CINCINNATI (AP) — Devon Still figures it will be the most emotional game he’ll ever play.
For the past five months, the Bengals defensive tackle has been immersed in helping his 4-year-old daughter Leah get through surgery and chemotherapy to fight a cancerous growth found in her abdomen.
She’s feeling good enough to leave a hospital back home in Philadelphia and fly to Cincinnati for a game on Thursday night against the Cleveland Browns at Paul Brown Stadium, where she’ll get to watch her father play for the first time.
“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,” the third-year player from Penn State said.
“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.”
The Bengals (5-2-1) helped Still and his daughter by excusing him from offseason activities so he could spend time with her in Philadelphia. They kept him on the practice squad to start the season even though he was hurt so that he’d keep his medical coverage.
And the team helped raise money for pediatric cancer treatment and research by donating money from the sale of his No. 75 jersey to Children’s Hospital in Cincinnati. The team will present a check for more than $1 million on the field after the first quarter against the Browns (5-3).
Leah Still will be part of the presentation. She’ll watch the rest of the game from one of the stadium boxes.
“It’s going to be added motivation just knowing my daughter is watching me,” Still said. “I want her to be able to hear how the crowd cheers that loud whenever I make a tackle, so I’m going to go out there and do whatever I can to put a smile on her face.”
It’s been an emotional week for Still, who befriended a college basketball player dying from a cancerous brain tumor. Freshman Lauren Hill scored four points in her first game for Mount St. Joseph on Sunday.
Still wore Hill’s name on his eye black patches on Sunday during a 33-23 win over Jacksonville. He usually wears his daughter’s name, but got her permission to change for the one game.
“She told me to go ahead and do it,” Still said. “When I got home after the game, she asked me: How did the girl who played basketball do? So she knows what’s going on, she knows they’re both fighting the same type of disease, and I’m pretty sure she’s rooting for her also.”
The Bengals showed video of Hill’s first basket during the second half on Sunday, bringing tears to the eyes of several players who have either met her or accepted her layup challenge to raise money for cancer research.
“I dropped to a knee because I was just in tears for a second there,” said left tackle Andrew Whitworth, who wore Hill’s No. 22 on his gloves. “I just welled up because it’s so emotional. I’m so proud of her and what she means. 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.”
Now it’s Leah Still’s turn for the recognition.
“I think it’s going to be amazing,” Whitworth said. “Guys will be excited about that.”
Still is trying not to get too caught up in thinking about the moment, which will be the latest in a week full of emotional ones.
“It is, but it’s good emotions,” Hill 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.”
Notes: Running back Giovani Bernard (shoulder/hip), cornerback Leon Hall (concussion), right tackle Andre Smith (left ankle) and linebacker Rey Maualuga (hamstring) were held out of practice again, an indication they won’t play on Thursday night. Smith was still wearing a protective boot on Tuesday. … Tight end Jermaine Gresham (knee) and cornerback Terence Newman (chest) were held out of practice after working out on Monday.
(Photo Source: AP)