Bettis' book full of surprises
Long before the fairy-tale ending to his career on the floor of the Super Bowl in his hometown of Detroit, Jerome Bettis says the Steelers wanted to release him in the summer of 2000 -- and would have had he not faked a training camp injury.
That and several other surprising revelations are contained in "The Bus. My Life in and out of a Helmet," an autobiography by Bettis with co-author Gene Wojciechowski set for its release in bookstores in a few weeks.
Among the stories told by Bettis is an accusation that former coach Bill Cowher conspired with Steelers management to run quarterback Kordell Stewart out of Pittsburgh because he was due for another big contract after his 2001 Pro Bowl season.
Bettis said he avoided being run out as well because of the injury to his left knee. The Steelers, he wrote, wanted to turn his job over to Richard Huntley in 2000 and noted that Huntley turned down a $2 million signing bonus from the Miami Dolphins as a free agent to remain with the Steelers.
Bettis cited a Post-Gazette story that Huntley told his agent that Bettis would be released and that coordinator Kevin Gilbride "loved Huntley."
Bettis entered that training camp with an injured left knee that he said never was right after surgery the previous summer. He kept quiet about the injury, thinking the Steelers would release him right then had they known about it.
Instead, he waited for a chance in practice to fake it. He went down in a short-yardage drill, yelled and grabbed his left knee.
"Man, did I do a nice job of acting,'' Bettis wrote. "The thing is, I wasn't faking that I had an injury. I was just faking that the injury happened on that short-yardage play. I had to fool the coaches and the team's medical department into thinking the injury had occurred on that play. Otherwise, the Steelers would have had their reason to cut me and my salary."
Once hurt in camp, the Steelers could not release him.
"I effectively negated any funny business they were trying to pull on me," Bettis wrote. "I took the pressure off a head coach who was probably trying to get rid of me.
"In my mind," Bettis continued, "what I did was justifiable because the original injury occurred while I was playing for the Steelers."
Bettis ran for 1,341 yards that season and left the game after the 2005 Super Bowl on his own terms.
It did not happen that way for Stewart, the team's MVP in 2001.
"For some reason, Coach would never really commit fully to Kordell ... and because of that, we had no consistent leadership from the quarterback position," Bettis wrote of Stewart's on-and-off stay as starting quarterback from 1997 until Tommy Maddox replaced him in the third game of the 2002 season.
Bettis blames Cowher for not knowing what to do with Stewart and for affecting his development as a quarterback.
"Nothing against Tommy, but I always had my doubts that he won the job fair and square."
He said Stewart was too rich for them as he entered the last year of his contract in 2002. Actually, his contract ran through 2003.
"Anybody who tells you money isn't a factor in personnel decisions doesn't know the NFL," Bettis wrote. "I can't prove it, but in my heart I really believe that Kordell was set up for failure that season."
The Steelers did not discuss a contract extension after Stewart's Pro Bowl 2001 season, something they always had done previously when he had two years to go. Then, he was benched quickly in 2002 in favor of Maddox.
"You bench your Pro Bowl quarterback for a guy who had been out of football for years, who hadn't started an NFL game in 10 seasons?" Bettis wonders in his book. "That just doesn't happen by accident.
"I think they pulled Kordell partly because they didn't want to pay him a big salary and signing bonus. It was cheaper for them if he didn't have success. If he recovered and had a huge year, then the public sentiment would be, 'Hey, you've got to re-sign him for whatever it costs.' I'm telling you, it was a monetary decision. The Steelers had no interest in paying Kordell his market value."
Among other revelations in the book:
Bettis wrote that relying more on the passing game in 2002 rather than the running game is why the Steelers came up short in the playoffs behind Maddox.
He was not happy when the team cut fullback Tim Lester before the 1999 season.
"I even told the Steelers I'd give part of my salary to keep him. But they had no intention of keeping Tim. It wasn't about money [they never offered him a contract]; it was about wanting to give the job to Jon Witman. Witman was a Penn State guy handpicked by another Penn State guy, Coach [Dick] Hoak. ... Without Lester, there's no question my rushing numbers wouldn't have been as good as they were."
Bettis had a secret appendectomy before the 1999 season.
"The funny thing is, the Steelers didn't want the media to know about the surgery. So, when I went to the hospital, someone told me to register under the name Tex Goldstein. That was my alias. Do I look like a Tex Goldstein?"
He called Denver linebacker Bill Romanowski "a coward" for grabbing his ankle and twisting it.
He said halfback Amos Zereoue "wasn't the hardest-working guy in practice" and he told him so. "Amos listened, but he didn't take it to heart."
On being booed at home for replacing Duce Staley near the goal line in 2004 and scoring a touchdown: "Steelers fans -- at my home stadium -- were booing me for scoring a touchdown. I was so angry that you could have grilled a hamburger on my forehead."
He felt ashamed when Notre Dame fired its first black head coach, Tyrone Willingham, after just three years.
The White House staff misspelled Cowher's name on the Steelers' visit to meet President Bush as "Cower" on the stage floor where the coach was to stand.
First Published August 21, 2007 11:27 pm