Jerome Bettis, one of the most beloved players in NFL history, was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this past weekend. A six-time Pro Bowler, Bettis played for the Steelers for 10 years – from 1996 to 2005 – and led Pittsburgh to a 21-10 win over Seattle in Super Bowl XL in February 2006.
“Well, when you think about Jerome, he was probably the guy more than any Steeler that carried the torch of the franchise after the Super ’70s that they had,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review columnist Rob Rossi said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “He arrived as Rod Woodson was leaving. Their careers crossed paths in Pittsburgh for one year, but after that, it became Jerome’s town, really.”
Bettis had six consecutive 1,000 yard seasons from 1996 to 2001.
“He was a big back that played a bruising style that the fans love,” Rossi said. “I think they aways appreciated his earnestness. I really believe when you think of the Steelers – if you look at their two historic eras – Joe Greene (was) certainly the greatest Steeler of all time and was the face of that team for the ’70s. But Jerome really became the face of the team of the 10 years he was in Pittsburgh. I talked to Art Rooney about this at the beginning of training camp. He said it was very fitting that even though it was in a secondary role that Jerome was the guy when they won that elusive one for the thumb, that Jerome was the guy on stage. Art said, ‘I don’t believe we get there without Jerome.’
“He became a very vital figure for this franchise,” Rossi said. “For a fan base that transcended several generations and had all these expectations but was looking for a guy of their own – because they had heard so many stories about their parents having guys like Franco Harris and Terry Bradshaw and Joe Greene – Jerome really became that generation’s guy. I think that’s what you saw this weekend in Canton. He became the guy that they wanted to shower with a lot of love.”
Bettis was the last inductee to speak Saturday, which was by design.
“They actually put him on last because they anticipated that the Steeler fans would overrun Canton,” Rossi said. “It’s sort of become an unwritten rule that whenever the Steelers have a Hall of Fame inductee . . . Steeler Nation shows up.”
It wasn’t just fan support, either.
“What was interesting to me is how many of his ex-teammates were there,” Rossi said. “I mean, you just don’t see guys have that many (former teammates attend). From Greg Lloyd to a lot of those former Hall of Famers, they all went there and really wanted to show what affection they had for Jerome. I think the only person that wasn’t there that really probably would have made it fitting is Bill Cowher. But from what I understand, his daughter was getting married in Ireland so he couldn’t make it.”