The image of No. 36 lumbering down the field like a bowling ball on grass conjures up fond memories.
The sight of No. 36 smashing into a defender much like a semi truck hitting a rickshaw makes us feel excited; like we want to strap on the pads and lay the smack down on a rival defender.
Jerome Bettis was more than a running back. He was an icon. A leader on the league's most storied franchise. The only player on this year's Hall of Fame Finalists list who still gets hit on for quotes on today's football-related subjects.
No one cares what Cris Carter thinks, even though he'll tell us anyway. I can't recall Charles Haley having been in the news for something other than his finalist status for the Hall of Fame. Bill Parcells is not a former player.
The rest of the finalists from the Steelers are C Dermontti Dawson, LB Kevin Greene and DB Jack Butler. The rest are DE Chris Doleman, Eddie DeBartolo Jr., DT Cortez Kennedy, WR Andre Reed, OT Willie Roaf, G Will Shields, G, Dick Stanfel and CB Aeneas Williams.
What people outside of SteelerNation will bring up when thinking about The Bus is likely "Jerome Bettis is from Detroit." The amount of coverage Bettis received for playing in his only Super Bowl in his hometown nauseated just about everyone outside our nook of the world. What people don't remember is the tragedy that nearly railroaded Bettis out of this process all together.
Standing at Indianapolis's 2-yard line. A minute and 20 seconds left in what would have been one of the better playoff upsets of all time. Bettis had fumbled once in his previous 360 carries, many of them in the exact situation he faced. That's one fumble for every Pro Bowl appearance he had in his final two seasons. He had 22 touchdowns in that same time, including his most famous game - five carries, 1 yard, 3 touchdowns - in a 24-21 win over Oakland in Week 1 of 2004.
If anyone could score from the goal line in 2004-05, it was Bettis.
The Steelers had their heavies on the field, and it was simply a matter of which hole Bettis would run through for the game-clinching score. He went off the right side, pushed off his left foot and rolled around back to his right. He easily would have fallen over the goal line if not for the perfect hit at the perfect time from Colts LB Gary Brackett.
What Hall of Fame member - let alone candidate - caused a fan base to have a mental heart attack, while one unfortunate fan had a physical one?
Hines Ward said after the game he felt sick when he saw the ball in the air. Steelers fans felt sick. There isn't another way to describe the sheer horror unfolding on the carpet in Indianapolis.
I was on the phone with a buddy of mine who was calling to congratulate me on the victory. I had no problem with it, and if I felt answering such calls would somehow affect the outcome of a game that was still questionable, I wouldn't have answered it.
From that day on, because of that play, I never answer the phone during games.
I dropped the phone on the ground, much like Officer Kujan in The Usual Suspects. Bettis had turned from Soze to Kint. Seeing him on the sideline, down on a knee, barely acknowledging the few players who offered him consolation after without question the biggest on-field mistake he'd ever made.
It was enough to shut out all emotions, except for complete and total disbelief and shock. Even QB Ben Roethlisberger's miracle tackle of Nick Harper (no reason understood by man can explain how Harper did not score on that play) barely registered in my head.
A few poor decisions by Colts QB Peyton Manning (throwing incomplete on second and third and short) lead to a long-ish field goal by the infamous Mike Vanderjagt. Not only proving the existence of God, but His fan relationship with the Pittsburgh Steelers, the kick was wide - and I mean WIDE - left.
Redemption. The largest collective sigh of relief in SteelerNation history.
We're discussing Bettis's candidacy because the Steelers managed to overcome Bettis possibly being labeled as the biggest goat since Bill Buckner. Because of that tackle, that missed field goal, that subsequent victory over Seattle, Bettis's rushing yards aren't immediately tagged with an invisible asterisk, requiring Hall of Fame voters to question the validity of those yards without the playoff performances to back them up.
Truth be told, it's unlikely Bettis gets voted in this year. Pittsburgh native Curtis Martin has superior numbers in less time, and they don't always like to put in two players at the same position from the same era at the same time. While Martin doesn't have Bettis's charisma, he has an extremely impressive career, and is a fair choice.
That's just it, though. Why do we even compare the two? Statistically, it's not even close. Martin had 10 consecutive 1,000 yard seasons in 11 years. In fact, the last year of his career was the only season he didn't hit the 1,000 yard plateau. Bettis was up-and-down, and played the tail end of his career barely even as a back-up.
We compare the two because Bettis proved with that fumble how truly special of a player he was. He caused fans to experience myocardial infarction. His biggest failure made him bigger than the game itself.
He may not have Martin's numbers (fairly, both belong in the Hall, and both will be inducted eventually, if not this year), but Marin will never have the love of the fans the way Bettis does. It wasn't his success as much as his one failure that boosted Bettis to legendary status.
If his bust isn't unveiled in Canton in the summer of 2012, I really won't care. I know he'll get in there eventually, but to me, he already is there.
You don't capture the hearts of fans with bronze anyway.