The relationship that existed between running backs Le’Veon Bell and James Conner predated the Pittsburgh Steelers drafting the latter in 2017. Conner was a star player at Pitt in college, who also shares the team’s stadium, and it’s not uncommon for professionals and amateurs to fraternize.
They’ve gotten to know some superstars through that pipeline, not the least of whom being Larry Fitzgerald, one of the very, very few active players to be named to the NFL 100 All-Time team, and Aaron Donald, who is yearly stating his case as one of the great defensive tackles in NFL history.
Conner’s college career, as well as his journey and story as a cancer survivor, made it amply sure that he was very familiar to the Steelers long before they made him a part of the team. He and Bell already had a bond before they were teammates. They still have one now that they no longer are.
Their professional journeys ultimately only overlapped one season, Conner’s rookie year in 2017, during which he played very sparingly and ended on the Reserve/Injured List. Bell would hold out the following season, but Conner was about the only teammate with whom he made contact, and would often post praise on social media following a good game by his former backup.
Now with the New York Jets, Bell and Conner will be in the same stadium for the first time in years, but the latter said that nothing has changed in their relationship, even if it may have for some former teammates—others have suggested otherwise, with one Steelers saying there will be 50 people giving him a hug today.
“Really nothing’s changed” in the bond that they have shared over the years, Conner told Jacob Klinger of PennLive last week. “Still the homie, keep in touch every once in a while, not every day, you know, not my best friend but still a good friend”. He did allow that they didn’t speak this past week, that it’s been all about business and their teams focusing on winning the game.
While the Jets are already eliminated from postseason contention, with a 5-9 record on the season despite wining four of their last six, the Steelers are in a win-and-in situation. Win their final two games, and they will be the sixth seed. Lose either of them, and they will need help that they cannot count on getting.
There was some animosity in the locker room toward Bell last season, with some former teammates making public comments, but Conner was never one of them. “I don’t feel no way about it”, he said of Bell’s handling of his final season and signing with the Jets in free agency. “I didn’t have nothing to do with it, to be honest. So, excited to go versus him, but other than that that’s about it”.
How many Steelers fans are excited to see Bell? How many Jets fans? He’s having the worst season of his career, after all, surely a far cry from what New York’s front office envisioned from him after giving him the largest fully guaranteed figure to a running back in history.