View Full Version : Cook: Smith feeling younger with son improving

08-02-2009, 01:56 PM
Cook: Smith feeling younger with son improving
Sunday, August 02, 2009
By Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Like the rest of us, Steelers defensive end Aaron Smith is another year older. He turned 33 in April, which makes him ancient among those in the brutal trenches of the NFL. One of these days, Father Time will do what no opposing offensive lineman has been able to do. One day, he will kick Smith's butt, and that will be the end of a great Steeler's great career.

Not this season, though.

There's one very good reason to think Smith will be better than ever.

Although Smith was 32 last season when he played what his coaches and teammates say was Pro Bowl-caliber ball on the Steelers' way to their Super Bowl XLIII victory, he felt 82 on many days because of his son's life-threatening fight with leukemia. Now that young Elijah, 5, is holding his own and his prognosis is good, his daddy feels 23 if not younger.

"I'm just looking forward to playing football, period," Smith said after pulling into Saint Vincent College Friday for his 11th NFL training camp.

Without the terrifying hospital visits to see the cancer specialists.

Without the frightening telephone calls from the lab with news that the boy's blood count is low.

Without the sort of stress that any parent can appreciate.

"He's doing great," Smith said of his son, who still faces three years of once-a-month chemotherapy and a host of other meds he must take at home. "He's doing all of the things that little boys do. Swimming lessons, playing with his friends, teasing his sisters, wrestling his dad ...

"We had a little scare a week or so ago when his count was down. But they called [Friday morning] and said it was back up to 2,600, which is good. You should have seen him skipping up the hall. 'Oh, yeah! I'm Mr. 2,600! Oh, yeah! I'm Mr. 2,600.' "

You also should have seen Smith imitating Elijah by doing an exaggerated fist pump.

The kid's old man looked as if he felt 13 at that moment.

The Smith family nightmare started in October when Elijah was diagnosed with Acute Lympoblastic Leukemia, a cancer of the white blood cells that the docs say has an 80 percent survival rate. He missed the week of practice before the Steelers played the New York Giants, but showed up the morning of the game and performed well, as usual. "This was the best part of my week -- by far," he said even after the Steelers lost, 21-14.

Elijah's story made national news after Smith revealed the troubling details in a Post-Gazette column in December. "I didn't know anything about leukemia," he said at the time. "I just knew it was something bad. It was a death sentence, as far as I knew."

Smith said his son's fighting spirit kept him going. So did the support that poured into the family from Steelers Nation. :tt03::tt03::tt03: It wasn't just the touching cards and letters, all of which Smith read and cherished. Donors set a record at the team's annual blood drive in December after Smith sounded a call for help. He plans to reach out again to the community by drumming up support for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's annual fund-raising walk in October.

"Pittsburgh is such a special place," Smith said. "I don't know if any other city would have reacted that way. Pittsburgh is kind of in a bubble -- and I mean that in a good way. Pittsburgh looks after its own."

Smith played the rest of the season at his typically high level. Those around him -- the coaches and teammates -- weren't surprised. "He never gets blocked," defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said.

Said Smith, "I became a stronger person. My faith became stronger. I tell people, 'When you've taken so much that you think you can't take anymore, you'd be amazed at how much more you can handle.' That what your faith is all about."

It wasn't until after the Super Bowl that Smith said he realized the toll Elijah's illness had taken on him. "Football is such a mentally hard game under any circumstances. But with something like that going on? It kind of made the Super Bowl bittersweet for me. You're supposed to really enjoy it, but, at that point, I was like, 'Let's just get it over with.' "

That his son was able to make the trip to Tampa for the big game -- despite doctors' initial concerns about him being in a crowd with his weakened immune system -- contributed big time to Smith's enjoyment. So did the outcome: A 27-23 victory against the Arizona Cardinals.

"Even though I was tired, I think I enjoyed this Super Bowl more than the first one," Smith said, referring to the Steelers' win against the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XL.

"That first one, there was so much pressure to win. You dream of something your whole life and, all of a sudden, you're there and you feel like you can't blow the opportunity. It might be your only chance. Who knows if you'll ever get back again? I mean, that game was over before I could even appreciate that we were there.

"This second one was different. We had already won one. There wasn't that same pressure to get it done. We could just play."

Once again, on Super Sunday, Elijah's illness had an impact.

"I think it just made me realize how insignificant [football] is in the big picture," Smith said. "We tend to make it bigger than life. But it's not. It's just what we do."

Smith does it better than just about anyone on the Steelers. LeBeau and Smith's older teammates have known that for years. But even rookie defensive end Ziggy Hood has come to realize it.

"Aaron Smith," Hood said the other day when asked what veteran has helped him the most. "He's done so much in this game, I have no choice but to listen to him."

Smith likes to think he still has plenty to give, not just to Hood as a mentor, but to the team with his play. "I think I have a couple more seasons in me. I love playing the game. I love being around the guys. Who knows? Maybe I'll change my mind when it starts hurting too much to get up in the morning ... "

Not now, though.

Not when all is right in Smith's world after such a difficult year.

Not when he feels like a kid again.
Ron Cook can be reached rcook@post-gazette.com. More articles by this author
First published on August 2, 2009 at 12:00 am

Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/09214/987839-87.stm?cmpid=cook.xml#ixzz0N36j5DHh

(Truly excellent news. I so happy that young Elijah is doing better. - mesa)

08-02-2009, 08:15 PM
That is wonderful news on Smith's son! I hope and pray to GOD that he makes a full recovery, GOD bless him!!!! Great post Mesa!!!

08-03-2009, 06:08 PM
That is wonderful news on Smith's son! I hope and pray to GOD that he makes a full recovery, GOD bless him!!!! Great post Mesa!!!


08-03-2009, 10:48 PM
Glad to hear the news about his son improving.... Aaron is just a class act and one heck a footbal player... Just like Heath... stay quiet and let your play do the talking..

08-05-2009, 07:31 AM
I'm happy to hear Aaron's son is doing better. Aaron is a great player and an even nicer guy,

Youngstown Steeler
08-05-2009, 04:10 PM
Great news!! God bless the Smith family and The Steelers.