Ryan Shazier was the man. Of course, he still is the man but when he was a NFL linebacker, he was everything a defense could asked for. Smart, tough, a supreme athlete with the physique to match. You probably remember his trend of going shirtless in pre-game warmups for some pretty cold games, as is common in Pittsburgh come December.
Shazier made a guest appearance Saturday during the 10th annual ManUp Conference held in Cranberry, a town just north of Pittsburgh, a cause dedicated to helping the community and battle the issue of fatherliness in Western PA. Shazier discussed that issue and his faith journey but emcee Craig Wolfley opened things up with something football-related. He asked Shazier for the story of why he started going shirtless and Shazier provided the answer.
Here’s what happened.
Week 14 of the 2016 season. Pittsburgh travels to Buffalo to take on the Bills. It’s cold, like it always is, but it’s also practically a blizzard. The joys of living off Lake Erie. Kickoff temperature is 27 degrees with a nearly 10 mph wind and snow is falling before kickoff. Now, the Steelers’ defense had a pact. No sleeves. Everyone has to deal with the cold and no one can show they’re feeling it. Shoulder pads and jersey. That’s it. No sleeves.
But Shazier is tempted to cave in. He’s sick, thinks he has the flu, and is thinking about wearing sleeves – just this once – to get through the game. He tells his teammates, hey guys, I’m gonna wear sleeves for this one. And they’re not having it. Thems the rules and everyone has to follow.
So they give him two options. Play without sleeves. Or play with them and be fined $15,000.
Shazier goes to Mike Tomlin and tells him what’s going on. I’m gonna get fined if I wear sleeves.
Tomlin’s letting the defense enforce the rules. That’s your call Ryan, Tomlin says.
Is it worth $30,000 to be warm? And not even really warm, it’s Buffalo in December. It’s just a little less icy. So Shazier says he’s not wearing the sleeves. In fact, he’s going to go onto the Bills’ field for warmups without a shirt. Just pants, a ski mask, and lots of frozen courage.
Pittsburgh wins 27-20 and people notice Shazier’s seemingly crazy decision. Including the Bills. He says some Buffalo players came up to him post-game and said they saw his pregame “attire.” And though they may not have explicitly said it, Shazier felt like it got in their heads a little bit. A bit of the mind game that gave Shazier and the Steelers’ defense an edge. So he continued it going forward to try to gain any advantage he could. So he did it again and again, including the following week against Cincinnati, with the same result. So there’s the origin story.
Football aside, Shazier had a great interview at the conference, talking about the strength from his family and his faith to recover from his injury, beat the odds, and walk again. It’s been a few years since I’ve seen him in-person and he’s moving even better than when I last saw him. Last time, there was still a slight limp in his step. From what I saw today, if you didn’t know his story, you wouldn’t even realize he suffered such a tragic, career-ending injury. He’s written a book, started a trucking company with his father, and from what Wolf teased today, plans to be highly involved in the broadcast booth come football season. They seemed to imply he’d be working with the Steelers but there was no definitive answer. I have to assume whatever booth he’s in, he’ll have a shirt on this time around.