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Shazier, Steelers Return to Cincinnati Still Seeking a Happy Ending

Sunday's return to Paul Brown Stadium will be the Steelers' first trip back since last December when linebacker Ryan Shazier went down and stayed down. But this time he’ll be back on the sideline with his team, and most significantly he’ll be back on his feet.

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They’re about to revisit the scene, not of the crime, but of the event that changed everything.

The path of Ryan Shazier’s life and career.

The course of the Steelers’ 2017 season.

And, perhaps, our appreciation of the price that sometimes has to be paid when games are played the way the Steelers and Bengals play the game.

The show must go on.

It went on last Dec. 4 in Cincinnati, when the Steelers overcame a 17-0 deficit and the toll Shazier’s catastrophic spinal injury extracted and somehow rallied to win, 23-20.

Even Mike Tomlin admittedly doesn’t know how they did it.

Approaching a year later, Shazier and the Steelers are both on the mend, the former from temporary paralysis and spine stabilization surgery and the latter from the gaping hole in their defense left by Shazier’s absence.

There’s still plenty of hard work ahead, still much to overcome for Shazier and for the Steelers.

And for both there are no guarantees.

But there’s likewise reason to Shalieve.

One is a story of recovery and rehabilitation, the other of redemption.

Both may yet have a happy ending.

The on-field saga, in particular, took an uplifting pivot last Sunday, when the Steelers blasted Atlanta in all three phases. They ran, they passed, they pressured, they sacked and they covered.

They even blocked a punt.

It had been a while since it had all come together in such a resounding fashion.

That it hadn’t yet had many justifiably wondering if it ever would this season.

But now that it has, anything once again seems possible for the Steelers.

Much as it has for Shazier ever since he took his first steps out of a hospital bed.

Officially, Shazier is a linebacker on the reserve-injured list.

Unofficially, he’s an assistant coach and a linebacker confidant.

His role includes conducting linebackers-only meetings (a recent development over the last couple of weeks), breaking down the game plan and the opponent for the players each week, and also reporting back to the coaches regarding the players’ grasp and understanding of both.

Before the Steelers beat the Falcons, Shazier led the LBs in their traditional “Who Ride? We Ride!” pregame chant.

And when a defensive series ends, he’s there for the players as they’re coming off the field, sometimes with an iPad in hand, to make corrections or offer advice and/or encouragement.

Away from the stadium or the practice facility, Shazier serves as an organizer of get-togethers.

About all he doesn’t do these days is play.

“He’s a great mediator between players and coaches, and between coaches and players,” linebacker T.J. Watt explained. “He’s been a great middle man and he’s only getting more valuable as the season goes on because he’s just such a smart, football-minded guy. To see him do that and then also come in the weight room and see him do his rehab and see him getting better each and every day is incredible.

“Ryan would do anything to be out there playing with us. He’s so happy to be a part of the team and so happy to help in any way. He’s just an incredible teammate. Unless you’re a part of it people will never understand what he means to this organization, what he means to the guys in this locker room.”

Added linebacker Tyler Matakevich: “He’s in a great place. I don’t think there are too many people who would be in such a great place facing what he’s facing.”​

Shazier has been that type of inspiration to the Steelers ever since his injury. He’s faced unimaginable personal hardship, an unthinkable ordeal that goes much deeper than the Steelers somehow not having beaten Cleveland.

And he’s never blinked. Players, coaches and front office personnel alike all maintain he’s never once lamented, “why me?”

The return to Paul Brown Stadium will be accompanied by emotions perhaps even the Steelers will have a hard time processing, given that it’s their first trip back since that December night Shazier went down and stayed down.

But this time he’ll be back on the sideline with his team, and most significantly he’ll be back on his feet.

In that respect, the Steelers are still following Ryan Shazier’s lead.

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