Football isn’t the most loving of games, but Sunday’s Pittsburgh Steelers vs. the Cleveland Browns was a heartwarming exception to the rule. That was when a lifelong Steelers fan battling a rare type of sarcoma got to meet Steelers’ running back James Conner, a cancer survivor himself.
The fan, whose story was reported by Yahoo Sports, among other outlets, was at the game thanks to his good friend, Rusty, who fulfilled one of Rich’s bucket list wishes by buying pre-game field passes to the home game. Rusty also tweeted the football player asking if he’d be willing to meet.
@JamesConner_ James meet my best buddy Rich who diagnosed with a rare untreatable sarcoma. I’m fulfilling a bucket list wish for him and coming your home game with the browns next week. I bought field passes, wondering if you could see him and give some encouragement. Thanks pic.twitter.com/2rztVYXxBYRead More— Rusty Sergent (@SergentRusty) November 22, 2019
Conner responded enthusiastically, saying, “Please let me meet him.”
Rich and Rusty both wore Conner jerseys to the game (Rich’s had the message: “Keep fighting … f*ck cancer”), and video shows that their pre-game meeting with the player — who signed both jerseys before kick off — was an emotional experience. Conner embraced both Rich and Rusty, and offered words of encouragement.
Fans were touched by the sweet video, and tweeted well wishes to Rich, and to praise Conner.
I love our guys so much! There’s so much more to them than just football. Human beings taking care of one another. ???? #shalieve
— Christine McNany (@christinemcnany) December 1, 2019
???????????? Class act. Prayers going out.
— Mark Thomas (@markAthomas23) December 1, 2019
Conner couldn’t play in Sunday’s game as he’s been sidelined with a shoulder injury for the past two weeks, but he still managed to make a big difference on the field for Rich and Rusty.
James Conner’s Cancer Battle
Conner was first diagnosed with a type of blood cancer called Hodgkin’s lymphoma in late 2015, when he was just 20 years old and a senior at the University of Pittsburgh, reported Yahoo Sports. Hodgkin’s lymphoma is a cancer of the lymphatic system, a part of the immune system that helps fight infections and disease, according to the American Cancer Society.
For treatment, Conner underwent 12 rounds of chemotherapy. He announced that he had been declared cancer-free in May 2016, a year before he was drafted into the NFL. His cancer battle was particularly inspirational to fans because Conner never let the disease or the treatment dampen his dreams of getting to the NFL.
In a 2018 interview with The New York Post, E.J. Borghetti, executive associate athletic director at the University of Pittsburgh and a close friend of Conner’s, said that the player’s dedication was truly unforgettable.
“I think the image that anybody who was a part of that program at that time will always remember is during the team’s winter conditioning sessions, he’s going through chemo, but he refused to not be a part of that,” Borghetti said. “He would be running around our indoor facility doing drills, catching passes with a surgical mask on.”
On May 23, 2016, Conner announced he was in remission with a tweet. “God is AMAZING! Just got the call that my body is clean of cancer!! Been a long road but God had my back. Thanks everyone who said prayers!” he wrote.
After playing his final season at Pitt, Conner was drafted by the Steelers in 2017. It’s no wonder the player is such an inspiration to other survivors.