In the mid 1990s, Jerome Bettis and Marcus Allen did battle many times on a particular field in Reynoldsburg, Ohio.
Well, not really, but two best friends did their best to mimic their running styles while playing football with and against each other during recess. When Bettis and Allen finally did meet each other on Monday Night Football, bragging rights, as well as pivotal games between the Steelers and Chiefs, were on the line.
Adam, my best friend growing up, was a Steelers fan like myself. We had both come from Steelers families and lived and died with every win and loss. But, for whatever reason, Adam's adopted team was the Kansas City Chiefs. He loved to cheer for Derrick Thomas, Neil Smith and Christian Okoye, but his all-time favorite Chief and favorite NFL player was indisputably Marcus Allen.
While Adam ran around the schoolyard field emulating Allen, I was doing my best impressions of "The Bus", my favorite player, Jerome Bettis. Bettis had been acquired by the Steelers before my fifth grade year, and it didn't take long for him to be (along with Kordell Stewart) the player I most looked forward to watching on Sundays.
Going to a private school, we rarely got to wear casual clothes, but every time we had a casual dress day, you could bet that Adam and I were rocking our No.32 and 36 jerseys. We went to card shows (this was before eBay) looking for their rookie cards, narrated and played out make-believe games between the Steelers and Chiefs in our parents' back yards, and wore our respective Allen and Bettis jerseys during our trip to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
You can imagine our excitement upon learning that the Steelers and Chiefs would be doing battle during the 1996 season on Monday Night Football, no less. Because it was a school night, we wouldn't be able to watch the game together, but we knew that would be the very first thing discussed at school the following day.
Both teams were among the best in the AFC at that time, with the Chiefs being led by Marty Schottenheimer, who coached, then hired Bill Cowher onto his coaching staff during his time as head coach of the Browns. The game would be held at Arrow Head Stadium, which is still among the loudest and most hostile of opposing stadiums.
The tone for the '96 game between the two was set before the game took place, when Bettis and fullback Tim Lester arrived in Kansas City donning fatigues, the reasoning being that the Bus and his driver were preparing for a war. The game was a war of attrition, with the Steelers prevailing, 17-7. Bettis was the Steelers battering ram, gaining a hard earned 103 yards on 27 carries that included a five-yard touchdown that gave the Steelers the lead for good in the third quarter. Needless to say, I was more excited than normal to go to school the following Tuesday.
Adam, Allen and the Chiefs looked to even the score the following season, with the two teams playing again in Kansas City on Monday Night football. While Bettis gashed the Chiefs defense again with 103 yards on 17 carries, Allen stole the show with a 30-yard run as well as the game-winning touchdown pass to give the Chiefs a 13-10 victory. I'll never forget Adam's ear-to-ear grin the following day at school, as well as the vexatious smirk I shot back at him.
Allen retired that following off-season, and eventually was enshrined into the Hall-of-Fame. After being snubbed the previous few years, Bettis will hopefully hear his name called this winter as the newest Steelers enshrined in Canton. Adam and I never argued about who was better; we both respected the other guy and, over years, I've become a huge fan of Allen as well. After all, he and my childhood best friend are among my favorite and most enduring memories of those initial years of being a sports fan.