The Pittsburgh Steelers aren’t only facing the challenge of two enormous games in back-to-back weeks, they’re doing so while Ryan Shazier is laid up in a hospital bed facing questions far more significant than football.
For a lot of franchises, trying to put the horrific injury Shazier suffered on Monday night out of their head while prepping for a chance to win the division against the Baltimore Ravens would be too much. Add in the New England Patriots in Week 15 and the possibility of winning the all-important home-field advantage and things get truly overwhelming.
However, the Steelers are hoping to beat that back, not by forgetting Shazier, but by honoring his memory whenever they can and using his plight to fuel their stretch run. In particular, Vince Williams — the man who has lined up alongside Shazier all season — has taken to wearing his jersey at practice all week.
And according to Williams, that takes on more meaning than a simple gesture to the Steelers defense.
“I didn’t think anything of it,” Williams said according to Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I didn’t make a big deal of it. I just saw it over there in his locker. I just put it on. I knew I was going to be calling the signals. I just feel like they saw 50 in front of the huddle for so long it’d be familiar to everybody.”
Williams traditionally wears No. 98 and he’ll be doing so this Sunday against the Ravens. However, as teammates still process what’s going on with their friend and coworker, it’s got to be somewhat comforting to see Williams ready and willing to take on some of the immense responsibility that Shazier holds within that defense.
It guarantees them no storybook ending, but at a time where uncertainty seems like one of the only constants, any sort of familiarity would seem welcome.
Update (1:40 p.m. ET): Several Steelers have also had custom cleats made with Shazier’s likeness and the hashtag Shalieve as the team continues to rally around their injured teammate.
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) December 9, 2017