Jerome Bettis elected to Pro Football Hall of Fame
January 31, 2015 9:02 PM
Franco Harris and Jerome Bettis with the ball used in the Immaculate Reception after the final Steelers game at Three Rivers Stadium.
Steelers running back Jerome Bettis kisses the Vince Lombardi trophy after finishing his quest to win the Super Bowl in his home town in 2006.
Jerome Bettis waves to his family at the end of the Super Bowl XL against the Seahawks at Ford Field Detroit Michigan, 2006.
By Ed Bouchette / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
PHOENIX — The Bus is headed to Canton.
Befitting the relentless, bruising running style that made him the sixth-leading rusher in National Football League history and helped make the Steelers Super Bowl champs, Jerome Bettis was elected Saturday into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on his fifth try.
It caps a wonderful career that began with the Los Angeles Rams in 1993 but came of age in Pittsburgh. He ended a spectacular 10 seasons with the Steelers when they won the Super Bowl in his final game in his hometown of Detroit nine years ago.
“I played the game of football with passion, with the desire to be a champion,’’ Mr. Bettis said. “And in that drive to become a champion I have now put myself on the most sacred ground that a football player could ever be in, and that’s the Hall of Fame.
“I am humbled and grateful to all the voters who saw my career as being worthy of a gold jacket.”
The induction ceremony in Canton, Ohio, takes place Aug. 8 and Mr. Bettis may have plenty of Steelers with him. A source told the Post-Gazette that the Steelers likely will play in the Hall of Fame game Aug. 9 to coincide with the Bettis induction.
Joining the man known widely as The Bus in the Hall of Fame’s 2015 Class are seven others, the largest class ever. They include four other modern-era players: wide receiver Tim Brown, linebacker/defensive end Charles Haley, linebacker Junior Seau and guard Will Shields. Center Mick Tingelhoff was elected as the seniors candidate, and two others made it under the new contributors category, former team general managers Ron Wolf and Bill Polian.
Linebacker Kevin Greene, who played three of his 15 NFL seasons with the Steelers from 1992 through 1995, advanced to the final 10 in the vote of the 46 Hall of Fame selectors but was then knocked out.
“It’s euphoric,’’ Mr. Bettis said, his voice slightly breaking. “My father would be so proud of me.”
Gladys and Johnnie Bettis, who died in 2006, attended almost every one of their son’s games at both Notre Dame and in the NFL.
“It’s an incredible moment for myself and my family, especially my mother, who went on this journey from the start with me,’’ said Mr. Bettis. “I’m even happier for her because I’m going on a journey with her through breast cancer.”
Gladys and Johnnie Bettis famously hosted a dinner for all his teammates at their home in Detroit the week of Super Bowl XL. His mother was diagnosed with breast cancer last summer, but Mr. Bettis said the prognosis for her recovery is good.
“This is especially great because I get to share it with her, I get to share it with my wife and my two children.”
He also offered “a special thank you to the Rooney family and the Pittsburgh Steelers, who have been champions for me through this whole process. I also want to thank coach Bill Cowher, who had the ultimate trust in me as a football player. I could not ever ask a coach to have more faith in a player than coach Cowher had in me.”
And for good reason. Mr. Bettis retired from the game after the franchise won its fifth Vince Lombardi trophy. He finished with 13,662 yards rushing, sixth most in NFL history. His 91 touchdowns rank 10th, his 61 100-yard games fifth, his eight 1,000-yard seasons tied for fifth.
So happy to be amongst the games greatest players!! My Family and I are truly honored and blessed!
Mr. Cowher called him the greatest closer of them all and pointed to his record with a lead of more than 10 points in games as the evidence – 108-1-1.
Tom Donahoe, who acquired Mr. Bettis for the Steelers in a 1996 trade with the St. Louis Rams, said you could see on tape that defenses did not want to tackle Mr. Bettis – who weighed 260 pounds and upward during his Steelers career – in the second half of games because of his bruising style.
Yet he rarely missed games, playing in 192, third most of any running back in NFL history. His 3,479 carries rank fourth among all backs.
Steelers President Art Rooney II said Mr. Bettis meant so much to them in all kinds of ways upon his arrival.
“He gave so much to us. He came to us and really at a time when we needed leadership, on and off the field, who could take us where we wanted to go. He drove the Bus and took the whole team with him. The timing was perfect, it was an important time and a lot of great years.”
Steelers chairman Dan Rooney called Mr. Bettis’ Hall of Fame election “very deserving for the way he played.”
“He was a leader in the locker room, no question about that. It’s great he made it. He waited a little bit of time, but it doesn’t matter. He’s now a Hall of Famer.”
“One of the biggest qualities of Jerome was his durability,’’ Mr. Cowher said. “He didn’t miss many games. His productivity speaks for itself. What he did over a period of time was sort of amazing, amazing for the type of back that he was.
“When you look at power running backs and his running style and his ability week-in and week-out, year-in and year-out, it made him very special. To me, he had the best feet for any big running back I have ever seen.”
Mr. Bettis was known for getting the tough yards, and was a specialist at that later in his career. Of his 91 rushing touchdowns, 77 came inside the 10 yardline, the toughest real estate for a running back. And for all those games and all those carries, he rarely fumbled. He fumbled 1.2 percent of the time, which ranks him third of all Hall of Fame backs behind only Curtis Martin and Larry Csonka.
Mr. Bettis made six Pro Bowls and two All-Pro teams during his 13-year career. He was the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 1993, when he led the NFC with 1,429 yards rushing. He also won the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year in 2001 for his charity work combined with his excellence on the field.
“I want to thank Steelers fans who have been amazing throughout this whole process,’’ Mr. Bettis said, “and the love I was shown from the first day I was traded to Pittsburgh until the day I retired with a championship in Detroit. Steelers fans have been the best fans in the world to me.”
Ed Bouchette: email@example.com and Twitter @EdBouchette.
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