Dunlap: Rooting Interest For Conner Something Unique

Sunday presents rare opportunity for Steelers RB

Colin Dunlap
September 06, 2018 - 1:24 pm

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Something very interesting is happening. Something very unique is happening. 

And to be perfectly blunt, in all my time as a Pittsburgh sports consumer --- it will be 42 years in December --- I have only seen the likes of it a few times. 

It will happen this coming Sunday.

Here you go ... rarely, if ever, do you see a city band together in a team sport and pull for one individual player so damn hard. Rarely, if ever, do you see the focus of a team sport twist into one individual so much, with a town having such an interest on if that person will succeed or fail in a certain game. Rarely, if ever, do those situations happen --- and when they do it is usually a player coming off of an injury or someone making their rookie debut. 

Think Mario fighting back from cancer that had fans electrified. 

Think Sid coming back from concussions that had Pens faithful nervously excited. 

Think Gerrit Cole pitching in his debut that had people wrapped around PNC Park.

Those are a few times I can remember in Pittsburgh sports when it was kind of important what the team did that day, but it seemed much, much, much bigger how one individual went out and performed. Another moment like that will happen on Sunday at 1 p.m. in Cleveland. 

James Conner will be the feature back for the Pittsburgh Steelers as Le'Veon Bell will continue his contract quarrel with the club. 

In the run-up to this game, it sure feels like no matter who your favorite Steeler has been or is, for at least one Sunday afternoon --- and maybe deeper into the season --- you are pulling hardest for James Conner. You are focusing in on him more than the others.

It sure helps that Conner has shrugged aside cancer and fought through injuries, but make no mistake that nothing binds Pittsburghers together (outside of free fireworks) more than someone disrespecting them. In all of this, they look at Bell as emblematic of disrespect and Conner as the polar opposite --- a guy who just kept grabbing his lunch bucket and showing up for work and now he gets his chance on the biggest stage. Again, this is so incredibly rare, but the feeling you get is that he will be the favorite player of everyone in Steeler Nation on Sunday. 

In a way, Conner has experienced this twice as his comeback game from cancer was met with much of the same sentiment --- the team taking a bit of a backseat to the focus being on him. 

Perhaps I'm caught up in this too. You know what, I definitely am. And I'm not afraid to admit it. I hope James Conner goes out on that field in Cleveland and torches the Browns. Everyone would be silly to think he will ever possess the raw talents that Bell does, but maybe -- if just for a little while -- he can make you forget about Bell. 

I know at least everyone will be paying attention to see how it goes.