personality within the organization. While he has been very clear about his goal to return to the field and even to reach the Hall of Fame, he has remained active in every way possible, working with scouts and Kevin Colbert to learn the ins and outs of running a football team.
But he also remains an active presence on the sidelines for the team. Technically on the Physically Unable to Perform List, he is not hard to spot on the Steelers’ bench during games, sitting and chatting with teammates, sharing both insights and laughs.