"How many came by Bus?" Chris Berman asked Steelers fans in Canton who came en masse from Pittsburgh to witness the induction of Jerome Bettis into the Hall of Fame.
Saturday night, Steelers legendary running back Jerome Bettis completed a journey that started in the Motor City, where he sold crack along with his brother, John, to help his family make ends meet. Bettis and his brother have certainly come a long way from the violent streets of Detroit, the same city where he ended his career with a Super Bowl victory in a fitting end to an incredible career.
As Bettis walked out onto the stage with his brother and unveiled the bust, he was greeted by rousing applause by a sea of fans clad in black and gold, waving terrible towels. Unlike the busts of the other inductees, Bettis' bust was not an extremely close approximation of his actual appearance. Still, it did not detract from his special moment.
"Well listen here," he began as he looked out into the crowd. "We might be in Canton, Ohio, but this is Steeler country." He continued, "Here we go Steelers, here we go!" As the crowd joined in he said, "Now, I'm at home."
"I want you to know that your father exemplifies everything your father stands for," Bettis said at the beginning of his speech to the children of Junior Seau. "His legacy will live on forever in the Pro Football Hall of Fame." Since Seau's daughter only spoke in an interview format, it was nice to hear some words about the legendary Seau from the podium.
Then, he said, "I want to take you on a bus ride." Boy, was it a crazy ride. His speech was marked by gratitude, tears, memories and humor as he recounted highlights from his life.
He thanked his wife, children, and sister. Then, he turned to his brother to whom he was thankful for a unique reason: "I want to thank you for letting me play with your friends, because it was with those guys who were four years older than me because it is from those guys that I got my courage, toughness, and strength." He also thanked his mom, Gladys "Big Time" Bettis. Apparently, she went to every game he ever played in during his time in the NFL. Wow. "Through you and dad, I learned what good parenting really is," he said. He also praised his mother's toughness during her recent struggle with breast cancer. "Thank you for being a role model, an incredible parent, and a leader. Thank you, mom," he said.
Bettis tearfully thanked his late father who was his biggest fan. "He taught me how to be a man," he said. "It is because of him that I am here." He shared a story about the time his dad sent him off to college: "'I don't have much to give you, but I have a good name, so don't mess it up.' Dad, I hope I made you proud." He ended his speech by saying those same words to his own son.
He recognized his high school coach for encouraging him through some tough times, and pointing out that at 5'10" he was better suited to play running back. Next, he thanked Lou Holtz, his coach at Notre Dame. "You taught me not just football lessons, but life lessons," he said. He recalled a time when Holtz told the entire team that Bettis would cost the entire team a national championship. Then he told the other Notre Dame teammates, according to Bettis, "You guys straighten it out." That lesson, Bettis said, taught him the lessons of humility and work ethic. "Time and time again you taught me what love meant playing football," Bettis continued recalling a time that he considered quitting football when he was unhappy with the Rams. The love for the game came back, Bettis recounted, when he was traded to Pittsburgh.
He also thanked his coaches with the Rams who helped him make the transition from fullback to tailback and his teammates who helped him make the adjustment to the NFL.
Finally, Here. We. Go. Bettis enthusiastically recognized the Steelers organization. He thanked his RB coach with the Steelers, Dick Hoak, and head coach Bill Cowher. "I want to thank him for having ultimate trust," he said. "He knew exactly what he was going to get from #36 every time I stepped on to the field. Coach, you are one of the biggest reasons I stand here today and I hope one day you stand here next to me because you deserve it." He was also thankful for the Rooneys for believing in him as a person and a football player.
He received the loudest applause when he thanked Steeler Nation. "You gotta show these guys what real football fans look like!" he exclaimed. "I want to thank you all for appreciating a power running game. Three-yards in a cloud of dust was far better than a 40-yard bomb down the football field." (At this point the camera showed QB Ben Roethlisberger laughing.)
Bettis also thanked his teammates, saying, "I've been blessed to have the best teammates you could ever have." He asked his teammates from both Notre Dame, McKenzie High School, and the Pittsburgh Steelers to rise. "They gave me everything they had every time we stepped on the football field," he said. "We knew we were a family and we would get the job done."
Special thanks went out to Alan Faneca, Hines Ward, Troy Polamalu, Joey Porter, and Ben Roethlisberger. "All of you will hopefully stand next to me one day in the Hall of Fame," he told them.
During his time with the Steelers, Bettis tallied 13,662 rushing yards, 730 rushing first downs, and 91 touchdowns in 192 games. His impact on the Steelers and the sport of football went well beyond his statistics. He brought an unparalleled level of passion, energy, and controlled aggression to the game that set him apart from his contemporaries and made him one of the best running backs to ever play the game.