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Leah Still's presence will inspire the lives she's touched

CINCINNATI -- Devon Still lives in a bilevel townhouse high atop a hill on the Kentucky side of the Ohio River. From his back patio, he has a majestic view of the winding waters and the city he plays for.

When you first enter his residence, a flight of stairs takes you to the main level, where his bedrooms, kitchen and living area are. As soon as you reach the landing, your eyes are drawn to the large wooden-framed picture on an adjacent wall.

In the picture is Still, the backup Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle whose No. 75 jersey has been the NFL's 11th-best seller since April 1. He's wearing a dark suit, pink shirt, multicolored tie and a smile inside a well-manicured chinstrap beard that lets you know he was enjoying the moment the picture was snapped. On his left is a little girl wearing a pink and white shirt underneath a white shawl. She, too, is smiling, as locks of her dark hair cutely curl around a white flower.

If you follow Still on Twitter, you have seen the picture. It pops onto your timeline whenever he tweets whatever is on his mind.

On Thursday morning, Still didn't have to look at that picture if he didn't want to. He didn't have to make a video call through FaceTime, either. If he wanted to see the face of his 4-year-old daughter, Leah, he simply had to open his eyes.

She was there.

And Thursday night, when the Bengals host the Cleveland Browns in a key divisional matchup, she'll be at Paul Brown Stadium. The little girl, who has waged a public fight with a deadly disease, will be watching her father play in person for the first time in his three-year professional career.

"We all see what Devon goes through on a day-in and day-out basis," rookie running back Jeremy Hill said. "We're always here to comfort him and to be there for him any way we can help him out. It's definitely going to be big for us as a team, especially to go get that win for him as long as she's here.

"Like he says, it's 'Leah Strong' all the time."

In the two months since Leah Still's fight with Stage 4 neuroblastoma -- a rare pediatric cancer that has given her a 50-50 chance of living -- started getting broadcast around the globe, local T-shirt companies, the Bengals and friends of the Stills have coordinated a series of fundraising drives that thousands have participated in. The hope is that money and awareness will be raised for the eventual eradication of neuroblastoma and other pediatric cancers.

The T-shirt company is selling black shirts with the letters "Still Strong" prominently placed in orange and black stripes on the front. A percentage of proceeds from the sales are going toward pediatric cancer research efforts. Devon Still's friends run a campaign through Pldgit.com and are accepting donations that will go to the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

Leah has been receiving treatments at that hospital.

Perhaps the most well-known of the fundraising drives attached to Still is the one the Bengals coordinated through their pro shop. During September and October, the team sold nearly 15,000 of Still's jerseys and donated all proceeds from the sales to the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. Between the first and second quarters of Thursday night's game, the team will award a check for $1.25 million to the hospital. Team officials hope to make Leah part of the presentation.

When that happens, rest assured, there will be no dry eyes in the 65,000-person-plus stadium.

"It's going to be added motivation just knowing that my daughter is watching me," Still said. "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."

Still, who cried the night the New England Patriots recognized Leah's fight late in the Bengals' 43-17 loss at Gillette Stadium, said he is looking forward to seeing how he reacts during the check presentation. He couldn't promise the tears wouldn't be flowing again.

If they do, that's OK.