For the past four months, Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis has seen the pain in Devon Still’s eyes as the defensive tackle has dealt with his 4-year-old daughter’s cancer battle.
But Tuesday morning, Lewis saw a familiar burning light.
“I sat down with him, and we were looking at some players on tape,” Lewis said, referring to some free agents the Bengals were considering to fill their opening on the 53-man roster.
“I said, ‘Who is better, these guys or Devon Still?’ He said, ‘Devon Still,’ ” Lewis continued. “I said, ‘Where are you? Are you ready to do this again?’ That was the first time I really saw him, other than talking about his daughter, that you saw the brightness again in his face, because it’s been tough.”
Encouraged by what he heard and saw in their meeting, Lewis decided to promote Still from the practice squad to the active roster.
“It means a lot,” Still said. “It gives me a chance to go out there and still do what I love. When they called me in (Tuesday) and told me they were still giving me the leeway to still go home when I need to to see my daughter and handle business, I think it was big. This is a new world for me and the Bengals have been doing everything possible to help me focus on football and focus on my daughter at the same time.”
Still sputtered through training camp, saying he could not give 100 percent to football and even admitting he considered giving up the game.
The Bengals released Still on cutdown day but re-signed him to the practice squad the following afternoon to give him time to get his mind right and, more importantly, to continue to have full insurance coverage.
The move resulted in a flood of interview requests from national outlets looking for a feel-good story, and Still honored every one of them.
“I will never turn down an interview request,” Still said. “I said when I first came out to talk about my daughter having cancer, one of the main things I wanted to do was raise awareness for pediatric cancer. I didn’t want her fight to be for no reason. I wanted to bring light upon every family and every child who’s going through this same battle so that they can receive help from outside people.”
Once the story went national, help began flooding in.
In addition to a pldgit.com campaign where people can donate money to pediatric cancer awareness for every sack the Bengals register this season, the team has begun donating the proceeds from every Still jersey it sells to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.
Since announcing the plan, the club has seen sales skyrocket.
“A good-selling jersey day would be five to 10 per day for a top-flight player,” Bengals director of sales and public affairs Jeff Berding said. “In the first 24 hours, we sold 100 Devon Still jerseys. (Tuesday) was our best-selling day ever for jerseys. In the second 24 hours, we’ve sold 10 times that number. We are now processing orders that will take us over 1,000 jerseys sold.”
Former NFL linebacker London Fletcher bought one, and the New Orleans Saints ordered 100, according to Still’s Twitter account.
“It’s definitely taken me by surprise,” Still said. “It just shows you how much the NFL, how much sports have an impact on what’s going on in this world. For people to buy my jerseys to bring awareness to pediatric cancer and help raise money for research is great.
“I’m glad that my daughter is not going through this fight for no reason, that she is going to be the face of pediatric cancer,” Still added. “There’s not a lot of awareness that’s been brought on this subject for a long time and now we have a chance to get out there into the national media and let people know how important it is.”
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