KANSAS CITY, Mo. — When Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster was told in October that his shoulder would be season ending, he was already thinking about a loophole to that statement.
“When Dr. [James] Bradley told me I was out for the season, I said, ‘The season’s the season, but there’s a postseason,’” Smith-Schuster recounted on Sunday, after making a dramatic and unexpected return to the Steelers’ lineup in the team’s AFC Wild Card playoff game against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Upon getting his diagnosis and undergoing surgery, Smith-Schuster immediately set out to do the work of coming back far earlier than anyone thought he could.
“This injury was a six-month injury recovery. I told myself I’m doing it in three,” Smith-Schuster said. “When I got cleared, I was like no hesitation, it’s time to go.”
Smith-Schuster said the prospect of potentially getting one last game with Ben Roethlisberger, who said he is likely retiring after the 2021 season, was a big motivator for him.
“While I was doing my exit physical at the end of the season and I got cleared by the doctor, I knew I was playing,” Smith-Schuster said. “No hesitation, no doubt. I want to be out there with Seven. He felt comfortable with me being out there. We never lost that chemistry. I don’t know what his next plans are for his future. I want to say thank you, Seven, for everything you’ve done for me on the field and off the field as a man.”
Smith-Schuster spent most of his time rehabilitating his injury and preparing for his return on his own and away from the team, something that was tough for the gregarious personality that is a locker room favorite.
“It was very challenging,” he said. “I love football. I love being around football. It keeps my mind going. I think a lot of the time, a lot of people who get injured and get hurt, they check out – in the early stage. I was praying that we got in and we got in. God answered my prayers and for me to come back.”
That doesn’t mean the decision was unanimous that Smith-Schuster should return to action just three months after requiring surgery to keep his shoulder together.
“I talked my agent, who told me it’s a contract year and to be careful, I talked to my mom, being a mom, you know how that is,” he said. “Honestly, it just came down to personal stuff. Nobody knows my body best and I knew I was training for this.”
It is a contract year for Smith-Schuster, who said he’d like to stay in Pittsburgh. He certainly showed his dedication to the team and the city, and the spirit of toughness and competitiveness that it embodies, with his against-the-odds return to action.
The mood after the Steelers’ loss was a somber one, with Roethlisberger having likely played his final game in Black and Gold, but Smith-Schuster’s exuberance at being able to get back in the lineup shone through.
“I’m just happy to be out there with my boys,” he said.