Devon Still says Thursday night is going to be the most emotional game of his career.
There was a lot of emotion on the Bengals sideline Sunday during the fourth quarter when they glimpsed local college basketball player Lauren Hill's layup for the ages on the Paul Brown Stadium scoreboard.
Enough that the left tackle, their big offensive co-captain, Andrew Whitworth, had to take a knee with tears in his eyes before they went back on the field for what turned out to be, of all things, Jeremy Hill's clinching 60-yard touchdown run.
And the courage of another youngster battling cancer is about to take over the building again Thursday night (8:25-Cincinnati's Channel 12 or NFL Network) when four-year-old Leah Still goes on the PBS field with other children battling cancer at the end of the first quarter of the Bengals-Browns game for first place in the AFC North.
She'll be part of the ceremony where Bengals vice president Katie Blackburn presents a check for more than $1 million to Cincinnati Children's Hospital, an amount that came from a world-wide outpouring of support for the Stills in the form of Still's No. 75 Bengals jersey that went for $100 in the Bengals Pro Shop and sold out at more than 14,000.
"I'll be able to see my daughter. I'll be able to touch her, I'll be able to hug her, which is totally different from being able to FaceTime her," defensive tackle Devon Still said before Monday's late afternoon walk-through. "Like I said, I can't wait until she shows up here Wednesday and can go to her first game here.
"The crowd will go crazy. They've been supporting her this whole time with her being all the way in Philadelphia and I know her being in Cincinnati them having a chance to see her is going to get the crowd kind of hyped up."
It's an emotion that Devon Still realizes is almost unimaginable as Leah fights through Stage 4 of a Neuroblastoma tumor that was removed in late September. Like a lot of the Bengals Thursday night, she's battling her body. Just this past Thursday she underwent a procedure to put a feeding tube in her stomach in an effort to get her weight back up from 34 pounds so she can start radiation treatments.
Showing enormous fight, she's back to 36 pounds, fired up about coming to PBS, and her dad is looking for a cheerleading outfit she wants to wear when she attends the game in fellow defensive tackle Domata Peko's suite.
"I don't know," Still said. "I'm looking forward to seeing how I react just like you are."
Everyone had a reaction when they saw the video of Hill sinking her two layups in Mt. St. Joseph's opening game victory. Hill, a 19-year-old freshman vowing to play in a college game despite being diagnosed with terminal brain cancer has joined the Stills as the national faces of pediatric cancer.
Devon Still visited with Hill a few weeks ago and on Sunday he wore eye black spelling out "Lauren Strong," instead of "Leah Strong." He first got approval from Leah, who knew her story from a video her dad showed her. When he phoned her after the game, Leah wanted to know "how the girl who plays basketball did."
"She knows what's going on," Still said. "She knows they're both fighting the same type of disease and I'm pretty sure she's rooting for her also."
Still admits this week has been emotional as it gets.
"But it's good emotions," he said. "Just being able to see Lauren live out her dream to play collegiate basketball and her not allowing this disease to slow her down. She's definitely an inspiration. She's shown a lot of courage and strength to go through what she's going through. So Thursday is definitely going to top off a good week for me."
Still has played a lot of ball. The Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year in 2011 played a lot of big games at Penn State for Joe Paterno. But nothing like Thursday.
"It was emotional playing for Joe's 400th win and stuff, but this is for my daughter and this is for a bigger battle so it doesn't compare," Still said.
"It will probably be the most special game I'm ever going to play because I know my daughter is going to be here to watch me play. All the money that's been raised for the cancer research is because of her strength and because she's fighting this disease. So it's definitely going to be an emotional game for me."
And for everybody else.
"I think it's going to be amazing," Whitworth said. "Guys will be excited about that. Not sure if a lot of guys know about that yet."
Whitworth and quarterback Andy Dalton took Hill's layup challenge and shot a video for her that was played during the ceremonies at the basketball game. Whitworth admitted he was overcome just before they took the field for the game's defining play. Whitworth says he's donating $22,000 to Hill's The Cure Starts Now Foundation in honor of her jersey number.
"I just welled up because it's so emotional. I'm so proud of her and what she means," Whitworth said. "It was a cool thing with them showing that. It was awesome to go out there and get a win and be able to celebrate her day as well."
Still can't wait to see Thursday's crowd and that the biggest ovation during a game for first place may be for his little girl.
"Man, I hope so," Still said. "And I hope she gets the crowd going so that we have a lot of energy in that stadium Thursday night and can come out with a win."