The Hometown Kid And The Hometown Team


By: Jordan Defigio

There’s hometown pride. Then there’s Pittsburgh pride. And anyone from the Steel City knows that the love of our town runs deeper, stronger, different. James Conner – who played high school football here, played college football at Pitt, and went on to play for his hometown team of the Pittsburgh Steelers – knows how special this is. He knows how rare it is. And he doesn’t want to leave.

Conner recently made an appearance on The Adam Schefter Podcast and addressed this very thing, as he’s set to become an unrestricted free agent following the 2020 season.

“It would be hard to put another helmet on just because of everything and what this city means to me,” he said.

And honestly, it would be hard to watch him go. Though he is only three years into an injury-plagued career, he has shown flashes of absolute brilliance from the backfield. More than that, he’s the hometown kid. His roots run deep just like ours because he’s been molded by the city that’s molded us.

Any player that is adopted by the Steelers organization quickly discovers that Pittsburgh is a down-and-dirty-blue-collar city of dreamers, doers, and champions. Driving across bridges over three rivers that meet where Heinz Field stands, eyes first catching a glimpse of the skyline emerging from the Fort Pitt Tunnel, standing on a lookout atop Mt. Washington – everything that makes this city what it is flows deep into the very being of those who have had the privilege to call it home.

Conner doesn’t want to leave that; how could he? It’s the reason so many athletes who spend even a fraction of their career playing for one of the three professional teams choose to settle down here in the off-season or after their time as a player has ended. It’s the reason Steeler Nation reaches out beyond the three rivers and into other counties, other states, other continents. The pull and call from the city of Pittsburgh is a gentle invitation to those near and far, from every walk of life. It’s a place that feels like home to those who have yet to step foot in it.

Like Ben Roethlisberger, Conner is also coming off a 2019 season riddled with injuries. He played in only 10 games and rushed for 464 yards and four touchdowns after rushing for almost 1,000 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2018.

The trajectory of his future in Pittsburgh will no doubt be dictated by the outcome of the 2020 season. If he struggles or is unable to stay healthy, the chances of the Steelers re-signing him will decrease. If he has a season of Pro Bowl level caliber, his price tag will likely be too high for the team to feel comfortable matching. Though he can’t imagine playing somewhere else, he might have to open his mind a bit. We might too. As much as the thought cuts straight to my heart.

But for now, he is still here. And for now, though the Steelers seem to be approaching the season with a running-back committee mindset, he is our feature-back.

And I am going to enjoy the hell out of this season with him.

I don’t know what 2020 will hold for James Conner and the Pittsburgh Steelers. I don’t know if he will stay healthy, I don’t know if he’ll go off or get hurt, I don’t know if he’ll choose to re-sign here or if the Steelers will choose to offer him a new contract. But what I do know is, I hope he stays.

It’s his home.

It’s my home.

And when Pittsburgh is your home, everyone is your family.

What do you want to see happen with James Conner next off-season? Are you a native-born Pittsburgher or a transplant yinzer? What’s your favorite thing about the Steel City? Comment below!

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