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2015 Pro Football Hall of Fame: It's time to put Jerome Bettis in bronze

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The Bus's legacy is best captured as he trucked Bears likely Hall of Fame linebacker Brian Urlacher, but his bust should be in bronze for his career accomplishments.

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The image is as deeply ingrained in Steelers lore as it is associated with football history.

Jerome Bettis, the game's best "big" running back, amid the snow and mud bringing down the noise on Bears' linebacker Brian Urlacher.

The Steelers had lost three consecutive games to fall to 7-5 overall, trailing the eventual AFC North champion Bengals and barely clinging to hopes of a playoff berth after an AFC Championship game appearance the prior year.

Bettis would deliver.

He rushed for 117 yards and two touchdowns - the final 100-yard game of his career - in the win, a 21-9 physical drubbing of the visiting Bears. It was highlighted by Bettis's touchdown run over Urlacher, one of the game's best linebackers.

It would come to define the Steelers' late-season surge, as they won that game, along with the next three, to grab the final wild card spot in the AFC playoffs. They would defeat Cincinnati on the road, score a huge upset over the Colts on the road and knock off Denver, again, on the road, to become the first-ever sixth-seed to make the Super Bowl.

After knocking off Seattle, Bettis announced his retirement in the locker room at Ford Field in Detroit.

Upon retiring, Bettis was fourth all time with 13,662 rushing yards. He was passed by Curtis Martin (a 2012 Hall of Fame inductee) and LaDainian Tomlinson (almost a shoo-in first ballot Hall of Fame inductee next year).

After those two, Minnesota's Adrian Peterson is the only active running back under 30 who has more than 10,000 rushing yards. Peterson missed most of the 2014 season on suspension. San Francisco's Frank Gore, at 31 years of age, has 11,073 yards, and Atlanta's Steven Jackson, also at 31, has 11,388.

Jackson won't sniff 13,000 yards. Gore, who's rushed for over 1,000 yards in each of the last two seasons, may have an outside shot, provided he's getting carries at age 33, but with 30 fewer touchdowns than Bettis, he isn't comparable.

Signature plays, individual honors, league-leading numbers, that's Jerome Bettis's legacy. He has everything other Hall of Fame running backs have, so if the standard is defined as those who came before him as well as his place among his generational peers, the ones who did it better than Bettis are already in the Hall. There are far more who can't touch Bettis's career production.

Bettis belongs in the Hall of Fame.

Every powerful run. Every deft move. Every post-run gyration firing up his teammates, every clock-killing run he had as a team that finished in the top 10 in rushing yards seven of the 10 years he was in Pittsburgh. All of them adds a brush stroke that rivals his Hall of Fame peers.

Of the 13 players in NFL history with 90 or more touchdowns, only three are not in the Hall of Fame: Tomlinson (who will be), Shaun Alexander (who shouldn't be) and Bettis.

Of the 14 players with 12,000 yards or more in his career, only Tomlin, Edgerrin James and Bettis are not in the Hall of Fame.

Tomlinson and Bettis are the only two players in league history to rush for over 12,000 yards (both are over 13,000) and over 90 touchdowns and not be inducted to the Hall of Fame. More to the point, Bettis is the only Hall-eligible player to reach those milestones and not be enshrined in bronze in Canton.

This year, he should be. Perhaps last year he should have been as well, but there's a significant gap behind him in terms of career production, and it will be a while until another running back will be on the ballot boasting the stats and impact Bettis does.

Even fewer have the same kind of signature play Bettis does. It resonates with the football-loving world, not just Steelers fans.