INDIANAPOLIS -- Linebacker Shaquille Leonard -- the three-time first-team All-Pro selection surprisingly released by the Colts last week -- received a loud ovation at Sunday's game at Lucas Oil Stadium as he looked on from a suite and the team expressed gratitude on the stadium's video screens.
It was a rare scene in which a player who was abruptly let go because of declining skills following his injury rehab made a public appearance to support that same team at its next game. The video screen flashed a message saying "Thank You" to Leonard as in-house cameras panned to Leonard and his family, who were watching the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from a suite.
Leonard waved to the crowd and was met with a loud ovation that brought a wide smile to his face.
Moments after the in-game tribute, linebacker Ronnie Harrison Jr., who took Leonard's spot on the active roster, intercepted Tampa Bay quarterback Baker Mayfield, prompting an immediate response from Leonard.
"So happy for Ronnie!" Leonard posted on X. "Been on practice squad for weeks and first start Int! So happy for ya man!"
Colts linebacker Zaire Franklin, who was drafted in 2018 with Leonard, called this the "weirdest week of my career."
"It really was all the way up until pregame. You never notice the little things until they're not there. So, I was just happy that he got the celebration and the farewell that he deserved. But like I said, I know he's got bigger and better things in his future. So, I always root for him," Franklin said of his close friend after the Colts' 27-20 victory Sunday.
Leonard had been struggling to recapture his old form after two back surgeries in 2022 to address nerve issues that were causing lower-body pain. As a result, his playing time had been inconsistent, and the team informed him Monday that he would be benched and inactive the rest of the season.
But 24 hours later, things shifted when the team decided that asking a player of Leonard's stature to practice on the scout team and watch games from the sideline in street clothes might be unfair. Leonard was subsequently told Tuesday that he was being waived.
"It was the biggest surprise ever," Leonard said following the decision. "It was shocking."
But Leonard also stressed what the team and the community meant to him, something that was evidenced by his decision to go through with a planned turkey giveaway Tuesday afternoon, when Leonard's foundation gave away 200 turkeys and sides for Thanksgiving dinners.
Leonard, true to form, said his release wouldn't change his disposition. Sunday was the latest example.
"A lot people can go hide in the closet," he said Tuesday. "Me? I more so stay on the front porch and just be me. That's one thing I'm going to do no matter what: Hold my head up high to the finish and just be the best version of myself."