It's all because his No. 1 cheerleader, the little girl whose story has captivated a nation the past two months, will be in attendance rooting for him and his teammates.
Leah Still, Devon's 4-year-old daughter who is battling Stage 4 pediatric cancer, has gotten well enough to travel, Still said Monday afternoon. For the first time since her father was drafted by the Bengals in 2012, Leah will make the trek to Cincinnati and see him play in person.
"It's going to be added motivation just knowing that my daughter is watching me," a smiling Still said about playing Thursday. "I want her to be able to hear how the crowd cheers loud whenever I make a tackle, so I'm going to go out there and do whatever I can do to put a smile on her face."
"It's going to be added motivation just knowing that my daughter is watching me. I want her to be able to hear how the crowd cheers loud whenever I make a tackle, so I'm going to go out there and do whatever I can do to put a smile on her face."
Devon Still, on his daughter Leah, 4, who is battling Stage 4 pediatric cancer
That's been his mission since her June 2 diagnosis with neuroblastoma, a rare childhood cancer that has left her with a 50-50 chance to live. Leah already has had successful surgery to remove the cancerous tumor from her abdomen, but she still has several rounds of radiation, chemotherapy and stem-cell treatments before doctors know they have rid her of the disease. She is set to undergo another round of radiation next Monday.
From the late-September day the Bengals announced they would be giving a check for more than $1 million to the Cincinnati Children's Hospital and Medical Center in Leah's name during this week's game, Still has been hoping to get her healthy enough to be part of the celebration. Last week, it looked unclear as to whether or not she would be able to make it. She was losing weight, and rapidly, because of an adverse reaction to a feeding tube doctors had her hooked up to.
"They had to put a G-tube [gastronomic tube] inside her stomach because she wasn't able to down the NG-tube [nasogastric tube] that was in her nose," Still said. "They said a couple weeks ago that she lost about 10 pounds. That's why we decided to go ahead with [the G-tube] procedure, so she could maintain her weight for when she starts radiation."
At her lowest point, she got down to 34 pounds, he said. Now, she's up to about 36 and making strides with proper weight gains.
Because of the last-minute nature of Leah's recovery, the Bengals are still finalizing what her role may be in Thursday's check presentation. Still is hopeful that she will join him on the field when the team gives the check for more than $1.25 million to the hospital for pediatric cancer research. The proceeds came from a jersey-sale donation drive the Bengals coordinated throughout September and October. The sale ended about two weeks ago, with the Bengals having sold nearly 15,000 of his Still's No. 75 jerseys.
Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said in a "SportsCenter" feature that aired Sunday morning that he gave Still the No. 75 because former Steeler "Mean" Joe Greene wore that number.
"This is our Joe Greene, with Leah," Lewis said.
Greene's jersey was retired in Pittsburgh on Sunday night. His appearance galvanized the Steelers' crowd in a 43-23 win over Baltimore, and the Bengals are hopeful Leah's presence can do the same Thursday.
Her father wants the sight of her on the video board to get fans even more animated.
"I hope she gets the crowd going so that we have a lot of energy in that stadium and can come out with a win," Still said.