Ryan Shazier confirmed what was long assumed on Wednesday when he officially announced that he was retiring from football. It had been a few years already since he suffered what can now accurately be described as a career-ending spinal injury. Since then, up until now, he always maintained his desire to return to the field.
While he will never reach that goal, his Pittsburgh Steelers family knows best of all how much of an impact he made in numerous ways, simply by being who he is. And that’s not even talking about the immense amount of inspiration that he continues to provide each day for those who have followed his journey, including plenty who aren’t Steelers fans—or even sports fans.
“I could talk all day about the impact of Ryan Shazier and not the football”, head coach Mike Tomlin told reporters after practice on Wednesday. “The passion that he displayed day to day, the professionalism, the love that he has and the respect that he displayed for the game was evident in terms of how he went about his daily routine”.
The locker room was able to get a regular first-hand look at him over the past two years, visiting training camp, for example. last season, he was a regular presence even on Sundays on the sideline, celebrating with his teammates while he was officially on the PUP List, chest bumping and doing everything you would expect a player who isn’t on the active roster to do.
He was still plenty useful to the team, even while they put their own resources into nurturing his interests in the business and coaching and scouting elements of the game. In particular, he was a key advisor for then-rookie first-round pick Devin Bush. But simply the way he went about his business and his life was something those around him took away from knowing him.
“It’s something that young guys today do that didn’t have an opportunity to play with him, guys like Devin Bush who takes a daily approach that really is crafted by Ryan Shazier from a preparation standpoint”, Tomlin said. “His contributions are many. A quality player, an unbelievable player, yes. A quality man and unbelievable man, also”.
His time on the field was far too brief, but I can confidently say that the experience of watching him play was very similar to seeing Troy Polamalu in his heyday. There was something magical in witnessing their movements in real time, ending up in places you didn’t expect them to be. And then breaking it down in film and seeing how the magician performed his trick, it became somehow even more beautiful.
All told, Shazier played in 46 games, registering 299 tackles with 24 for a loss, seven sacks, seven interceptions, seven forced fumbles, and 25 passes defensed. He added another 42 tackles, two interceptions, and two forced fumbles in six postseason games between 2014 and 2016.
Who knows how things might have played out differently during that 13-3 2017 season had he never gotten hurt. That could’ve been the seventh Lombardi. He was that much of a difference-maker, especially that season.