Le'Veon Bell
ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

New York Jets running back Le’Veon Bell addressed his past, present and future ahead of the matchup against his former team, the Steelers.

Geoff Magliocchetti

Going home for the holidays is either a euphoric or agonizing experience, sometimes even both. New York Jets running back Le’Veon Bell will experience the phenomenon on Sunday afternoon… but he’s expecting a few familiar guests to invite themselves over.

Bell and the Jets (5-9) return to MetLife Stadium on Sunday for their final home game of the decade (1:00 p.m. ET, CBS). Their guests will be the Pittsburgh Steelers, Bell’s original team.

The rusher spent five exciting seasons in Pittsburgh prior to signing a four-year, $52.5 million deal with the Jets this offseason. Bell’s name headlines numerous chapters of the Pittsburgh record book, but things ended on an icy note. Frustration over back-to-back years with a franchise tag led to a Bell holdout that lasted the entirety of the 2018 season. The Jets were there to grant Bell the big, long-term deal he desired once free agency opened.

With the contending Steelers (8-6) known for their national fanbase, Bell expects a lukewarm reception from those who make the trip from Steel City.

“It’ll probably be 50-50,” Bell said on Thursday, per Rich Cimini of ESPN. “I think half will be happy to see me and still love me, and half that hates me, despises me.”

The mixed reception has been well on display in Steeler circles. Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin simply remarked to Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review “I have none” when asked about his relationship with Bell. Center Maurkice Pouncey was more forgiving, telling Chris Adamski, also of the PTR, “no one can ever break apart the brotherhood of the NFL.”

Many felt that Bell’s outspoken antics of 2018 would be a larger distraction in New York. Bell has instead become one of the calmest presciences of the Jets’ topsy-turvy season. His serenity was on display when asked how he would deal with any Pittsburgh detractors.

“It is what it is. I’m going to show love, regardless,” he said, per Cimini. “Anybody who’s wearing my jersey, I’ll go sign it. It’s going to be fun.”

“It’s going to be packed with Steeler fans. When (the Jets) played the Raiders, there were a lot of Raider fans and it was loud. I think it’ll be the same as that, if not more. Steeler fans travel well. I definitely know that.”

Bell further mentioned that bad blood no longer flows between he and the Steelers. “Last year was last year and two years ago was two years ago. I’m over it now. I’m past it. I’m here. I’m with the New York Jets, and I’m happy.” Bell’s words come as the Jets have an opportunity to throw a major wrench in Pittsburgh’s playoff plans. The Steelers enter Sunday tied for the final AFC wild-card playoff slot with Tennessee. Pittsburgh owns the tiebreaker via a better conference record.

Bell’s New York numbers have yet to match his Pittsburgh output. He has yet to rush for 100 yards in a game this season and his tally of 676 rushing yards is his lowest mark since he gained 556 in 2015, when injuries and a suspension limited him to six games. He did manage to score his best game of the season in the immediate buildup to the Steelers’ visit. Bell had a season-high 87 yards in the Jets’ 42-21 loss to the Baltimore Ravens’ last Thursday night.

Despite the struggles, Bell has no regrets about his move.

“I’m happy where I’m at,” he said, per Cimini. “The way things are going, obviously it’s not ideal with the way our record is. But like I said in Week 2, Week 3, this is kind of like rebuilding. I want to be a part of it and see it grow.”

Adam Gase took note of Bell’s contributions during his own Thursday availability.

“He’s been great in the aspect of whatever he needs to do to help the team win a game and he’s always been whatever we’ve asked him to do, he’s just done it,” Gase said. “He’s had some good suggestions throughout the season to try to help, get the ball rolling within a game. In-game, he’s really good, he has really good thoughts and he sees so much that he gives you really good thoughts during a game.”