Over the last two years any time you went to Heinz Field for a Steelers game there is one thing you quickly noticed.
James Conner No. 30 jerseys were everywhere. Heck, even Ben Roethlisberger’s son Benjamin asked Santa Claus for a Conner jersey for Christmas. And yes, Santa delivered.
“You would think he would want his dad’s jersey, and I am pretty sure he has his dad’s jersey,” said Conner. “But it was awesome for me to be one of his favorite players. It’s cool to see the impact.”
Conner became a fan favorite the moment he was drafted two years ago, and that love affair only got stronger in 2018 when the second-year back took over as the team’s starting running back and earned a starting spot in the Pro Bowl. You could hear ‘Conner, Conner’ chants when he touched the ball. The fans embraced him for how he stepped up and took over the job when Le’Veon Bell held out.
But as we all know there is more to it. While playing at the University of Pittsburgh, Conner suffered an MCL injury that had him going through rehab. During that rehab he noticed abnormalities. He knew something was wrong, but couldn’t imagine what. In his wildest dreams he never would have thought he would be diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma. He fearlessly battled the disease, never giving up hope that he would return to the football field, and did so for Pitt’s opening day in 2016. The rest as they say is history, as the Steelers selected him in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft.
Conner is an inspiring individual, one who battled the toughest of struggles and shines daily as an example that you can overcome anything in life.
Over the past two years he couldn’t even begin to count how many times people have come up to him and told him he is an inspiration, shared their stories with him on social media, reached out to him in one way or another.
At first he didn’t know how to handle the attention. Now, it’s something he embraces.
“It’s hitting me. It’s becoming the normal,” said Conner, who will receiver the Dapper Dan Man of the Year next week. “At first it was new. Now it’s becoming the normal because that is the plan for me, to have an impact on people. It will always be there. People draw inspiration from it. I like to be in that position.
“It’s the best of both worlds. People are recognizing me for something I did in my personal life and for what I am doing for a great organization. When you put it all together it’s a lot of fun. It means a lot to me. The support never goes unnoticed. It’s an honor to take the field for the Steelers and I hope to do it for a long time to come.”