Kovacevic: Ryan Shazier … just no words


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Sunday night at Heinz Field. - MATT SUNDAY / DKPS

Ryan Shazier's face changes. I swear it does.

I'm not going to lie here. I wasn't about football Sunday night at Heinz Field. I couldn't take my eyes off this extraordinary human.

Not that there wasn't other potential for focus. So much was simultaneously happening at the Steelers' annual Family Fest practice, I'd have needed a swiveling head to fully absorb it. And I'll share more on that in a bit.

But this guy ...

I don't know what to say to that. I just don't.

It's been only a handful of months since that night in Cincinnati. Happened right in front of us, right in front of that end of the Bengals' press box. He was down. He wasn't moving, but for his hands waving for help. We all knew what was happening, though we couldn't -- or wouldn't -- allow ourselves to process it. Hell, we couldn't even conceive of why we were watching any of that game after it happened.

I don't need to revisit those feelings. I'll bet you don't, either.

But then, within a month, the Shazier family put out that hospital photo of him standing alongside Ben Roethlisberger.

Wonderful, we thought, but too good to be true. Ben's arm was around him. Had to be holding him up.

Then, Shazier was at a Penguins game ... standing ... rising to his own feet ... without help. And bringing down the house.

Soon, he was at the NFL Draft, walking with a cane out to the stage. Walking.

Then at his alma mater, Ohio State, all the way across the 50-yard line without the hand on his elbow.

And now ... on this night, he took to Heinz Field with his fellow linebackers. The cane's still around, but it's more of a parachute. He uses it when he tires. And he does tire, at which point he'll take a seat. He'll need an extra oomph to get back up. But otherwise, he's up and about and engaged and involved and speaking with teammates and coaches and execs all the way up to Art Rooney II. He did it through all two-plus hours of drills. Never stopped.

Let's not let the magnitude of this ever fade, OK?

We're witnessing something, day in, day out, unlike anything in Pittsburgh sports history. One of our own fell. And while the city's done plenty to pick him up, it's more than fair to suggest he's done that much more to pick us up.

Months ago, Shazier lost feeling in his legs. He couldn't move, couldn't get out of bed. Today, he's walking without help. Walking right out there onto Heinz Field in the middle of a Steelers practice.

And when it was done, as you can see in that video I shot for you above, he then strode the near-complete length of the grass. Which is when I caught it yet again: His face changes. It looks like he becomes ... I don't know, someone or something else.

There's a distinct look Shazier now shows when walking. The smile that's almost always there, when doing anything else, is gone immediately.  The chin goes sky high. The eyes go egg-shell wide. It's maybe the expression he'd have had hidden under his helmet before making a big play. It's maybe calling to a higher power, given his deeply held religious convictions. It's maybe, and most likely, something none of us could understand.

He strode this way, probably 60 yards, toward the far end and Michelle Rodriguez, his beloved fiancee. As he neared the row where she'd been watching, he pridefully lifted the cane off the ground for the final few steps. She climbed over the railing. The two embraced. He then reached down to her now-visible bump, as the couple is expecting their second child, and offered a playful rub.

I'm a writer. I have no words for this. None.

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