Jerome Bettis enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame is special in so many ways. It is an honor that Bettis fought hard to earn, and one that he accepts as the face of the Steelers franchise. Jerome Bettis richly deserves this individual honor.
But it’s also special for Steelers Nation, because adding 1 Jerome Bettis Super Bowl ring to Canton unites the two Super Bowl eras for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Hall of Famers Jerome Bettis & Franco Harris embrace at final game @ Three Rivers Stadium; Photo Credit: Matt Freed, Post-Gazette
To understand how, its useful to borrow a concept from East African philosophy which divides humans into three categories, the living, the sasha and the zamani. Those recently passed away are the sasha, considered as living dead, because their memories live on in those who knew them. They only become truly dead, zamani, when the last person who knew them passes away.
If you apply that concept to pro football, a player will not be truly “retired” until the last person who played with him leaves the locker room. And if you apply the concept a little further, its easy to see how Bettis served as a bridge between the Steelers two Super Bowl eras.
But these players were “sasha,” if we can continue to borrow these Kiswahili terms, because Bettis did play with Dermontti Dawson and John Jackson, who both manned the trenches alongside Webster as rookies. Bettis never shared a locker room with Dwayne Woodruff, but he did play with Rod Woodson, who used to room with Woodruff on the road and covered Stallworth in practice as a rookie.
Those legends imparted their wisdom, if only by example if not through direct lessons, to the holdovers from the Noll era who were still playing for Bill Cowher when Bettis arrived in Pittsburgh. Jerome Bettis absorbed those lessons, and The Bus in turn passed that wisdom on to the players of the Steelers second Super Bowl era.
The process also continues with the players who have succeeded Bettis.
Willie Parker, Health Miller, andJames Harrison couldn’t help but learn from the example Bettis set in practice, on the playing field, in the locker room, and outside in the community. And these mean have in turn passed on that wisdom to today’s leaders, such as Lawrence Timmons, Cameron Heyward, Maurkice Pouncey and Antonio Brown, and hopefully the players like David DeCastro and Le’Veon Bell.
Steelers Super Bowl XL Ring. Photo Credit: Peter Diana, Post-Gazette
The Bus arrived in Pittsburgh on April 20, 1996. You generally measure progress of a vehicle in terms of distance. And measured by that metric Jerome Bettis 10,571 yards rushing in Pittsburgh was nothing short of incredible.
In the entire history of the NFL only 29 running backs have broken the 10,000 yard threshold.
Clearly, The Bus traveled far. But what’s perhaps more impressive, is The Bus’ travel through time, which allowed him to link Super Bowls IX, X, XIII and XIV with Super Bowl XL and Super Bowl XLIIIand, who knows, perhaps Super Bowl 50 or above….
When Jerome Bettis dons the gold lapel and takes his place behind the podium at the Pro Football Hall of Fame, few in Steelers Nation will remember the events of September 19th 1993. But perhaps they should, because the day marks the beginning of the circuitous route that brought The Bus to Pittsburgh.
The concept of a franchise running back is quaint in today’s NFL (although someone like Le’Veon Bell could revive it.) The game is just stilted too much in favor of the pass.
It wasn’t that way the 90’s. Thanks to players like Joe Montana the passing game was well into its accent by that time, but running backs still anchored championship franchises. Ask any Cowboy’s fan which of The Triplets was indispensable and they’ll respond in unison, “Emmitt Smith.”
And that brings us back to September 19th 1993…
Jerome Bettis romps towards the end zone @ Heinz Field. Photo Credit: Steelers.com
Before There Was Bettis, There Was Barry
…The week before a rookie from Notre Dame named Jerome Bettis had led the Los Angeles Rams as they trounced the Steelers 27-0, sending them back to Pittsburgh licking their 0-2 record.
Undaunted, during the succeeding week the Steelers gave lucrative contract extension to Barry Foster and on the following Sunday, September 19th, Foster led the Steelers on a 34-7 rampage over the Bengals.
The Steelers thought they’d found their franchise running back in Foster.
Appearances deceive however. The Steelers were wrong. Foster finished the season in injured reserve, and while he ran well in 1994, Foster’s flakiness, penchant for injuries, and the emergence of Bam Morris gave the Steelers second thoughts. When Foster rebuffed an invitation to a season-end interview by telling Bill Cowher to “Go to hell” that was it.
The Steelers traded Foster to Carolina for a song, Carolina cut Foster in training camp, and later retired after a single practice with the Cincinnati Bengals.
Foster’s final play was the pass he dropped from Neil O’Donnell that ended the heart-breaking 1994 AFC Championship game.
The Steelers planned to solider on with Bam Morris and added Erric Pegram in the off season. Morris however arrived at St. Vincent’s overweight and out of shape. Pittsburgh started him anyway, but the 1995 Steelers didn’t turn their season around until Cowher benched Morris in favor of Pegram.
The 1995 Steelers made it all the way to Super Bowl XXX, and Bam Morris played well down the stretch.
The Steelers seemed to have a solid backfield in place with Pegram and Morris, but then disaster struck – Morris was stopped by a police office, his car was searched and drugs were found. The Steelers were less than two months from removed from a near Super Bowl upset, and they’d lost their starting quarterback, starting right tackle, starting outside linebacker, and now their feature back….
Oil and Water – Jerome Bettis and Rich Brooks
On the same afternoon, Bettis was held to 33 yards as the Rams dropped a 20 to 10 decision to New York. His rookie NFL season was only three games old, but Bettis had yet to crack the 100 yard mark for Chuck Knox. But ‘Ground Chuck’ was smart enough treat Bettis with patience rather than panic. Bettis got stronger as the season wore on, and finished with 1,429 yards rushing and won Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.
Bettis made the Pro Bowl again in 1994 and broke the 1,000 yard barrier again. But the Rams finished 4-12, and Rich Brooks replaced Chuck Knox has head coach as the franchise moved from LA to St. Louis. Brooks favored the pass, and took Bettis decision to hold out personally.
Jerome Bettis after the Rams home opener in 1995. Photo Credit: AP Photo/Mary Butkus
Brooks had it in for him. As Bettis recounted to Jim Thomas of theSt. Louis Post-Dispatch, “I’ll never forget, we were playing the Atlanta Falcons (in November). I had a 41-yard run, and after that run, he pulled me. I didn’t play the rest of the game. I’m thinking to myself, ‘What is going on?’ ”
The situation never got better.
The Rams held the 6th pick in the draft and had their eye on Lawrence Phillips. Philips was already on probation for assaulting his girlfriend, but Rich Brooks was in love. The Ram’s ownership was leery, but deferred to Brooks and general manager Steve Ortmayer. The Rams took Lawrence Philips.
So here were the Rams with two high priced feature backs and only one football to share between them. Rich Brooks thought Bettis could be a back up, or maybe move to fullback. Bettis said “thanks but no thanks.”
Steelers Trade for Jerome Bettis
With benefit of 20/20 hindsight the Steelers trade for Jerome Bettis during the 1996 Draft now looks inevitable. It wasn’t. Bettis, being the consummate pro he was, never talked to the media about his problems with Rich Books. On the surface Bettis looked like one rookie who stormed into the league and then saw his production drop off year-on-year after that.
Tom Donahoe was a stickler for research however. And he’d done his homework on Bettis.
Donahoe called Bettis coaches and teammates at Notre Dame. He worked the phones around the rest of the league. The Steelers were picking second to last and had had their eye on Mike Alsott. Instead, they opted to go with a proven commodity in Jerome Bettis.
The Steelers shipped for their second round pick in 1996 and their fourth round pick in 1997 in exchange for Bettis and the Ram’s third round pick. The Jerome Bettis trade was clearly the best trade in Pittsburgh Steelers history, and Jerome Bettis trade also marked the best move that Tom Donahoe made as Steelers Director of Football Operations.
For the record:
Lawrence Philips ran for 1,265 yards over the next two seasons.
Jerome Bettis ran for 10,571 yards in 78 touchdowns in 10 more seasons with the Steelers.
As Steelers Digest editor Bob Labriola explains, “Nobody from the Steelers was indicted for robbery that day, and the statute of limitations since has expired.”
21 Pittsburgh Steelers have entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but Jerome Bettis Hall of Fame induction comes in Canton carrying a special distinction. Number 36 aka “The Bus,” Jerome Bettis enters the Hall of Fame as one player who truly was “the face of the franchise” during his entire career.
Consider the company Bettis shares in Canton and let that sink in for a moment.
Jerome Bettis became the face of the franchise the moment he arrived in Pittsburgh and held that distinction until the Bus stopped in Detroit at Super Bowl XL, making him unique among Steelers Hall of Famers.
You can make the case that Joe Greene held and still holds “Face of the Franchise” status.
In contrast, Jerome Bettis held uncontested status as the “Face of the Franchise” status while wearing the Black and Gold.
The Jerome Bettis Hall of Fame Decal
1996-1997 Pittsburgh Hops on the Bus!
Jerome Bettis arrived in Pittsburgh via a draft day trade in in 1996, when the Steelers were reeling from their loss in Super Bowl XXX. History has not been kind to Super Bowl losers, note Mike Tomlin’s Steelers have yet to win a playoff game since losing Super Bowl XLV, and Pittsburgh had just lost starters Neil O’Donnell, Leon Searcy, Tom Newberry, and Bam Morris.
The Steelers won their division in 1996 and it took two Kordell Stewart goal line interceptions a last minute John Elway comeback in 1997 to keep them out of the Super Bowl.
At the time, commentators marveled at Bill Cowher and Tom Donahoe’s continued winning despite suffering annual exodus of free agents. Cowher and Donahoe do deserve credit. But anyone seeking to understand the Steelers post-Super Bowl XXX resilience would do well to look at who arrived in Pittsburgh, rather than with left and no arrival was more important that of Jerome Bettis.
Fans forget, but Jerome Bettis didn’t start the first three games of the 1996 season.
But it’s a testament to how quickly Bettis bonded with the city, and the Steelers Nationwide legion of fans, that by the time Erric Pegram’s week 3 injury cleared the way for Bettis to claim the starting role, he’d already logged 2 100 yard games. More tellingly his nick name, “The Bus,” was already lingua franca in Steelers Nation.
The ’96 and ’97 Steelers success was certainly a team effort, but it’s almost impossible to find a key win during either season that did not feature a dominating performance by Jerome Bettis.
1998-1999 Steelers Struggle, But Bettis Shines
The Steelers disappointed in 1998 and 1999 just as deeply as they surprised in 1996 and 1997. A series of critical draft day errors prevented the Steelers from replacing key free agent departures, and the results showed on the field. Nearly every spot on the Steelers depth chart presented glaring liabilities, every spot that is except running back.
Jerome Bettis, while a worthy Hall of Famer, was still a mortal. His performance dropped off in both of those seasons, prompting some of the more ignorant fans and members of the press to call for Bettis replacement with his back up, Richard Huntley.
The truth is that during those dark days, Jerome Bettis was by far the most consistent player on the roster, and one who stubbornly refused to quit during not one but two late-season implosions. Forced to run behind make-shift offensive lines, Bettis still managed over 1,000 yards in both seasons.
2000-2001 The Bus Fuels Bill Cowher’s “Second Wind”
After the 1999 season the Cowher-Donahoe feud came to a head, and Dan Rooney sided with Bill Cowher and brought in Kevin Colbert to replace him.
Jerome Bettis & Franco Harris. Photo Credit: Matt Freed, Post-Gazette
Bettis was a free agent after the 2000 season, but the Bus, gave the Steelers every chance to resign him, and Bettis rewarded them by exploding in 2001. Bettis, and the rest of the 2001 Steelers took the NFL by storm. By early December Bettis broke the 1,000 yard rushing barrier and was en route to a 1,500 yard plus effort.
Unfortunately, and ironically, an injury derailed Bettis in early December and that ushered in an era when his hold on the “Face of the Franchise” status was most tenuous.
The Steelers made it to the playoffs, and won their first game vs. the defending Super Bowl champions Ravens with Bettis unable to play due to a pain killing shot that numbed his entire leg. He was ineffective in the Steelers first AFC Championship loss to New England.
2002-2003 The Bus Downshifts, but Still Rumbles
Bettis began the 2002 season as the starter, but the Steelers struggled early on, as Kordell Stewart gave way to Tommy Maddox, and the era of “Tommy Gun” was born. Still, Bettis 100 yard effort in week 6 sparked a 5 game winning streak that transformed the Steelers from a 2-3 team to a 5-3-1 team contending for the division title.
The success of Tommy Gun down the stretch in 2002 convinced Bill Cowher to flirt with a “pass-first” offense and accordingly he started Amos Zereoue, relegating Bettis to the bench. Six weeks into the season the Steelers record stood at 2-4, it was clear that Tommy Maddox couldn’t read Cover-2, and the Amos Zereoue experiment failed. Bill Cowher responded by doing one of the things he did best – he hopped on The Bus.
It would be poetic to write that Bettis’ return to the starting lineup sparked a turn around.
Alas, it did not. But Bettis brought attitude to the offense and, for whatever else you can say about the 6-10, 2003 Steelers, those men contested every last blade of grass until the season’s final gun. Bettis only rushed for two 100 yard games that season. Both came in December, vs. the Raiders and the Chargers. The fact that those were the Steelers final two wins that season is not at all coincidental.
2004-2005 Jerome Bettis Is Closer as The Bus Stops @ Super Bowl XL
Bill Cowher issued a mandate to Ken Whisenhunt in 2004: Re-establish the run.
That was music to the diehards in Steelers Nation, but perhaps not so much for Bettis. In the off season the Steelers had signed Duce Staley, while Bettis had to agree to a pay cut. Bettis appeared to be settling into his new role as Steelers elder statesman, and as Bill Cowher used him used him to score touchdowns at the goal line.
Jerome Bettis, the Face of the Steelers Franchise
By week 7 Duce had wracked up 707 yards looked like he was building to a dominating performance, but fell injured in the Steelers victory over the Patriots. While a young man by the name of Willie Parker was on the Steelers roster, he’d yet to prove himself. And here the Steelers stood at 6-1 awaiting an undefeated Eagles team with a rookie quarterback named Ben Roethlisberger and an offense designed to run…. What to do?
Fortunately for the Bus was all too eager to show Pittsburgh just how much traction he had left on his tires.
Bettis started vs. Philadelphia and ran roughshod over the Eagles for 149 yards, the second performance best in his career. He then proceeded to rip off four straight 100 yard rushing performances, yielded the starting job back to Staley when he return, and then closed the season with two more performances that broke the century mark. (For the record Bettis finished the season 59 yards shy of 1,000, by which time Richard Huntley had been out of football for 2 years….)
During the playoffs Bettis and Staley teamed to bludgeon the New York Jets in an exhibition of Smash Mouth football excellence not seen in Pittsburgh since the days of Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier. Although Bettis ran well the next week in the AFC Championship vs. the Patriots, Ben Roethlisberger began to play like a rookie and the Steelers came up short.
And he was crying because he feared the loss doomed Bettis chances of winning a Super Bowl. Bettis did consider retiring, but when the Steelers convened at St. Vincent’s, Bettis was there, handing out T-Shirts exclaiming, “Super Bowl XL, Detroit, The Bus Stops Here.”
The Steelers 2005 season was a topsy turvy affair. For a while it looked like the Steelers won’t even make the playoffs, let alone contend for the Super Bowl. The media anointed the Colt’s as the team of destiny.
Jerome Bettis shows Brian Urlacher who is boss
But after a three game losing streak that left the Steelers at 7-5, Bill Cowher once again turned to the Bus as the Steelers hosted the 9-3 Chicago Bears and Bettis took over, stoning Brian Urlacher on the way to a 101 two touchdown performance.
With Bettis serving as inspiration for the entire team, the 2005 Steelers closed out the season with 8 straight wins, including three road games in the playoffs. The night before the AFC Championship vs. Denver, Bettis implored his teammates “Take me home.”
His teammates did take him home, doing him the honor of walking out during team introductions all by himself. The Pittsburgh Steelers of course triumphed in Super Bowl XL in a game where they made their own opportunities.
When it was all over, standing on the dais, Lombardi in his hand, Jerome Bettis announced that “the Bus stops here.”
It was a story book ending to career. But Bettis was wrong. The Bus still had one more stop, and that is Canton, Ohio’s Pro Football Hall of Fame, where Jerome Bettis enters as the face of the Steelers franchise.
There was no questioning the love, respect and admiration those who knew Art Rooney had for the late founder of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who passed away in 1988.
In fact, the legendary Mean Joe Greene has stated more than once that winning the franchise’s first Super Bowl following the 1974 season and doing it for his thoughtful and affectionate 73 year old boss, a man who had literally suffered through decades of losing, was “real.” Obviously, this sentiment was shared by most of Greene’s teammates, including linebacker and team captain Andy Russell, who, during the post-game celebration in the team’s locker room, made a last second decision to give the game ball to Mr. Rooney, instead of Greene, the team’s ferocious defensive tackle.
Nobody in that locker room thought twice about Russell’s actions, because it was the right thing and, again, it was “real.”
Stuff like that in sports is priceless, and it’s rare to find.
Bettis came to the Steelers in 1996, with a bit of a reputation as a malcontent and selfish player from his days with the Rams. But that reputation was quickly washed away upon No. 36’s arrival, and he soon became one of the leaders in the locker room and one of the most beloved players the City of Pittsburgh has ever seen.
There was just something special about Bettis scoring a touchdown.
Maybe it was his charismatic demeanor, or the way he seemed to love sticking up for his teammates by taking on defenders. But whenever Bettis reached pay-dirt either by bowling over defenders or carrying them with him, Yours truly would just “mark out,” as they say in the wrestling business, and it just felt more thrilling and satisfying than when any other Steeler did the same.
Obviously, Bettis had the collective ear of his teammates, who seemed to want to play well and win as much for him as for themselves.
Ward was one of several teammates who stood in the team’s locker room at Heinz Field moments earlier and listened to Bettis thank his teammates for the “memories.”
It was unclear at that point if Bettis would return for another season.
Thankfully, he did. This is just speculation, of course, but it’s doubtful the 2005 Steelers would have had that “extra something” to get them over the hump and to Detroit for Super Bowl XL, if Bettis wasn’t around to act as a lightning rod of inspiration. Pittsburgh was 7-5 and on the outside looking in at the playoffs, with only four games left. But there was that “drive” to take the Bus to Detroit.
Bettis is a Detroit native, and his teammates wanted desperately to get him “back home” for the Super Bowl.
Bettis wasn’t a starter in ’05, and he only rushed for 368 yards as a back-up to Willie Parker. But he was still one of the leaders of the team, and he had the collective ear of those around him.
The love for Bettis was so real and so genuine, Joey Porter even arranged for The Bus to run out of the tunnel all by himself during the team introductions in Super Bowl XL.
The Steelers winning their first Super Bowl in 26 seasons (a 21-10 victory over Seattle) was special enough, but when you add in the story of Bettis, the love he had from his teammates, and the love the City of Pittsburgh had for him? It turned a great and memorable campaign into a magical one.
Much like with the love and respect his players have for former defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, the affection Bettis’s teammates had for him is a rare commodity in today’s professional sports world.
15 Jerome Bettis highlights taken from throughout the legendary Steelers running back’s career show just why the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee was right to include the Bus in the 2015 Hall of Fame Class. That year 3 candidates with strong ties to the Pittsburgh Steelers were finalists and they are Kevin Greene, Tony Dungy and of course Jerome Bettis.
While most of Steelers Nation would be perfectly happy to see Dungy and Greene elected, Bettis is the one we cared about.
The committee gave Steelers Nation their wish, and these 15 Jerome Bettis highlights taken from throughout his career, that show just why Bettis is such a worthy Hall of Famer. Either click the links below or scroll down to relive 15 top highlights from Jerome Bettis’s career.
Jerome Bettis shows Brian Urlacher who is boss
I. Bettis Best Game Ever
12/12/93, Los Angeles Rams 23, New Orleans Saints 20
Sometimes we easily forget Jerome Bettis wasn’t always a Pittsburgh Steeler after so long as “The face of the franchise.” But it is true. The Los Angeles Rams selected Jerome Bettis with the 10th overall pick in the 1993 NFL Draft.
Bettis took the league by storm, rushing for 1,429 yards as a rookie, and his best game of the season came vs. New Orleans, when he banged out 212 yards on 28 carries, for one touchdown. That was his highest single game rushing total ever, and it included his longest run at 71.
Although Bettis would never have a better day statistically, he did have bigger games — all for the Black and Gold.
II. Bettis First 100 Yard Game for Steelers
9/8/96, Pittsburgh Steelers 31, Baltimore Ravens 17
Jerome Bettis’ first game for the Steelers didn’t go so well, as Pittsburgh suffered a disastrous defeat in Jacksonville at the hands of the Jaguars with injuries decimating the linebacking crops, with Bettis 57 yard effort an under story.
He made good in week 2 the first Steelers-Ravens match up ever. Bettis rushed for 116 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries – and he didn’t even start. Erric Pegram had that honor, who turned in a respectable 60 yard on 11 carry performance
III. Rams Rue Decision to Run Bettis Out of Town
11/3/96, Pittsburgh Steelers 42, St. Louis Rams 6
Jerome Bettis was the only positive for the 4-12 1993 Rams. Chuck Knox aka “ground Chuck” got the ax the team hired Rich Brooks and moved to St. Louis. For whatever reason Bettis and Brooks didn’t work well together. Bettis production dropped by 400 yards in 1994 and to 637 yards in 1995.
Dick Vermeil’s first decision was to pick Lawrence Philips in the 1996 draft.
By the time the Steelers played the Rams at mid-season, it was already clear that the trade might have been one of Tom Donahoe’s best ever personnel decisions. Bettis already had six 100 yard games and laid claim to the moniker, “The Bus.”
Bettis exploded vs. the Rams, scoring the first two touchdowns and racking up 100 yards before the half, as The Bus steamrolled the Rams to the tune of 129 yards rushing on 19 carries for a 6.8 yard average. For the record Lawrence Philips had six yards on 5 carries….
Carnell Lake returned a fumble 83 yards for a touchdown, but the Colts would threaten the entire game, as the Steelers lost Kordell Stewart and Charles Johnson to injury. Things got so bad that reserve receiver Mike Adams had to play the entire second half on a torn ACL.
The Steelers did what they worked for them best in that day and age – they rode The Bus. Bettis racked up 164 yards, his highest total as a Steeler, on 30 carries including one touchdown.
But credit Jerome Bettis as the game’s unsung hero. The fireworks took place in the first half, which ended in a 21-21 tie. The second half started with the Broncos getting a field goal and the lead.
Then Bettis took over.
He pounded Denver into submission, including 24 yard run where he literally dragged defenders for a good 7 or 8 yards after contact. When all was said and done, The Bus had run for 24 yards on 125 carries.
When the season finale vs. Jacksonville arrived, the Jaguars started their back up and the only thing at stake was Bill Cowher’s chance to avoid his first losing season. He didn’t.
The harsh reality is that many of Cowher’s players quit on him.
But one player shown out. He not only gave it his all, he played with power and he delivered results. That player was number 36, Jerome Bettis who ran for 139 yards and caught 4 balls for 24 yards – and he did it on a bum knee, having announced to ABC’s sideline reporter that he’d scheduled surgery for the following morning.
Stepping up in games like these were one reason why Bettis owned the Steelers locker room.
George Seifert’s Carolina Panthers came to Three Rivers Stadium with a 7-7 record while the Pittsburgh Steelers were reeling on a six game losing streak.
The Steelers looked like easy pickings.
Early on the Steelers looked lackluster, but then it started to snow. Snow blanked the Astroturf at Three Rivers Stadium, and it left the Panthers flat footed. The Bus took off, rushing for 137 yards and inspiring the team to victory. The Panthers made a run late in the game as they fought to within 3 late in the third quarter. But Bettis did what he always did – iced the game away with a dominating 4th quarter that saw him barrel into the end zone with 3:47 remaining to put the game away.
Bill Cowher had other ideas. He didn’t care that he’d started 0-3. He didn’t care that the Jacksonville Jaguars were Super Bowl contenders. He didn’t care that Jacksonville had won 3 straight vs. Pittsburgh. He didn’t care that Kent Graham, his starting quarterback, had been injured late in practice on Friday.
He didn’t care because Bill Cowher preached that players should expect to win on Sunday.
In this game, names like Joey Porter, Aaron Smith and Desha Townsend announced their presence to Steelers Nation and as the Steelers defense dominated. But on a day where Kordell Stewart only managed 132 yards passing, Jerome Bettis carried the Steelers offense. He didn’t break 100 yards, but he did run for 97 and scored two touchdowns. The victory in Jacksonville set the tone for the Steelers for a decade and, once again, the Steelers rode the Bus.
IX. Bus Shines in Old Fashioned Steelers Raiders Showdown
12/3/00, Pittsburgh Steelers 21, Oakland Raiders 20
This probably gets left off of many other worthy Jerome Bettis Hall of Fame games lists, but it makes it here because this game simply doesn’t get its due. The twin Steelers-Cowboys Super Bowls defined pro football excellence in the 70’s, but had they not then the dozen epic matchups the Steelers and Raiders fought between 1970 to 1980 would have.
Due to scheduling irregularities, the Raiders would not play in Pittsburgh for 20 years. That changed in December 2000, and the matchup was worthy of the best of Steelers-Raiders lore. The Steelers had clawed their way out of an 0-3 start back to 6-6 while the Raiders boasted a 10-2 record.
The Steelers comeback left Pittsburgh with some priceless memories:
Kordell Stewart’s miraculous recovery, including his 17 yard touchdown run
Mark Bruener marshaling pure will power to win a goal line dog fight to spark the Steelers rally
Jon Gruden pleading for a 5th down after the Steelers defense stopped him cold on 4th down with 7 seconds left.
But what many forget, is that amidst all the chaos Jerome Bettis “quietly” kept the offense moving for by rushing for 128 yards. That’s just what Hall of Famers do.
X. Bus Rolls Over Redskins in Three Rivers Stadium Finale
12/16/00, Pittsburgh Steelers 24, Redskins 3
In 2000 Daniel Snyder bought his first off season Lombardi. For many fans and press alike, Snyder’s signing of Deon Sanders in June made the delivery of the Redskins 4th Super Bowl trophy a mere formality. The schedule had been published by then, and few Redskins fans even gave a second thought to the fact that they’d have to play the Steelers in the final game a Three Rivers Stadium.
A far different off season narrative had been penned for Jerome Bettis.
Declining production in 1998 and 1999 led many, inside and outside Pittsburgh, to assume Bettis best days were behind him.
Jerome Bettis & Franco Harris. Photo Credit: Matt Freed, Post-Gazette
Yet, when the Three Rivers Stadium finale arrived, it was Jerome Bettis, and not any of Daniel Snyder’s high-priced free agents, who dominated the game. Bettis charged up and down the middle of the Redskins defense for 104 yards on 25 carries, and added another grab for 25. Perhaps the biggest highlight came when Deon Sanders backed away rather than try to tackle Bettis.
Daniel Snyder grew so incensed that he tried to order Myron Cope to alter his color commentary, to which Cope retorted,
“If that boy billionaire thinks he can shut me up, then he can take his head and stick it in a bucket of paint!”
Suffice to say, all of Snyder’s money could neither silence the voice of Steelers Nation, nor change the fact that The Bus had plenty of tread left on his tires.
XI. Bettis Leads the Way as Steelers Inaugurate Heinz Field with a Win
Instead, the Steelers would open at home nearly a month later, and this time vs. the Cincinnati Bengals. Bettis again led the way for the Steelers offense, piling up 153 yards on 25 carries, and giving the Steelers their first win in their new home.
XII. Bus Comes Off Bench to Help Steelers Spoil Philly’s Perfect Record
Staley had run well in the season’s first seven games, but got injured in the Steelers upset of the Patriots. Prior to the season, Jerome Bettis had accepted a pay cut and was seen by many as an insurance policy at best or a scholarship year at worst.
Bettis proved his critics wrong as he ran for 133 yards and helped the Steelers spoil the Eagles 7-0 record.
XIII. Bus, Staley Tag Team to Bludgeon Jets in Playoffs
Jerome Bettis started this game, but had to take himself out due to injury. Staley came in and continued to pound the Jets. Then he got hurt and Bettis had to return.
It was a sight to behold – two Steelers big backs alternating to pummel an opponent into submission.
The Steelers needed every bit of it, as Ben Roethlisberger began playing like a rookie, and the Jets mounted a stiff challenge. At the end of the day, Bettis the 32 year old war horse, ran for 101 yards and a touchdown.
The Steelers were at 7-5 and coming off a 3 game losing streak. Bill Cowher took the unusual step of order a full pads practice. He told the team they were Christopher Columbus uncharted journey. And with the 9-3 Bears coming to town, he turned to his gamers.
The record will note that Willie Parker got 21 carries as opposed to Bettis 17, but the Bus carried the day for the Steelers rushing for 101 yards, including dominating Brian Urlacher in one incredible 1-1 open field confrontation.
The Chicago game marked Bettis final 100 yard effort. But The Bus made it count.
Bettis didn’t break 100 yards. He didn’t score a touchdown. He didn’t rip off a record breaking run.
Bettis finger print was all over the field, a fact made evident when Joey Porter pulled a surprise, and allowed Bettis to emerge as the lone Steeler during introductions.
Bettis leadership and inspiration is what drove the 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers on their improbable 8 game season-closing winning streak and ultimately to One for the Thumb.
15 MORE Reasons for Jerome Bettis to be in the Hall of Fame
The tough thing about writing an article like this, aside from finding the time, is limiting this list to 15 worthy Jerome Bettis Hall of Fame Games. Many other candidates scream for inclusion.
Forget about the numbers and statistics.
Hall of Fame worthiness comes from defining what it means to be excellent at your position. When you look at a sampling of his work, who can argue that Jerome Bettis failed to accomplish that? In 13 years as an NFL running back, from his rookie season to his final season, Bettis dominated games.
Jerome Bettis belongs in the Hall of Fame. Period.
The US Congress has declared September 7th as “Chuck Noll Day” in honor of the legendary Pittsburgh Steelers championship coach, who was taken from us in June of this year.
Chuck Noll’s Steelers practiced with no numbers. Photo Credit: Al Tielemans/Sports Illustrated
As part of the celebration, Steel Curtain Rising has prepared 23 facts about Chuck Noll and the Pittsburgh Steelers squads he led.
1 Noll had 1 son, Chris Henry Noll 2 The unlikely duo of Chuck Noll and Mark Malone paired for two victories over Bill Walsh and Joe Montana 3 NFL teams employed Noll’s service as a coach – the AFL’s Los Angeles/San Diego Chargers, the Baltimore Colts, and Pittsburgh Steelers 4 Super Bowls in 6 years, a record no one else has ever matched 5 Noll ranks 5th among all coaches in total playoff victories 6 Versus Tom Landry, Noll had six victories, including Super Bowl X and Super Bowl XIII 7 Noll ranks 7th among all coaches in total victories at 209, including both playoff and regular season 8 Noll notched 8 over time victories; his overall record in overtime was 8-3-1 9 AFC Central Division Championships 10 Noll is one of only ten coaches to win at least 3 Super Bowls and/or NFL Championships 11 Hall of Famers drafted by the Emperor- Joe Greene, Terry Bradshaw, Jack Ham, Franco Harris, Mel Blount, Jack Lambert, Lynn Swann, John Stallworth, Mike Webster, Rod Woodson, and Dermontti Dawson. 12 Playoff Appearances
13 Quarterbacks started for Chuck Noll – Dick Shiner, Bradshaw, Terry Hanratty, Joe Gilliam, Mike Kruczek, Cliff Stoudt, Mark Malone, David Woodley, Scott Campbell, Bubby Brister, Steve Bono, Todd Blackledge, and Neil O’Donnell 14 Regular season games were won by Noll’s 1978 Super Bowl Championship team, a team record that stood until Ben Roethlisberger’s arrival in 2004 15 Winning seasons under Noll 16 Playoff victories 17 points were scored by Noll’s Steelers as he closed his career with two final two victories vs. Wyche’s Bengals and Bill Belichick’s Browns 18 points were scored by Noll’s defenses and special teams via safeties – that’s not a stat you see every day! 19 The jersey number “19” was only issued once during Noll tenure, when David Woodley wore it. 20 Noll’s 20th win came in November of 1972, vs. Bud Grant’s Minnesota Vikings, the same team he would defeat in Super Bowl IX 21 Different people held the title “head coach” for the Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, and Houston Oilers during Noll’s tenure in Pittsburgh (interim head coaches excluded.) 22 Different schools supplied Noll with his first round draft picks, Baylor was the lone repeat alma mater for Greg Hawthorne and Walter Abercrombie 23 Years coaching the Steelers; 23 years in retirement until his passing.
Steelers Nation is celebrating Pittsburgh’s 1974 draft this spring as it should. In 1974 the team of Chuck Noll, Art Rooney, Jr., Dick Haley and Bill Nunn authored the best draft in this history of the National Football League.
It’s probably not too much of a stretch for the faithful to do a collective fist pump and channel their inner Brett Hart’s saying,
The Steelers 1974 Draft is the best there was, there ever will be!
Expecting the success of the 1974 draft to be repeated in Pittsburgh or elsewhere simply isn’t realistic. The playing field is far too level now. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t lessons Steelers Nation can take from the 1974 NFL Draft as we move towards the 2014 NFL Draft.
Lesson I – The Fallacy that The Steelers 1974 Hall of Fame Hall Sparked 4 Super Bowls
Alan Robinson’s hardly the only one to make this kind of statement. In fact, many assume it is simply reality. Nonetheless, Robinson’s recent article in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review provides a perfect example:
This is the 40th anniversary of the Steelers’ Class of 1974, a 21-member draft class that is the best in NFL history. Of the five Hall of Famers drafted by NFL teams that year, four were Steelers, an unprecedented talent haul that immediately propelled the franchise to four Super Bowl wins in six seasons. (Emphasis added.)
That’s poetic and looking back 40 years later it certainly seems like a true case of cause and effect at work. Except closer examination of the record reveals something else.
Of the four Hall of Famers taken, only Jack Lambert started immediately. The NFL didn’t keep sacks then, but Lambert bagged two interceptions and force a fumble.
Mike Webster started 1 game but appeared in 14, as Chuck Noll worked out a rotation system for Webster and Ray Mansfield. Webby got his time, but it was still Mansfield’s line.
As for Lynn Swann and John Stallworth?
Lynn Swann is listed as starting two games, but recorded all of 11 catches and two touchdowns. Swann contributed on special teams, returning 41 punts for an impressive 14.1 average and one touchdown.
John Stallworth is listed as starting 3 games that year, but still only made 16 catches for 1 touchdown.
Lambert’s contributions were the most important, and roughly analogous to those the Heath Miller made as a rookie in the Steelers run to Super Bowl XL. Webster, Swann and Stallworth did their parts, but paled in comparison to those made by the likes of Joe Greene or Franco Harris, let alone those of Frank Lewis, the team’s number 1 wide out.
The bottom line is that fans hoping for salvation via the 2014 should temper expectations
A strong rookie class can boosts but does not transform a contender into a champion.
Lesson II: Beware of Paralysis by Analysis
Post-draft day grades and evaluations are about as useful as MLB batting averages on April 15th — papers are almost obligated to publish the number, but come late September no one will care. Nonetheless, the rush to be the first to declare a “winner” to the draft after the last selection is called has accelerated to inane levels in the age of the internet.
But such paralysis by analysis is hardly something born in the digital age.
In his self-titled autobiography Dan Rooney shared this bit of instant analysis published after Day 1 of the 1974 NFL Draft:
The Steelers seem to have come out of the first five rounds of the draft appreciably strengthened at wide receiver but nowhere else. They didn’t get a tight end, and the ones remaining are more suspect than prospect. They didn’t get a punter, although none of the nation’s best collegiate kickers weren’t in the first five rounds. They didn’t get an offensive tackle that might’ve shored up what could well become a weakness. What they did get was Swann, who seems to be a sure-pop to help; Lambert, who figures to be the number-5 linebacker if he pans out; and three question marks.
The rush to judgment after a draft is only human. But the Steelers had just taken 4 future Hall of Famers, and the columnist from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette was miffed because they didn’t take a punter.
None of this will or should stop professional writers and bloggers from analyzing the 2014 NFL Draft. But lesson of the Steelers 1974 Draft is that such instant draft analysis must be taken with several healthy shakes of the salt shaker.
Twitter has its limits as a communication medium, limits which are not captured by the phenomena of 140 characters. Yet it can be quite useful for basic fact gathering under the right circumstances, and yesterday was one of them.
That being the case, it seems like an apology to Peter King is also in order.
To be sure, Steel Curtain Rising did not specifically charge King with failing to support or working against Jerome Bettis’ selection for the Hall of Fame. However, Bettis has been eligible for four years running now, and his entrance into the hall continues to be blocked.
And there are voters who are skeptical simply because of a “Too many Steelers already in the Hall” mentality and if it was perhaps unfair to characterize Peter King as the ring leader of that group, he did in fact much such a statement regarding Lynn Swann’s candidacy.
When called upon, he’s capable of delivering. Obviously, he’s a starting wide receiver for us and it’s not something we want to do all the time. But at the appropriate time we’ll dial his number, and I thought he delivered. – Mike Tomlin on using Emmanuel Sanders as a kick returner.
Upon reading that, one has to wonder if Mike Tomlin has found his Darrell Green.
Darrell Green you ask? Yes, Darrell Green.
Green of course was a Hall of Fame cornerback for the Washington Redskins whose career spanned 20 years, 6 Head Coaches, 3 owners and included seven Pro Bowls, 3 trips to the Super Bowl and 2 Lombardi’s. As a cornerback in the heyday of the NFC, Green covered the likes of Jerry Rice, Michael Irvin and defended passes thrown by Hall of Famers such as Phil Simms, Joe Montana, Troy Aikman, and Steve Young.
What in the world could Green have in common with Emmanuel Sanders?
One fact often forgotten is that Green also returned punts. No, he didn’t do it on a regular basis the way Rod Woodson did, which is was probably a good thing. Long time Washington, DC WMAL/WTEM sport radio commentator Ken Beatrice once explained to a caller that Joe Gibbs didn’t have Green return punts often because he didn’t want to over-use him.
But when Gibbs deployed Green as a punt returner, he Green returned them with impact.
The best example was the 1987 NFC Divisional playoff, Walter Payton’s final pro game, where Green returned a 52 yard punt to win the game. In his 20 years, Green only returned 51 punts in 9 seasons. But he had a 12.0 yard average, which ties him for 10th all time (Green doesn’t have enough attempts to make the list.)
Sanders returned kickoffs in practice prior to the Jets game, and ran harder than I had ever seen him run before. I just assumed he would return kickoffs against the Jets and when it didn’t happen I expected him to return kicks against the Ravens. Finally with the season on the line he returned a kickoff.
Wexell quoted Jerricho Cotchery as saying “He’s lighting. We just bring him out when we really need something.”
Emmanuel Sanders returned both kicks and punts during his rookie year, but injuries and promotion into the top tier of receivers have limited those since then. Tomlin wisely does not want to press his luck with using his number two receiver as a kick returner.
But Tomlin has a good track record with using his starters in spot-return duty. People forget that the Steelers started their 2008 AFC Divisional playoff game sluggishly until Santonio Holmes broke things open with a 67 yard punt return for a touchdown.
Vs. the Ravens, Sanders of course didn’t make it (officially) to the end zone, but his return unequivocally announced to the Ravens that the Steelers were in it to win it.
Steelers Nation looks forward to many more such returns.
Former Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Fame cornerback and long time BLESTO Director Jack Butler has died after a long battle with a staph infection he received as the result of an artificial knee transplant.
The Steelers were on the road and losing 13-0 to the Washington Redskins and despite out rushing and out passing the Redskins all day, Butler had intercepted the legendary Eddie LeBaron 3 times.
As told by Tim Gleason in his classic, From Black to Gold, the Steelers scored a face-saving touchdown late in the 4th to make it 13-7. Butler intercepted LeBaron a still NFL record 4th time, returning the ball for a pick-six and leading the Steelers to victory.
Butler’s career was cut short in 1959 when he blew out a knee, which is a shame because he’d intercepted 19 passes in his final two seasons – an even more remarkable feat when you consider that Butler only played 12 game seasons in an era where a team that threw 20 passes a game was considered “pass happy.”
Butler even saw spot duty at wide receiver, catching 7 passes and took four of them into the end zone for four touchdowns.
From Being the Talent on the Field to Finding the Talent to Field
After retiring from the game, Jack Butler first dabbled as an assistant coach and then join the BLESTO scouting combine, serving as its director from 1966 to 2006.
BLESTO stands for Bears Lions Eagles Steelers Talent Organization, and was formed when player data on NFL prospects was far from ubiquitous as it is today.
In his capacity as BLESTO scout, Butler hired and/or trained hundreds of NFL scouts, including former Pittsburgh Steelers Director of Football Operations Tom Donahoe and current Steelers General Manager Kevin Colbert.
Injuries didn’t simply end Jack Butler’s NFL career, they impacted the rest of his life. He under went multiple surgeries, walked with a limp for over 50 years, and had both knees replaced – and it was the latter knee replacement which lead to the staph infection which cost him his life.
Butler, however, had no regrets.
As Ed Bouchette recounted in the his obituary in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, When asked by Art Rooney Jr. if given the constant pain he struggled with, Butler would do it again, the former Pro Bowl cornerback did not flinch, telling Rooney, “’He said, “Playing football was the greatest thing that ever happened to me. If I could go out today and suit up, I would do it.”'”
Butler was also a class act, drawing praise from Dan Rooney who said “He was an excellent person both on and off the field, and he played an integral role in the BLESTO scouting program and our entire draft process before his retirement.”
Art Rooney II followed suit, explaining that “Jack Butler was one of the all-time great Steelers. He devoted his entire life to the NFL and made contributions to many teams and many players through his work with BLESTO and player personnel matters.”
Kevin Colbert’s comments were perhaps the most effusive:
Jack was a great person and great friend who always placed his faith and family first. Beyond his great play on the field, he was a legendary personnel man who helped so many of us get established in our scouting careers. He will be missed, but never forgotten.
It is fair to say that a majority of Steelers fans who’ve rooted for their beloved Black and Gold without knowing who Jack Butler was, but they certainly are well acquainted with his legacy.