Author: RichieeMC

Still Fighting For Life

Devon Still and his daughter Leah fighting the good fight.

Devon Still and his daughter Leah fighting the good fight.

by Richard McBane

Money can buy happiness.

At the very least it can for the Cincinnati Bengals’ Devon Still and his family. The third year defensive tackle had struggled all off-season, both on and off the field, dealing with injuries and recovery from a January back surgery. But most devastating of all was the news he received on June 2nd that his four year old daughter had Stage IVcancer.

Leah Still was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, the most common cancer found outside the brain in young children. Leah was given a 50% chance of survival,a development that spiraled Devon and his family’s world out of control. Football instantly became a trivial part of Still’s life as his daughter would be fighting for her own.

Essentially deciding to hang up his cleats indefinitely Still said “when I found out, I told my family I was done. I didn’t feel comfortable leaving my daughter while she’s going through this”. He spent the next three weeks sleeping next to his daughter at the hospital despite having back problems of his own after his recent surgery. He said “’I’m not worried about my back right now,” “I’m worried about my daughter’s health.”

Situations like these often put things into perspective how little importance football can have in times of struggle. Still said “she’s fighting for her life. Sports is not more important than me being there while my daughter is fighting for her life.”

Still even shaved his head in support of his daughter, refusing to grow his hair until hers returns.

Understandably, Still’s mind was not committed to football and he was consequently cut from the Bengals’ 53-man roster. However, in light of Still’s situation, the Bengals signed him to the team’s practice squad to keep him on salary so that he could pay for his daughter’s cancer treatments.

Still and Channing Smythe, Leah’s mother, decided to bring their daughter to Cincinnati’s Children’s Hospital, where one of the nation’s top neuroblastoma surgeons works. He decided this would be a positive move for his daughter as he could reach out to the Bengals community for support. Still even started a campaign to fund research and help other families affected by the disease.

You can contribute to help wipe out pediatric cancer by donating at pldgit.com

While on the practice squad, Still’s story spread throughout the NFL community and beyond, filling the hearts of a nation of supporters. People began buying Still’s jersey in support of his situation. The Bengals organization agreed to use the revenue from the jersey sales to contribute to the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and pediatric cancer research. Public response to this was so immense that over $400,000 in Still’s jersey sales were made in just four days after this announcement.

Overnight, Still’s jersey became the most sold jersey in a 24-hour span in Bengals’ history. Recently, the charity  racked up nearly 15,000 jersey sales totaling over $1.25 million, all of which will be donated to the Children’s Hospital and pediatric cancer research to help families with children living with these diseases. The money will be presented to the hospital after the first quarter of the Bengals Thursday November 6th game against the Cleveland Browns.2

In September, while this heartwarming story was developing, Leah underwent successful surgery to remove a cancerous tumor from her abdomen. Given a 50-50 chance of survival, this beautiful little girl is now in the midst of weeks of chemotherapy and radiation treatments that aim to destroy the cancerous cells in her body.

Hopes are high for Devon Still’s daughter, thanks in part to what seemed like a minuscule idea of purchasing a jersey; in the end it became much more than that. Still could have given all of his efforts to his daughter’s battle with cancer, but what he did on October 21st shows what kind of character he really has. Still visited terminally ill basketball player Lauren Hill of Mount St. Joseph University. At 19-years old she has been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor but has decided to continue to play basketball and dedicate her time to raising awareness. Still visited the team’s practice on Tuesday, leaving Leah a signed game worn jersey of his own with the hashtag #BeatCancer.3

Leah’s story will be told in a documentary, “One Last Game”, set to air on November 2nd.
While most of the media’s attention is focused on  the NFL’s negative situations –  Ray Rice, Josh Gordon Adrian Peterson, etc…It is stories about the Devon Stills and Lauren Hills of the sports world that truly help us gain perspective on life and what truly matters. Their struggles remind us how fortunate many of us really are.

 

1 – cincinnati.com

2 – USAtoday.com

3 – sbnation.com

 

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Richard McBane  is a U of Albany Alum, and an avid Yankees and Giants supporter. He can be reached Twitter at @RichieeMC

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Andre The Giant: Williams’ Increased Role

andrewilliams

It’s Andre Williams’ time to shine.

by Richard McBane

The Giants have stood tall the last three weeks. There was the much needed win in week three against Houston Texans to avoid a dreaded 0-3 hole.  Then there was the ensuing Thursday night rout of the division rival Washington Redskins, and last week’s come from behind win against the Atlanta Falcons.

All seems to be right in Giants’ land. The offense is clicking under Ben McAdoo’s system, the defense is playing cohesive physical football, and special teams still never fails to make you want to pull your hair out every time they are on the field.

However, the knee injury that lead RB Rashad Jennings suffered at MetLife Stadium last Sunday could add some turbulence at a pivotal point in the season. With road trips to hostile division rival territory (Philadelphia and Dallas) before their bye, many are looking at these two games to reveal the true colors of the Giants. Will they be true contenders in the NFC East, or will they be a bust?

The Giants will look to rookie running back Andre Williams to pick up Jennings’ workload. The 22-year old Boston College alumnus was selected in the fourth round (113th overall) in this year’s draft. At 5’11” and 234 pounds, the Poughkeepsie, NY native was a formidable running threat throughout his college career, but really broke out in his senior year in 2013. His final college season saw him amass 25 runs of at least 20 yards or more and his 2,177 total rushing yards sent him into Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) history as #5 all-time in single season rushing yards.

His greatest performance as a BC Eagle set a single game FBS record for 2013; he carried the ball 42 times for 339 yards and two touchdowns. Williams finished fourth in the 2013 Heisman trophy candidate voting, won the Doak Walker Award (given to the nation’s top running back) and was named a unanimous All-American.1

Off the field, Williams is no dud either. He graduated a semester early while earning his bachelor’s in applied psychology and human development from the Lynch School of Education. He has also begun writing a memoir which he has titled “A King, , a Queen and a Conscience” based on his experiences that have shaped him to be the person he is today.

He has also infused business into his craft as he is has created a compression shirt that would help stabilize runners’ shoulders. Williams knows that football does not last forever, especially for running backs and has plans for a future in philanthropy.  He aspires to establish non-profit organizations for children and has already written mission statements for some of them.2

For at least the next few weeks, the Giants need Williams to show his versatility on the field. Throughout his career there have been doubts regarding his pass catching and blocking abilities, but now he has the chance to silence his critics. He’s already begun to prove his worth in the NFL – last week against the Falcons he rushed 20 times for 65 yards and caught both passes thrown to him in relief for his injured mentor, Jennings.

Williams must continue to improve and perform in the absence of Jennings in order for the Giants to be a force in NFC East. While his fill in performance was exciting, the next two weeks will serve as the true test for Williams’ NFL ability

His peers certainly think he is up for the challenge. His predecessor, Jennings, has full faith in him to perform.  “I have complete confidence in Andre.”, Jennings said and added “he’s a great player; he’s going to continue to be great. He wants to be great and he’s going to be a good player in this league.”

Eli Manning went on to praise the rookie saying “I thought he came in last week and played really well, ran the ball hard, ran over some guys, caught the ball well”.

Coach Tom Coughlin said “We expect him to be what he was a week ago, a downhill, north-south runner, which is what he does very, very well”. It is a good sign the coach praises Williams to take the workload of carries in the upcoming weeks to give the rookie confidence in the biggest stage of his career.

Whatever the circumstances may bring him Sunday evening, Williams’ response will be critical to the teams performance. One thing for sure, Williams will give it his all as Andre the Giant says, “I only know one way to run, so I am just going to run hard and make sure I compete at the highest level.” 3

 

1 – bceagles.com

2 – nytimes.com

3 – giants.com

 

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Richard McBane  is a U of Albany Alum, and an avid Yankees and Giants supporter. He can be reached Twitter at @RichieeMC