Bettis throws Steelers under the bus

Former running back not shy about taking shots at ex-teammates


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When Jack Lambert retired in 1985 after a Hall of Fame career, he tried a little television work. Channel 4 loved having him -- who wouldn't want a legendary player from the Super Steelers of the '70s on staff? -- but the gig lasted less than a week. Lambert had a hard time critiquing his old team. He hated criticizing former teammates.

Good thing that is not an issue with another Steelers Super Bowl hero, Jerome Bettis.

Good thing for SI.com and its readers, that is.

Not such a good thing, maybe, for Willie Parker, Max Starks and a few other Steelers.

Bettis figured to be in the news this week because the Steelers are playing the Chicago Bears Sunday. When the teams played in '05, he ran over Bears All-Pro linebacker Brian Urlacher, one of his great runs in what surely was a Hall of Fame career. That play in a 21-9 win was the unofficial start of a journey that ended with Bettis hoisting the Lombardi Trophy after Super Bowl XL and announcing his retirement after 13 NFL seasons.

But the punishment Bettis dished out to Urlacher was nothing compared with the shots he took at his former team this week. Like just about everyone else in the free world, he had his say about the Steelers' run game problems against the Tennessee Titans last week in the first of what will be a weekly column for SI.com. He was not kind.

"Willie Parker: I haven't seen much from him," Bettis wrote of his protégé and a former teammate who clearly adored him. "Rashard Mendenhall: I haven't really seen him, period ... The running back I like least on that team is Frank Summers, the rookie fullback. He doesn't seem to understand what's going on. He's missing plenty of blocks ... "

Rough stuff, indeed.

Refreshing from a former player, but rough nonetheless.

Bettis was even tougher on the offensive line, which includes Starks, who was a starter on the Super Bowl XL team.

"They have no continuity," Bettis wrote. "On top of not being able to protect Ben Roethlisberger, they're letting running backs get hit before they reach the line of scrimmage ... The problem isn't anything new, and I blame the coaching staff for not addressing the line in the offseason ... Pittsburgh can't repeat with the line playing like this."

Reached by telephone the other day, Bettis said, "I didn't say anything that anybody doesn't know."

You didn't expect the man who didn't back down from the fierce Urlacher to back down now, did you?

"I have a job to do," Bettis said. "If I can't be clear and candid about everything, there's no reason to hire me. I have to be able to call it like I see it.

"I love the Steelers. I'm 100 percent behind them. But if they're not playing well, I'm going to say it. Everybody else is seeing the same thing. Am I not supposed to say it?"

Bettis didn't share Steelers coach Mike Tomlin's opinion that the line pass-blocked well against the Titans. "Look how many times Ben was on the ground. Those hits take a toll." Bettis also put more blame on the line than the backs -- remember, he was a ball-toter -- for the team's meager 36 rushing yards. "Yes, the backs have to hit up in there, but the line has to get a surge. You have to give the backs a chance."

As for Parker, who some NFL scouts have said has lost his confidence, lost his burst, lost his heart, lost something ...

"That's a crock of mess," Bettis said.

"You have to understand a great offensive line can make an average running back look great and a poor offensive line can make a great running back look terrible. I'm not saying either is the case with the Steelers. I'm just saying I know from experience that, when we had problems with the offensive line, people would say, 'Bettis is no good anymore.' Then, we'd fix the line problems the next year, and I'd have a Pro Bowl season.

"I don't see that Willie has lost anything."

Agree or disagree with Bettis, you have to admit this: He scored more points with his new SI.com bosses than the Steelers did against the Titans.

People are talking about what he had to say.

Bravo for him.

The new column gives Bettis a reason to stay close to the NFL, even though his Sundays are free for the first time in 17 years. He worked as a part of NBC's Sunday Night Game of the Week studio team for the past three seasons but was fired this summer.

"That show was terrible. It had to be blown up," Bettis said. "I had people tell me I was the only reason they watched. I'm thinking, 'Man, that's not good. I'm only on for about a total of 1 1/2 minutes a week.' "

Bettis, who lives in Atlanta with his wife, Trameka, and children, Jada, 4, and Jerome Jr., 2, will be back in Pittsburgh today to do his Friday afternoon radio show on ESPN1250 from his North Shore restaurant, Grille 36. He'll also tape his television show for WPXI, which airs Saturday nights. Tomorrow, he has a motivational speaking engagement in Orlando. He spoke in Hershey earlier this week and in Las Vegas last week.

The theme of Bettis' talks: "Championship Choices."

"Basically, I just talk about my life," he said.

As a former Hall of Famer-caliber player.

As a television and radio personality.

And now, as a controversial writer.

Controversial in Pittsburgh, anyway.


Ron Cook can be reached at rcook@post-gazette.com .


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