Hits tough to watch

PITTSBURGH — It’s never a good idea to watch something scary on TV right before bedtime.

But this was Steelers-Bengals from Cincinnati, an AFC North game of some significance in the Monday night spotlight.

It was scary, and not just because the Steelers needed another last-second field goal before they could shake a team that didn’t match their skill level.

The hitting was ferocious, as has become the custom when these teams meet.

The most significant injury came early when Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier launched himself into a tackle, then was prone on the field, unable to move.

Teammates were shaken. Shazier was placed on a board and driven off the field on a cart. He bypassed the locker room and went straight to the hospital. Bad omens were piling up.

You had the feeling something really was up when TV cameras caught Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert talking to Mike Tomlin on the sideline. Insiders say Colbert often visits the sideline during road games, but he usually doesn’t consult with the head coach while he’s there.

Shazier’s fellow linebacker, Vince Williams, was in tears. Cam Heyward took the responsibility to talk to Williams and attempt to settle him down.

The game went on. Big plays were made, and mistakes were just as abundant. They played without Shazier, yet his presence seemed stronger than ever. You get back to the game, but you don’t move on from what happened.

As this is being written on Tuesday evening, details are sparse. Tomlin, Colbert and chairman Art Rooney II all detoured to the hospital after the game to visit with Shazier.

Shazier’s parents and fiance were there, Tomlin said. What he didn’t say — he didn’t have to say — is this was the fear every mother and father feels when they sign that first permission slip for their son to play football.

Parents know what can happen. They pray that it doesn’t.

The Steelers have released two statements, both indicating some progress has been made. The team has not commented on a media report that Shazier had movement in both of his legs. That would represent substantial progress in his condition since he was wheeled into the hospital.

Shazier might be fine in a matter of weeks. Or he may never play football again. Nobody knows at this point.

This injury was self-inflicted. Shazier was playing the game at 100 miles per hour, just like he always does.

This time he couldn’t get up from the collision.

“It’s a tough game, a tough business, man,” Tomlin said.

We watch because the athletes are so good. They have incredible skills and an absence of fear. The spectacle draws people to stadiums and their TV screens every weekend.

The Steelers have a family waiting room at Heinz Field. Relatives gather there, waiting for players to emerge from the locker room. The players are often limping after the home games. Sometimes they’re bandaged or on crutches. If they aren’t, the post-game reunions come with a sense of relief.

Somebody’s son or husband or dad spent the day dodging a lot of 300-pound bullets.

Today the Steelers will start getting ready to do it again. They have a Sunday night home game against the Baltimore Ravens, another incredibly intense AFC North battle.

In all likelihood, Ryan Shazier remains in the hospital in Cincinnati this morning.

The players will think about him. Some will call or text him. Then they’ll hit that practice field and start working for this week’s game, knowing that somebody on either team might leave the field on a cart, bypass the locker room and go to the hospital.

More scary TV to precede bedtime.

Tough game, tough business, man.

Mehno can be reached at johnmehnoccolumn@gmail.com

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