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Hall of Fame running back Jerome Bettis was more than just statistics

Forget his career average, the Steelers were a successful rushing team overall and in situation-based football because of Jerome Bettis.

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Ex-Steelers coach Bill Cowher, the only coach Bettis had in Pittsburgh, was a remarkable 108-1-1 when his team reached an 11-point lead.

Cowher didn't get that mark because he went from average to Superfreak when the team got a lead. He got it because he gave the ball to Jerome Bettis repeatedly.

Defenses quit when Bettis got fired up. Few could ever coax so much graceful movement out of a frame as big as his, but after 14 or 15 running steps, left, right and forward, Bettis would hit the ground, bounce up and put his best strut on display.

Although not a dance (Myron Cope would have hated that), it was an aggressive power-walk, complete with inaudible yelling and chest-pounding.

That's when the team was on the Bus. That's when the Bus drove home those second-half wins.

Bettis was the Steelers' closer. While a great defense existed in Pittsburgh the majority of Bettis's career, he shut opposing offenses down by not allowing them on the field. There were no comebacks against the Steelers; if they got a lead, they would win. And they'd get that lead through attrition early in games.

It was a mentality. The Strut would come out, the lead would remained burned in the lightbulbs on the scoreboards of both Heinz Field and Three Rivers Stadium.

Forget the 3.9 yards per carry, and remember the listed 252 pounds. Bettis's career average is drug down by the fact more than a third of his career carries came in short-yardage situations.

Steelers Hall of Fame defensive tackle Mean Joe Greene recently said great teams can run the ball when they're supposed to run the ball. Being a successful rushing team means the specific team goal is achieved. On a third and 2 play, good teams can run for two yards. Jerome Bettis was the catalyst of a good running team. He could get two yards.

How is he viewed as inferior because he didn't rush for six? He got the first down. The team maintained possession. The Steelers won a lot of games because of it.

The value of Jerome Bettis existed beyond statistics. The combination of talent and opportunity creates, to a degree, all Hall of Fame players, and the statistics are usually just residue of that combination. Cowher was a great coach for Bettis, and Bettis was a great leader for the Steelers and for Pittsburgh.

The Bus did the work, make no mistake, just like the wins he helped earn through every will-imposing carry he had in the second half. Bettis's five-year wait to enter the Hall of Fame only strengthened Steeler Nation's love for the symbol of the franchise in the post-Steel Curtain Era.

It's a great Hall of Fame class, but there is no doubt who will receive the loudest cheers. There is no question who will have the largest representation. Jerome Bettis was more than just a dominant, clock-killing running back. He was an icon, he was the symbol of an excellent run of Steelers teams.