Sean Spence was not around when Al Michaels asked his famous question, but, yes, he does believe in miracles.
Just like the U.S. hockey gold-medal victory in the 1980 Olympics, Spence's return to play football with the Steelers would be "miraculous," according to one of his coaches.
Spence plans to beat those odds as he recovers from a sickening left knee injury in the final preseason game of his rookie year nine months ago.
"I'm going to continue to attack this like I'm going to play this year," Spence said after watching another spring practice Wednesday. "I'm in meetings and preparing as if I'm practicing. I'm just going to continue to get better and I'm looking forward to the season."
Spence has been attending spring practices, soaking up everything he can about Dick LeBeau's defense, even though he won't be able to participate, and some say won't be able to play until at least next year.
Keith Butler, his linebacker's coach, said the team will carry Spence on a reserve list this year as his knee continues to heal and with the hope that a "miraculous" recovery will permit him to play perhaps in 2014.
"It will be miraculous if he comes back next year," Butler said. "We are going to take a chance on him and see if he can come back. To me, he is worth every bit of that."
Spence told reporters that he can run, and that his goal is to play this year.
"I know I'm going to beat the odds,'' Spence said. "I'm not even worried about that. The progress that I have made, the doctors say that I've already beat the odds. I'm just keeping my faith in God and knowing he's going to give me another chance."
Mike Tomlin disputed Butler's timetable for Spence's return when he said early this month that "I did hear the opinion regarding Spence. My opinion differs. I think he'll have a full recovery."
Said Spence Wednesday, "Just to have the whole organization and my coach [behind me], it does feel great."
The left knee was injured in the final preseason game of 2012, his rookie year, in a game against Carolina at Heinz Field. Spence, an inside linebacker, was having a strong preseason and led the team with 14 tackles in those four games.
Spence had surgery to repair three ligaments in his knee, including the anterior cruciate. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette also reported that there was damage to the peroneal nerve behind the knee. The nerve damage is the most crucial and requires delicate healing or it could lead to drop-foot.
"It's healing," Spence said of the nerve damage. "It's healing slow, but I'm making progress each and every week."
If he needs any more inspiration, he could look next door, where Pitt linebacker Dan Mason returned from a similar knee injury with nerve damage to play again. It took Mason two years after his injury to get back onto the field in 2012. He played five games before he lacerated his liver, which ended his season.
While his goal is to play this season, Spence said he will follow the orders of the medical staff and take things slowly.
"You always want to play it safe," he said. "But, if I'm good enough to go, I'm going to go. If not, I'll wait and take things slow. If I feel like I can trust myself in doing what I know I can do, then I'm going to go."
The Steelers had high hopes for Spence. He started 40 games at the University of Miami, 39 of them at middle linebacker, and played much bigger than his 5-foot-11 frame in college. He was the 86th player drafted.
Had his injury not occurred, he might be starting in Larry Foote's spot today next to Lawrence Timmons. Instead, he sits next to Foote in the linebacker meetings, peppering the veteran with questions.
Spence said he did not feel the pain from the injury immediately because he was in shock, but the emotional pain did not take long to manifest itself.
"Probably the first game after surgery and watching those guys," Spence said. "It was very disappointing for me because I always had hopes of making the team. Then, you make it through all the preseason games and get to the last preseason game and have a season-ending injury. It would affect anybody.
"I learned from it. I'm humbled by the situation and I'm just going to continue moving forward."
First Published May 29, 2013 7:30 PM