It feels like just yesterday I was writing to the Steelers' receivers explaining why I had to keep doing my job while they were suffering. No matter what happens, I shoot it. I have to, like they have to play the game.
During the Steelers' 26-23loss to the Ravens, though ... when Mason Rudolph went down to a late, high, helmet-to-helmet hit from Earl Thomas, it broke me. It broke me in a way that I didn't feel in a world before I'd been in the stadium watching as Ryan Shazier was attended to.
I watched JuJu Smith-Schuster fall to his knees, right at the lifeless feet of his quarterback. I watched as his teammates had to drag him away. I watched as Mike Tomlin put his hand on his star receiver's head. I watched them watch until Rudolph's feet started to move and he was eventually helped to stand on those same feet.
It's one of a handful of times I remember tears rolling down my cheek while shooting. But he wasn't moving, and he was right in front of me. JuJu and his reaction were right in front of me. When Shazier was injured, he was 60 yards from me. This was too close and made even closer from having witnessed that in Cincinnati.
So, when a fellow photographer came down the tunnel and asked, "Who is hurt?" and I choked out a partial "Mason," I knew that I was different ... and the way I watch and respond to this game are different. It changed for me in Cincinnati, but it broke me in Pittsburgh.
Still, I did my job. But I didn't like it. I didn't like the fans screaming for photographers to show respect as Rudolph was tended to. I didn't like watching what was happening. I just felt numb and broken to it. Uncomfortably numb.
Thankfully, Rudolph got up, and I shot that too. But he isn't and won't be the same. He'll be different because that's what concussions do to people. I'm not the same as before I had concussions. I'm not the same as I was hours ago before Rudolph was lifeless for far too long. I'm not the same as before that trip to Cincinnati.
My only thought during shooting, during the rest of the game and ever since has been hoping No. 2 is ok and will recover as fully as he's able.
I led off this Sunday's Best with a photo of Tomlin and JuJu in the foreground as Rudolph is tended to. The rest of the game's action follows behind.