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Ryan Shazier and Vince Williams, Brothers On and Off the Field

Steelers Wire - USA TODAY

Where were you on December 4th, 2017 during Monday Night Football? I was in the Strip District with my family and friends at the Leaf & Bean off Penn Ave and 22nd, I’ll never forget it. The Pittsburgh Steelers versus the Cincinnati Bengals for a week 13 showdown. A rivalry game in the AFC North was set for center stage and expected to highlight nail-biting nerves, big plays, and even bigger hits. The Bengals took the field on their first offensive possession hoping to start hot against their division rival. Andy Dalton takes the snap, sees Josh Malone across the middle and rifles it into the trapper. Malone has a split second decision to make once catching the ball. He decides to brace for impact once he realizes Ryan Shazier and Vince Williams are there to “Shake & Bake” him up.   What happened next flipped the football world upside down and changed the lives of many forever.

From the moment Shazier was drafted 15th overall in 2014, Williams and Shazier were connected, but not for the reasons you’d hope for. Shazier was the hot-shot from Ohio State and Williams was hoping to not lose his roster spot to the new guy. He was mad, furious to say the least. Shazier was the starter his rookie season, and Williams would be used as a back up and played special teams. With both men playing the Linebacker position, you could imagine their paths crossed time and time again in practice, training, and even the locker room. The Spring after Shazier’s first season, the two went on a trip to Arizona with James Harrison, Jarvis Jones, and Sean Spence to train during the off-season. The more time the two spent together, the harder they worked. They would not let the other out work them. What started as anger and irritation for Williams turned into a good competitive nature to better himself. Both men would stay late after each training session to get in extra reps to further seek out their potential. Williams had never seen somebody work so hard, so for that reason he respected Shazier. They started encouraging one another. After practices they started to talk about goals, what they wanted for their family, themselves, and the legacy they’ll leave behind. Before OTA’s had even started that season, there was a bond created that could never be broken, a sense of brotherhood had been established.

With Shazier on the ground about to be placed on the spinal board, you see Williams right by the medical staff kneeling and praying for his brother’s recovery as a tear rolls down his face. For Williams, the rest of game was no longer about football, it was about finishing the game to see the status on his brother’s injury. The Steelers come back from behind and ended up winning the game 23-20 in Cinderella Story fashion thanks to a Chris Boswell boot. Players and coaches took to the field as they normally do to shake hands, give well wishes, and participate in post game interviews. The only Steeler who did not was Williams. He ran back into the locker room looking for Shazier, hoping to get a status update. The only update available was that Shazier was transported to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.

Three days after the injury Shazier was transported to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Facility. As soon as he could that first day, Williams arrived at the UPMC to see Shazier. It was gut wrenching seeing his brother and teammate laying there with tubes in his body still unable to move his lower body. Will they ever play side by side again? Will the two ever fill a gap and stop a runner dead in his tracks? But most importantly, will he walk again? Bleacher Report reported that Shazier told Williams that day while laying in bed, “This ain’t nothing. Minor setback. I’m coming back from this s–t. Nothing going to hold me down. I’m going to be faster. I’ll run a 4.2 now.” Hearing this type of positive outlook from Shazier made the situation a little easier to swallow. After spending more time with Shazier in the hospital for a month, Williams finally broke his silence to twitter about his thoughts on the injury.

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In Mid April after these tweets had been posted, Shazier surprises Williams, “I’m going in for rehab soon,” he says, “Do you want to see me walk?” and with the help from the therapist to gain balance with braces on his legs, he walked. By April, Williams is noticing Shazier is walking more and more so he says to him,

“I know what you’re doing, The draft is coming up and you are going to walk across the stage to announce our pick.”

Shazier: “How did you know that? Did somebody tell you?”

Williams: “Nope. I just know.”

With his wife by his side, Shazier does just that on April 26th, almost 5 months after his spinal injury bringing hope and tears to all those watching in the audience and from home.

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Now that the season is underway, Shazier can be found driving a golf cart around practice, helping however he can. In one particular practice, Williams broke up a pass, players had stated that it was a great play by Williams. Almost immediately Shazier responds, “No it wasn’t, he should have picked it.” This caused teammates to take a step back and wonder why Shazier just made such a bold statement. It turns out Shazier wants Williams to see the game through his eyes. He wants Williams to be more like him. Shazier cannot physically put on the black and yellow and be beside his teammates, but his eyes and mindset can as long as Williams can see the game the way he does.

Williams once worried he would be replaced and ran out of the line up by the young hot-shot Shazier. Four years later and now it is Williams that is needing to replace Shazier. Leading the Pittsburgh Steelers defense is no easy task, but Williams is up to the challenge. Just like Williams we all are praying, or should I say “Shalieving” for a full recovery from Ryan Shazier, whenever that may be. This is a friendship that has gone through the test of time. This is a friendship that has gone through ups and downs, wins and losses, but it is one that always comes out on top together. Just like Williams, we should all stand by Shazier’s side in hopes to some day see him continue to fully live out his dream of playing the game he loves, football.

#SHALIEVE

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