It’s a day that will, for a lack of a better term, live in infamy in Pittsburgh Steelers history.
December 4, 2017. Steelers at the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday Night Football.
Shazier, who was in the midst of another Pro Bowl season in the middle of the Steelers’ defense, put his head down on a tackle in the middle of the field and went limp. Unable to move or feel his legs, Shazier was stretchered off the field and transported to the University of Cincinnati hospital.
It was a scary scene, one that is burned in the memory of Steelers fans, players, coaches, front office staff and all involved with the NFL. For coach Mike Tomlin, who appeared on the “Footbahlin with Ben Roethlisberger” podcast Monday night, it was the worst day of his professional career.
“I think first of all, I knew it was really serious instantly by the way he rolled off of that tackle, the way the play came to an end. It was an unnatural look. Um, and so…I knew instantly it was a real problem. Let me say this man: it was probably the darkest professional day I’ve ever had,” Tomlin, according to video via the Footbahlin YouTube page. “Like, to have a guy laying like that…I just wanna frame it from that perspective: there’s nothing worse as a coach. There’s nothing worse.
“But I think when I got to him, he was so conscious in communicating that I was naive. I think a significant part of me said, ‘It’s gonna be okay’ because he was, he was Ryan. He was like, ‘Hh man, coach, I can’t feel my legs. Oh my god.’ You know, I’m like, ‘Ryan, relax man.’ And because he could articulate it so well, it led you to believe, okay man, this is gonna be something temporary.”
It wasn’t anything temporary.
The next morning, it was revealed that Shazier had sustained a spinal contusion. On Dec. 7, Shazier underwent spinal stabilization surgery. That injury and subsequent surgery ultimately ended Shazier’s career; he officially retired on Sept. 9, 2020.
The longer the ordeal played out and the longer Tomlin went without any updates brought back that sense of fear for the veteran coach.
“As he left the stadium in the vehicle, the longer it went on and that did not happen, obviously the initial fear that I had returned,” Tomlin added. “By the end of the game, obviously I was scared to death, man, to be a part of that.”
A tragic situation turned out about as well as they could have for Shazier, who beat the odds and walked again. He walked across the stage at the 2018 NFL Draft to announce the first-round selection of safety Terrell Edmunds; spent some time moonlighting as a scout with the Steelers; and wrote a book that became a best-seller before getting into the podcasting world.