(Photo courtesy of Pittsburgh Steelers)
By Clark Judge
Talk of Fame Network
It’s time to get off the sidewalk and on to The Bus.
I’m talking about putting former Pittsburgh running back Jerome Bettis into the Pro Football Hall of Fame — something that should happen sooner rather than later. A four-time finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Bettis the past two years has been at or near the finish line, making it to the final 10 before missing the final cut.
But that has to change. It’s time to drive The Bus to Canton.
First of all, Bettis has the qualifications. He’s the league’s sixth all-time rusher, a member of the 10,000-yard club, a six-time Pro Bowler, a four-time All-Pro and a three-time Steelers’ MVP. Furthermore, he produced twice as many yards as any back weighing 240 or more pounds and was a Super Bowl champion. Plus, he’s waited patiently for his turn. In short, he has his bases covered.
Which is why we’re here. If there’s one knock you keep hearing about the guy it’s a less-than-spectacular 3.9 rushing average, or one-tenth of a yard short of what some voters consider the minimum requirement for running backs. OK, so he’s the only one of the top 15 career rushing leaders to average fewer than four yards an attempt. I get it. But so what? It’s tough to inflate a rushing average when you’re getting carries at the goal line or late in the fourth quarter, when the Steelers were closing out opponents against seven-and-eight-man fronts.
But that’s not all. Remember John Riggins? He averaged 3.9 yards per carry, too, and he’s in the Hall of Fame … as the league’s 16th career rusher. So don’t tell me that’s a reason for keeping Bettis out. Because it’s not, and John Riggins is the evidence.
Look, Bettis was good at what he did, which was carrying 20-25 times a game, closing out contests, finding the end zone and carrying the load. Check that: He was extraordinary. But he was reliable, he was selfless and he was a team leader, too. And while leadership doesn’t count for a lot with the Hall of Fame’s board of selectors, it should count for something. In fact, when we had former Steelers’ coach Bill Cowher on the Talk of Fame Network’s radio program last month it was that quality he singled out — with Cowher saying he believed it made Bettis the ideal Hall-of-Fame choice.
“Jerome Bettis is the best big-man running back who played, the game,” Cowher told us. “He’s done it year in and year out. The guy ran the gamut. He went from the workhorse to the closer … I know it has to be all football, but what other guy in today’s modern era would take less of a role? Here was a guy who did it the right way and did it consistently.
“You can match his numbers with anybody. We built a team around him, and we complemented him with receivers. So don’t hold that against him in today’s era. He did everything you wanted him to do. He was a team player, and he was a good player. And every one of his teammates respected him. To me, he’s a no-brainer for the Hall of Fame.”
So Bettis was the ideal teammate. He was a team leader. He was one of the most productive backs in league history. And he helped launch another Pittsburgh Steelers’ Super Bowl run, winning the first of three Super Bowls they were to play within six years. Jerome Bettis was the guy who put the Steelers on his back and carried them for years. But he can’t go it alone anymore. He needs help to make it to his next stop, and it’s up to the board of selectors to give it to him.