November 6, 2014
The range of emotions cascade through Paul Brown Stadium tonight like no Bengals’ home game in history. During a stunning 24-3 loss to the arch-rival Browns in which the defending AFC North champions’ offense freezes up, the roaring crowd of 65,871 salutes the child queen of Bengaldom in an unforgettable ceremony at the end of the first quarter. Leah Still, four-year-old daughter of Bengals defensive tackle Devon Still, has been battling a Stage 4 cancer diagnosis since the spring and the courage of the inspiring father-daughter team has captured the country. Devon Still has kept playing, in large part, to help shine a light on childhood cancer, and Leah Still has simply kept living with a contagious smile and huge heart. The Bengals present a check to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital for $1.3 million after selling Still’s No. 75 jersey for $100 each at the Bengals Pro Shop.
“It was emotional,” Devon Still says of a night he admits his emotions were all over the place. “She showed so much courage. She’s been able to use my platform to raise the awareness of pediatric cancer. If she didn’t have that resiliency that she’s been showing, I wouldn’t be able to control myself out there. All the credit goes to her. What I’m doing is easy. Just talking about her story. What she’s doing is the hard part.”
There is light on this Thursday night. Diagnosed in June with cancer in her legs, arms, hips, chest, and skull, four rounds of radiation have knocked it out of everywhere but the chest and lower extremities. The rounds start again next week and the optimism is cautious but there is optimism and she is on her way to sacking the disease over the next year. But now there’s not a dry eye in the house when she waves to her father during warmups from teammate Domata Peko’s suite. The fans are all over the place, too. They’re cheering for Leah and booing an offense that comes out and commits two turnovers, two holding calls, and can’t budge a Cleveland defensive line ranked 30th against the run as quarterback Andy Dalton misses 18 of his first 25 passes on the way to an infamous 2 passer rating. At the end of the game Browns’ fans can be heard chanting the name of quarterback Brian Hoyer while he leads the Browns to their first road division victory since Derek Anderson bested Ryan Fitzpatrick at PBS in September of 2008.
And it is Hoyer who captures the evening perfectly at the end of the first quarter when he steps across the line of scrimmage to hug Leah’s Dad. “I followed that being a father myself,” Hoyer says. “I can’t imagine what’s he’s gone through. Reading the stories, it gets you choked up because you put yourself in that situation and with especially how demanding this job is, I just went over and told him I respect the hell out of him, I pray for him and his daughter. It sounds like things are going well. She gets to come to the game tonight — what a special moment for him. From one father to another, I just (wanted) to show him how much I respect him and hope everything works out for the best.”