Steelers RB James Conner Emotional Sideline Meeting ... w/ Fan Battling Cancer

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POWERFUL MEETING

This is gonna hit you right in the feels ...

Steelers RB James Conner -- who famously battled cancer in college -- went out of his way Sunday to comfort another man fighting the illness ... and the whole thing is insanely emotional.

The fan in the "FcukCancer" jersey is Richie Marsili -- who was diagnosed with a rare untreatable sarcoma and had always wanted to get on the field for a Steelers game.

Richie's friend, Rusty Sergent, made it all happen -- buying tickets and field passes and tweeting at Conner in the hopes the NFL star could "see him and give some encouragement."

It's a situation Conner knows all too well ... in 2015, he was diagnosed with Stage 2 Hodgkin lymphoma, forcing him to miss his junior season at the Univ. of Pitt. to undergo chemotherapy.

He was declared cancer free in 2016 and rejoined the football team -- balling out of his mind and eventually getting drafted by the Steelers in 2017.

So, for Conner it was a no-brainer to meet Marsili on Sunday ... and the scene was so emotional, it brought Richie's pal, Rusty, to tears.

Not only did Conner deliver on a motivational speech for Richie, he also signed the guy's customized "FcukCancer" jersey with the message "Rich! Keep going ... Fcuk cancer!"

As for the game, Conner didn't suit up because of a shoulder injury -- but the Steelers got a win for the RB, Rusty and Rich anyway ... beating the Browns, 20-13.

Steelers QB Mason Rudolph Late Fine of $50k for Garrett Fight ... Over a Week Later

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3:24 PM PT -- The NFL issued a total of $732,422 in fines to 33 different players who were involved in the Garrett-Rudolph fight -- the lowest being $3,507 for several different players "entering the fighting area" and the highest being $250,000 for each team.

The Steelers' Maurkice Pouncey -- who punched and kicked Garrett in the heat of the moment -- has been suspended for two games and was issued a $35,096 fine.

As we mentioned earlier, Rudolph got dinged for $50k -- more than Garrett's $45k and change -- for unsportsmanlike conduct.

Looks like the NFL isn't letting the Steelers' quarterback, Mason Rudolph, off the hook in the fallout from the fight he was involved in with Browns player Myles Garrett.

According to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com, a source is saying that Rudolph has been hit with a $50,000 fine for his role in the brawl from last Thursday. Reportedly, other players will be and already have been fined -- including some who left the bench at the time.

It doesn't sound like Rudolph will be suspended though -- based on Rapoport's early reporting, it appears he's just getting knocked financially. BTW, he signed a 4-year contract with the team last year for $3.9 million ... so this is like a slap on the wrist.

It's interesting that these punishments are being handed down so late, considering the Rudolph-Garrett fiasco has been the talk of pro-sports for about a week now. At first, people thought Rudolph would get through this unscathed -- but clearly, that didn't happen.

Of course, Garrett was suspended indefinitely, which he appealed ... but the NFL's penalty was ultimately upheld.

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Funny enough, tons of people -- including prominent members of the media -- made note of Rudolph seemingly escalating things on the football field when he was aggressively taken down by Garrett on a last-second play to end the game. Many have said he purposely put his cleat into Garrett's groin and then went after him when he got his helmet taken off.

Adding insult to injury, Garrett came out just this past week to claim Rudolph hurled a racial slur at him, which prompted him to swing the helmet. Rudolph denied that, and the NFL also publicly said it found no evidence of any such slur in their investigation.

Makes ya wonder if the league caved to public pressure and doled out this late punishment to make things look a little more even now that everyone's spoken their piece on it.

Originally Published -- 10:39 AM PT

Browns' Myles Garrett Doubles Down On Rudolph Racial Slur Claim ... 'I Know What I Heard'

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4:09 PM PT -- Myles Garrett is not backing down from claims Mason Rudolph hurled a racial slur at him during the helmet-throwing incident ... saying "I know what I heard."

Garrett just issued a statement ripping the NFL ... accusing league officials of leaking confidential information from his appeal hearing to the media.

Here's his statement in full ...

"I was assured that the hearing was space that afforded the opportunity to speak openly and honestly about the incident that led to my suspension," Garrett says. "This was not meant for public dissemination, nor was it a convenient attempt to justify my actions or restore my image in the eyes of those I disappointed."

"I know what I heard. Whether my opponent's comment was born out of frustration or ignorance, I cannot say. But his actions do not excuse my lack of restraint in the moment, and I truly regret the impact this has had on the league, the Browns and our devoted fans."

1:14 PM PT -- The NFL says it investigated Garrett's allegation and found "no such evidence" that Rudolph hurled a racial slur.

"We looked into it and found no such evidence," NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy said.

Myles Garrett told NFL officials Steelers QB Mason Rudolph hurled a racial slur at him before the infamous helmet attack ... though Rudolph is calling BS.

As we previously reported, the Cleveland Browns star met with NFL officials to appeal the length of his suspension from the Nov. 14 incident.

During the meeting, Garrett told his side of the story ... and claimed it was a racial slur from Rudolph that got him so pissed off, he ripped off the QB's helmet and attacked him with it, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.

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But, Rudolph is VEHEMENTLY denying the claim -- his lawyer has already issued a statement calling the allegation a flat-out lie.

"This false allegation was never asserted by Garrett in the aftermath of the game, never suggested prior to the hearing, and conspicuously absent in the apology published by the Browns and adopted by Garrett."

"The malicious use of this wild and unfounded allegation is an assault on Mason's integrity which is far worse than the physical assault witnessed on Thursday."

"This is reckless and shameful."

Browns head coach Freddie Kitchens just addressed the situation at Browns practice on Thursday, saying, "I stand by Myles and that's not going to waver. I'll support Myles in every way possible."

Kitchens refused to disclose what he and Myles talked about following the incident.

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Story developing ...

Originally Published -- 10:40 AM PT

Mason Rudolph On Garrett Helmet Attack I Didn't Say Anything To Him!!!

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Mason Rudolph is admitting he shouldn't have tried ripping Myles Garrett's helmet off his head during last week's brawl ... but is adamant he didn't say anything to spark the attack.

The Steelers QB read a prepared statement at practice on Wednesday ... saying, “Thursday night, to say the least, it was an unfortunate situation for everyone involved."

“Looking back on the final play of the game, I fell short of the mark there too. I should have done a better job of keeping my cool in that situation."

As for the speculation he may have said something to put Garrett over the edge ... Rudolph claims he said nothing.

“Definitely didn’t say anything. I got to do a better job of keeping my composure in those situations.”

It's a big change of tune from Rudolph's comments last week when the QB called Garrett's actions "cowardly" and "bush league" ... despite trying to yank the Browns star's helmet off and appearing to kick him where it hurts.

Rudolph says he hopes to move past the situation and has no ill will towards Garrett.

Regarding punishment, Rudolph says he hasn't received a letter from the NFL ... while Garrett is meeting with the league today to appeal his indefinite suspension.

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Browns Superfan Brad Paisley On Myles Garrett ... Pittsburgh Will Never Forgive Him

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Brad Paisley is a MASSIVE Cleveland Browns fan -- and you can tell he's genuinely sad about the incident with Myles Garrett ... explaining why the helmet-swing was heartbreaking to watch.

"Wish he hadn't done what he did," the country music superstar tells TMZ Sports ... "It's crazy. He shouldn't have done that."

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Paisley has spent a lot of time around the Browns (remember his "Hard Knocks" cameo at training camp?) ... and says he's heard Garrett is a good dude, which makes it harder to understand why he went so crazy against the Pittsburgh Steelers last week.

"I'd love to know what he's thinking. I'm sure he's remorseful."

Even if Garrett can bounce back from the scandal, Paisley says he'll NEVER win back Steelers fans ... saying, "Pittsburgh will never forgive him, I'm sure."

As for the punishment, Paisley says he'll support whatever suspension the NFL eventually dishes out -- "He needs to serve that time, whatever they decide that is."

The league has already suspended Garrett for the rest of the year, but he's appealing this week and the punishment COULD change (maybe).

So, why is Paisley -- who's from West Virginia -- a Browns fan? It all stems back to Brian Sipe ... (betcha didn't think you'd see that name today!)

Here's a video to help explain ...

Steelers' Linebacker Arrested for Assault Allegedly Roughed Up Star Athlete GF

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Pittsburgh Steelers LB Anthony Chickillo spent part of his bye week behind bars ... TMZ Sports has confirmed the 26-year-old was arrested after cops say he admitted to getting violent with his track star GF.

Cops say Chickillo was out at the exclusive Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in Farmington, Penn. when he got into an argument with his girlfriend, Canadian track athlete Alysha Newman, at the resort's casino.

FYI, 25-year-old Newman is a star pole vaulter in Canada. She made the Olympic team in 2016 and won gold at the 2018 Commonwealth Games.

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Newman told officers the spat began over table games ... and when the argument carried on into the couple's room, things turned violent.

Newman told cops that Chickillo grabbed both of her arms and threw her against a wall and door. She says the 6'3", 253-pound football player then shoved her to the ground.

Newman also claims Chickillo smashed her $900 iPhone in the altercation ... and says she was forced to lock herself in the bathroom until police arrived to diffuse the situation.

When cops showed up ... they say they noticed "visible redness" to both Newman's right and left bicep areas as well as "bruising beginning to form" -- and say Chickillo admitted to pushing her to the ground.

They arrested Chickillo ... and eventually hit the linebacker with charges of simple assault, criminal mischief and harassment.

Cops also tell TMZ Sports Newman was hit with a summary citation for harassment for her role in the altercation.

Chickillo -- who had his arraignment hearing in Pennsylvania on Sunday -- was released on $10,000 bail ... but is due back in court next week.

The Steelers -- who were on a bye this past week and are set to play the Dolphins next Monday -- released a statement, saying, "We are aware of an incident involving Anthony Chickillo last night and are still gathering information. Until we have further details we will not provide any further comments."

Chickillo has been a regular on the Steelers' roster over the past five years ... playing in 57 games and recording 7.5 sacks.

Plaxico Burress I Spoke With Big Ben ... 'He Will Be Back Next Year'

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NOT HIS LAST HURRAH
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A brutal injury to Ben Roethlisberger's throwing elbow will NOT end his career ... so says Plaxico Burress, who spoke with his ex-teammate and tells TMZ Sports, "He will be back next year."

Big Ben blew out his arm during the Steelers game against the Seahawks on Sunday ... and at 37 years old -- some are wondering if that's the last game we'll ever see the guy play.

But, Plaxico -- who was a Steeler with Roethlisberger in 2004 -- says he talked to Ben this week ... and came away from their conversation encouraged the QB will be back just fine.

"We share a special relationship," the ex-receiver says. "I know that this won't be his last hurrah. He's not built like that. He's going to come back healthy and ready to play."

As for Burress' message to Ben, he says he told the QB straight-up, "Stay strong."

We also spoke with Plaxico about the other QBs in Ben's famous 2004 NFL Draft class ... and you've gotta hear his thoughts on Philip Rivers.

HINT: Plaxico LOVES the Chargers star!!!

By the way, if you're wondering what Burress is up to these days -- he says he'll be competing with Michael Jordan soon ... in the tequila business!!!

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Antonio Brown To Ben Roethlisberger We Weren't Friends, Shut Up Already!!!

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The breakup between Antonio Brown and Ben Roethlisberger just got a lot nastier ... with AB telling the Steelers QB to "shut up already" ... because they were NEVER friends.

It's no secret the 2 butted heads several times when they were Steelers teammates ... with Brown even tweeting Ben had the "owner mentality" after getting blamed for a late-game interception last season.

Roethlisberger recently talked about how he handled that specific situation in an interview with Michele Tafoya ... saying, "I wish I wouldn't have done it."

"Obviously, we saw what happened and obviously it ruined a friendship," Ben said. "I just got caught up in the emotion of the heat of the battle."

But, AB is havin' NONE of that "friend" talk ... blasting his old QB for trying to make it sound like they were tight.

"Never friends just had to get my ends.......shut up already," AB tweeted on Tuesday.

Brown has been surrounded by drama for months now -- from Big Ben to helmets to a frozen fish head -- but it's clear he's ready to move on from the former.

Tyrell Williams Antonio Brown Is Not A Cancer ... We Love Him In Oakland!

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Antonio Brown's new teammate is already going to bat for the star wide receiver ... 'cause Tyrell Williams tells TMZ Sports AB is 100 percent NOT a locker room cancer!!

"He's awesome," the stud receiver says ... "We love him. We love him. It's been fun."

Of course, there are a few dudes in Pittsburgh who'd disagree ... Brown left the Steelers on bad terms a few months ago -- and everyone from JuJu Smith-Schuster to ex-teammate Ryan Clark blasted the guy.

But, it's so far, so good in Oakland ... so says Tyrell (who just signed with the Raiders this offseason himself), 'cause the WR tells us he's actually learning some tricks from Brown.

We also asked Williams if he thinks Derek Carr and Brown can be a better duo than Big Ben and AB were ... and Tyrell said, "Sky is the limit. You never know what's going to happen."

BTW, we also spoke with Tyrell about the Raiders' future move to Vegas ... and he says he's got no worries about the future trek to Nevada!

Antonio Brown Steelers #84 Given Away ... To Undrafted Tight End

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The Pittsburgh Steelers are OFFICIALLY done with Antonio Brown ... they just gave away his #84 jersey to an undrafted free agent tight end -- just a few weeks after AB's departure!!

Of course, Brown's exit from the black and yellow wasn't pretty ... dude had drama with just about everyone on the team.

But, the guy was a legend for the Steelers -- 11,207 receiving yards and 74 receiving TDs in 9 seasons -- and some thought MAYBE Pittsburgh might want to retire his number eventually.

But, the Steelers shot down ANY plans of that this week -- because they not only gave away his number ... they handed it to a UDFA TE!!!

Now, Milan Richard ain't a scrub -- dude did win 2 national championships at Clemson -- but he ain't exactly Antonio Brown either.

For their part, the Steelers also had no problems giving away Le'Veon Bell's old #26 jersey ... newly acquired safety Mark Barron has already called dibs on those digits.

In case you were wondering, the Steelers have only officially retired 2 players' numbers in franchise history -- Joe Greene (#75) and Ernie Stautner (#70) -- but they've historically taken some digits, like Terry Bradshaw's #12 and Franco Harris' #32, off the table nonetheless.

Sorry, AB.

Antonio Brown Threatens Ryan Clark ... 'Next Time We Meet It’s On Site'

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Antonio Brown is threatening Ryan Clark with violence if his former teammate doesn't stop talking about him ... telling the ex-Steelers DB, "next time we meet it’s on site ain’t gone spare u."

Remember, Clark and AB have been going at it for months ... 'cause Ryan -- who's now an ESPN analyst -- was critical of the WR while his drama in Pittsburgh was all unfolding in the winter.

At the time, Ryan said Brown and the Steelers needed to part ways because of AB's antics ... and Antonio famously fired back, calling Clark an "Uncle Tom."

Now, the beef has escalated ... because after Ryan brought up Antonio's name again on Twitter on Wednesday -- Brown straight-up threatened him with violence.

"Bro stop mentioning my name I know it get u clout keep that same analysis energy next time we meet it’s on site ain’t gone spare u."

We might not have to wait long to see their reunion ... the Raiders play on ESPN's first "Monday Night Football" broadcast on Sept. 9 and Clark could be working the game!!!

Antonio Brown Will Be 'A Pain In The Ass' In Oakland ... Says Jack Del Rio

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Sorry Jon Gruden ... Antonio Brown is going to cause MASSIVE headaches in Oakland -- so says Jack Del Rio, who says AB "has clearly shown that he's going to be a pain in the ass."

Of course, Brown's Steelers career was FILLED with drama ... and it got so bad in Pittsburgh, it's the reason he's actually in the silver and black today.

But, the trade from Pitt to the Bay Area hasn't quieted the NFL superstar -- in fact, he's kept up most of his beefs, even going after JuJu Smith-Schuster on social media this month.

Because of that ... Del Rio thinks it won't be smooth sailing with the Raiders, telling NFL.com, "If he continues doing the things he's been doing, just like he upset the Steelers, he's going to upset the next team he's on."

"I mean, this is America and he's free to do what he wants -- but those aren't the things that are indicative of a good teammate."

Del Rio says Brown IS a hard worker and a super talent, so it won't be all bad times in Oakland ... but the ex-head coach says he sees the writing clearly on the wall for the future Hall of Famer.

"The working hard and being a good player definitely helps the team, which is why he'll continue to get chances to be special until his skills deteriorate. That's when people will get tired of him."

Chris Johnson Le'Veon's Going To Have A Huge Year ... Here's Why

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Le'Veon Bell is going to have a HUGE season for the New York Jets in 2019 ... and it's all 'cause he sat out last season -- so says NFL legend, Chris Johnson.

"He gave his body a rest," CJ2K tells TMZ Sports ... "Now he's coming back healthy. He rejuvenated his body and he's ready to go."

Le'Veon was known as arguably the NFL's biggest workhorse before he sat out all of last season over a contract dispute with the Steelers.

In 4 of the 5 seasons that he suited up for Pittsburgh ... he touched the ball at least 289 times -- including a staggering 406 in the 2017 season.

But, after carrying it ZERO times this past year ... Chris says he's projecting a monster year for Bell with his new team.

"I think it'll be a big season," Johnson says ... "It's a lot that goes into it, but, you know, I wish him the best and I hope he proves all the doubters wrong."

By the way, Chris -- who played one season for the Jets in 2014 -- gave some advice to Bell for how to tackle New York ... and ya gotta hear the wise wisdom he shelled out!!!

Joe Haden I Can't Wait to Cover Odell ... in Cleveland

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TIME TO SEE WHO'S BEST
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Joe Haden ain't pissed the Browns got stacked after he got traded to the Steelers ... matter of fact, he's HAPPY for the city -- telling TMZ Sports he CAN'T WAIT to line up against OBJ!!

We spoke with the NFL star about his ex-team's newest addition ... and he's stoked for several reasons -- one being the fans having something to be excited about again. (After all, the Browns were awful in Haden's 7 years in Ohio).

"I'm happy for Cleveland. That's a great football city," Haden tells us. "They deserve everything. Odell, that's one of my good friends ... he's gonna bring a lot of flash and flare there."

The other big reason -- Haden can now line up against his good friend, Odell Beckham, twice a year ... and it's got some extra sauce to it, considering Pittsburgh's huge rivalry with CLE.

"I can't wait. You gotta go against the best to be the best."

Of course, the Browns officially introduced OBJ on Monday ... and there's a lot of talk about Cleveland being serious contenders with guys like Baker Mayfield, Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt and Jarvis Landry on offense.

Meanwhile, the Stillers traded away Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell jetted off to New York. Haden says it'll be tough to replace those guys, but they're ready for the challenge.

We also asked Haden about his QB, Ben Roethlisberger's leadership skills ... and he's got nothing but praise for the signal caller, despite what AB may say.

NFL Draft's Mecole Hardman Antonio Brown's Replacement? ... 'I Can Be That Guy!!!'

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COME AND GET ME
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Georgia stud WR Mecole Hardman can be Antonio Brown's replacement in Pittsburgh, so says the NFL draft prospect himself ... who tells TMZ Sports, "I can be that guy!"

Of course, the Steelers just lost A.B. after an offseason full of drama ... and now they've got a glaring hole at wideout heading into next month's NFL draft.

Enter Hardman -- a superstar with the Bulldogs -- who says he'd have no problem if Pittsburgh picked him to be A.B.'s replacement!

And, why?? Well, outside of realizing his NFL dreams ... he tells us he grew up a HUGE Steelers fan!!!

"My daddy was a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, so he had put me on them when Hines Ward, Troy Polamalu and all them were there. Big Ben was just getting there, so like, I've been rocking with the Steelers for a minute."

Mecole's expected to go anywhere from the second round to the fifth round in April's draft ... but he fits the profile of a guy Pittsburgh could seriously consider.

The 21-year-old ran a 4.33 at the combine ... and crushed it with 7 TDs for the Bulldogs last season.

Soooo, Kevin Colbert ... you listening?!?!

Terry Bradshaw Defends Big Ben 'He's A Great Leader'

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Steelers legend Terry Bradshaw is going to bat for Ben Roethlisberger ... telling TMZ Sports the QB is a "great leader" and the criticism of him from former teammates is incomprehensible.

"I don't understand it," Bradshaw says ... "He's a great leader. He is. He's solid."

Of course, Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell REALLY disagree ... they've taken turns this offseason pummeling the QB for the way he's commanded the team as the face of the franchise.

In fact, AB wrote on Twitter just a couple weeks ago, "He has a owner mentality like he can call out anybody including coaches."

Le'Veon added in an interview with Sports Illustrated, "Ben wants to win his way, and that’s tough to play with."

But, Bradshaw thinks the criticism is unfounded ... telling us, "I find him to be fine."

Terry's biggest problem with the whole drama now??? He says it's cost the Steelers a TON of firepower ... and he's concerned the team might miss the playoffs for the second straight year.

"I'm worried about our team."

As for Ben ... Bradshaw's got no worries that he might leave, telling us Ben will get a new, big contract from the team sooner rather than later.

"He deserves it."