It was Week 6 of the 2002 season. Jerome Bettis had just toppled several Cincinnati Bengals on his way to a 41 yard touchdown run at Paul Brown Stadium. I did my usual "jumping up and down" celebration dance as I watched the game in my uncle's living room. While doing my dance, I turned to my uncle and saw him point to the screen and say, "Damn, there are a lot of Bengals lying on the turf." Sure enough, I turned back to the television to see trainers attending to several Cincinnati players who became the latest victims of an out of control Bus.
Every time I think of Bettis' career, for some reason, that moment sticks out in my mind. For me, it just summed up the kind of running back Jerome Bettis was.
There has been a lot of talk in recent years about protecting quarterbacks, running backs and receivers from taking unnecessary punishment by defenses, and rightfully so (sometimes defenders can push that envelope a bit too far), but as Bettis pointed out in a feature on "The History of the Steelers" DVD released just after the 2004 season, "It ain't no fun when the rabbit gets the gun."
Most offensive skill players spend the majority of their time absorbing the hits, No. 36 was one of those rare players who turned the tables on the defenders and very few wanted anything to do with trying to tackle him, at least on a regular basis.
Bettis failed to get elected to the Hall of Fame on Saturday in his third year of eligibility.
Apparently, if Bettis had to play for Bill Parcells, he wouldn't have been a starter......I guess if Bettis had to run against Warren Sapp, his career stats would have been much less impressive.
This is just speculation on my part, but what other conclusion could I draw? Parcells, a head coach who won two Super Bowls with the Giants and an AFC title with the Patriots, was voted into the Hall of Fame on his second try. As for Sapp, the seven-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman and 1999 Defensive Player of the Year who played 13 years, mostly with the Buccaneers, made it to Canton on his first try.
And the Bus? I guess finishing his career as the fifth all-time leading rusher in NFL history with 13,662 yards and 91 touchdowns once again wasn't quite enough to impress the voters.
Every year there is a pool of finalists for Hall enshrinement, and the voters get together to discuss each candidate's worthiness. This year, Sapp, Parcells, and other noteable finalists such as Cris Carter were deemed more worthy than Bettis.
The consensus opinion when discussing Bettis' Hall of Fame candidacy has always been, "Oh, there is no doubt he's a Hall of Fame player, and someday he'll get in."
I'm not the first person who has ever made this statement, so I'm sure as heck not breaking new ground when I say you're either a Hall of Fame player or you're not.
Apparently, according to Tribune Review writer Alan Robinson, the sticking point with Bettis was the 3.9 yards per carry that he averaged during his career. Judging Bettis on his yards per carry is a bit unfair when you consider he spent the majority of his playing career at (ahem) the 250 pound range.
Bettis' game wasn't 90 yard runs, it was "smash-mouth football." Bettis was not only a great big back, he may have been the greatest big back of all-time. That's not worthy of Hall of Fame status? Of course it is, just not right now, I guess.
It's easy to get bent out of shape over this kind of stuff, but I hope Bettis isn't too down and depressed about not getting in yet again. His day will come.
And maybe it's rather fitting that Bettis may have to wait until his fourth attempt to finally touch down in Canton, because one of the hallmarks of No. 36's career was how he wore a defense down during the course of a football game. Defenders may have had a bit of success against him in the first, second and third quarters, but by the fourth quarter, he wouldn't be denied.
I'll leave you with a little montage video of Bettis' career. Sure looks like a Hall of Fame running back.