Jerome Bettis was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame yesterday putting the finishing touches on a career that I can say I was on board with for more years than most.
“The Bus” and I go way back. He’s about a month older than I am and he and I attended several football camps together. While I was just another player at the camps, Bettis was clearly one of the guys who everyone else was aware.
As you might imagine, Bettis was as jovial and friendly as he is today. He played his high school ball at Mackenzie High School in Detroit which is no longer around. Besides Bettis, NFL players Pepper Johnson and Gilbert Brown also attended the now absent school.
It was easy to see what made Bettis special. He was literally a bowling ball with legs who surprised everyone with his combination of quick feet and powerful running style.
Like many, I followed Bettis’ career to Notre Dame and then to the Los Angeles Rams. When he was traded to the Steelers I couldn’t have been more excited. For me, it was a feeling of things coming full circle.
Jerome Bettis would not have the slightest clue who I am today even though many years ago I handed off balls to him in camp. It was just another series of drills between quarterbacks and running backs.
Although I can still feel the heart palpitations when he fumbled in AFC Divisional Playoffs at Indianapolis, like him, I can be grateful for Ben Roethlisberger’s “Immaculate Tackle.” Hopefully, Bettis makes a note of that in his acceptance speech or else things could have turned out much differently.
Now that Bettis has found his way to the pinnacle of every football player’s dream, I can reflect positively. He was the premier “big back” at a time when they started to emerge in the NFL and his place as the first of his kind in the Hall of Fame is fitting.
The wheels on The Bus have finally settled into their perfect parking spot. I couldn’t be happier and I couldn’t feel older….