One of the many questions that get thrown around in NFL corners is "Who is your favorite player of all-time on (insert your team here)?" This was posed to the BTSC community, and I am at a severe disadvantage. The only quarterback I have ever known for the Steelers is Ben Roethlisberger. I wasn’t alive for the Cowher dynasty in the 1990s, and I most definitely wasn’t alive for the 1970s dynasty.
Now, I’ve heard stories of players from the past, players like Mean Joe Greene, Jack Lambert, and Greg Lloyd. But I didn’t get to watch them play. I’m more familiar with the 2010s teams, with guys like T.J. Watt, Cam Heyward, and Antonio Brown. The 2000s teams had stars as well- Troy Polamalu, prime Big Ben, and James Harrison.
As I have been thinking about the many different iterations of the Steelers that have taken the field over the last 80+ years, a few players stand out to me: Greene, Polamalu, and Watt. Many in my family have enjoyed watching Polamalu and Watt play, and Greene is the most influential player in franchise history. Mean Joe set the standard that the Steelers live by fifty years later, and owns one of the two officially retired numbers in Steeler history. Troy was the superstar on a defense of superstars that was the best in the league for almost ten years and helped add two Super Bowl trophies to the Steelers’ library. T.J. is the current superstar, fresh off of a record-tying 22.5 sack campaign. He is the best player on the team and is always expected to make the game-changing play.
Those three are fun to watch and learn about (in the case of Greene), but I still wouldn’t call them my favorite Steeler of all time. That designation goes to Jerome "The Bus" Bettis. The year that we won Super Bowl XL, I was 5 years old. I barely remember the night of the Super Bowl, but all of the stories and videos that came out after the game are stamped into my memory.
There is one particular documentary, like 45 minutes to an hour long, that I would always watch in the car. I grew up on that, and I will never forget it. My family had become fans of the Steelers since they lived in Pittsburgh for eight years. They remember the Super Bowl, and they love the stars of the 2000s team. But their consensus favorite player from that era is The Bus- the foundation and the energy of that team.
As I've grown older, and I have learned more of the specifics about the story of the 2005 Steelers and what The Bus meant to them, I have admired him. Ben, the rookie, convincing the old veteran to come back for one more year. The iconic moment in the Bears game when Bettis trucked through legend Brian Urlacher for the touchdown. And finally, the hometown return of Bettis, and the team letting him run out alone, drinking in the moment.
That video right there exemplifies what The Bus meant to the team- they respected and loved him so much, that they let him have his moment. Bettis was the heart and soul of the team, he was the energy-bringer on the sidelines, since he didn’t play most of the snaps. His role was so much more than just on the field.
I don’t think the argument can be made for The Bus to be named the best running back in franchise history; I’m pretty sure Franco Harris gets that crown. However, he is most definitely top 2, since he has nearly double the yards of the third-place rusher (Willie Parker). More than that, Bettis was just a fun player to watch- the grind-it-out, tough runner that signified the players of that era.