Leland Stein III

NFL Hall of Fame: Jerome “The Bus” Bettis, makes history 

In sports column on September 24, 2015 at 1:23 am

Bettis is first Detroit PSL athlete inducted in NFL Hall of Fame

By Leland Stein III

Jerome Bettis and Leland Stein III in Canton, Ohio for Bettis HoF enshrinement. - Hassan Kareem photo

Jerome Bettis and Leland Stein III in Canton, Ohio for Bettis HoF enshrinement. – Hassan Kareem photo

Canton, Ohio — First and only!!! I know that is not a complete sentence, but for this narrative it is perfect grammar!!

Jerome “The Bus” Bettis’ noteworthy inclusion in the hollowed NFL Hall of Fame was not only a national story with his name now etched with the greatest to ever play the game; more importantly, he is now the only Detroit Public School League (PSL) athlete so honored.

Bettis with his NFL Hall of Fame bust and Yellow jacket. - Hassan Kareem photo

Bettis with his NFL Hall of Fame bust and Yellow jacket. – Hassan Kareem photo

“Wow, it is hard to believe that throughout its long and talent rich history the PSL has never had a player selected to the NFL Hall of Fame,’ Bettis said with an air of wonderment. “There have been so many great players that went to my high school (Mackenzie) before me, with me and after me, that who would ever expect that I would be the first?

“It is even harder to believe this is all happening, because through most of my early life I did not even play football until I got to high school.”

Bettis now joins Michigan’s other four Hall of Famers, Flint’s Paul Krause, Bay City’s Bill Hewitt and fellow Detroiters George Allen and Joe DeLamielleure. Although Allen and DeLamielleure were both born in Detroit they did not play in the city. Therefore, Bettis has the official tag of the only Hall of Famer who was born, raised and played high school football in Detroit.

Joining Bettis in the 2015 Pro Football Hall of Fame were the late Junior Seau, Charles Haley, Tim Brown, Will Shields, Bill Polian, Ron Wolf, and Mick Tingelhoff. All eight were officially inducted recently in Canton, Ohio.

A 46-person selection committee annually gather the day-before-the-Super Bowl to discuss and debate the merits of the finalists, before selecting this newest class of enshrinees. The selection process can take hours, and agreement on this Class took nearly nine hours.

Bettis, 42, was selected by the Los Angeles Rams as the 10th overall pick in the 1993 NFL Draft and promptly won NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. Two of his eight 1,000-yard rushing seasons came during his three-year tenure with the Rams – fortunately for me I was writing for a medium in L.A. at the time Bettis was toting the pigskin for all three of his years with the Rams.

Bettis joined the Steelers in 1996 where he quickly became a fan favorite, earning the nickname “The Bus.” He currently ranks sixth on the NFL’s all-time career rushing yardage list (13,662). He retired in 2006 after he and the Steelers won Super Bowl XL in his native Detroit, Mich.. The six-time Pro Bowler and two-time first-team All-Pro was a Hall of Fame finalist since 2011.

“The wait was heart wrenching each year,” he emotionally exclaimed, “not knowing if I was in or out. But in the end the wait was well worth it.”

Bettis, who redefined big, quick running backs during his career with the Rams and Steelers, was the final speaker at the Hall of Fame proceedings in front of some 20,000 Steelers fans who briefly turned Canton, Ohio, into Steelers Country.

“We’re in Canton, Ohio . . . but this is ‘STEELERS COUNTRY’,” Bettis bellowed during his speech.

He also thanked his quarterback, “Big” Ben Roethlisberger, for making that playoff-saving tackle against the Colts following Bettis’ fourth-quarter fumble in the 2006 AFC Divisional game. The Bus joked that he still might not be in the Hall of Fame if not for Big Ben.

“I owe you big time,” Bettis said smiling.

If Bettis would have never joined the NFL Hall of Fame, he could at least revel in the fact he has a hall of fame nickname. “The Bus” can hold up to other football greats like: Night Train, Sweetness, The Juice, Hacksaw, Pepper, The Snake, Hammer, Megatron, The Refrigerator, Prime Time, and Crazy Legs.

In baseball we have had Say Hey, The Babe, A-Rod, Hammering Hank, The Big Hurt, Iron Horse and Joltin’ Joe. Basketball has had monikers like The Stilt, Pistol, King James, Magic, Iceman, Cornbread, Clyde, Air, Pearl and Dr. J.

Sure nicknames are colorful and gave each a certain aura, but the most important thing “The Bus” had in common with most of the above mentioned sports icons, is that he was more than just a nickname, he is a superior athlete as evident by his selection to the NFL Hall of Fame.

“I was sitting in my office and this polite young man came in and said he wants to play football,” Bettis’ Mackenzie High coach Bob Dozier recalled. “After he left I said, ‘Wow!!’ He looked like a young Superman and he’s an honor student. His sophomore year I put him at middle guard and he was so physical and tough off the ball. The thing I like most about him was when his skills became evident, he remained patient. We had Walter Smith and he was getting it done.”

By his senior year at Mackenzie High, Bettis had gained notoriety as a feature running back and linebacker. When it was time to select a college he chose Lou Holtz and Notre Dame.

Holt was at the ceremony and Bettis told an engaging story about their time together at Notre Dame.

Recalled former Mackenzie star linebacker Pepper Johnson, who went on to earn two Super Bowls rings with the New York Giants and three more as a coach with the New England Patriots: “I had heard Mackenzie had a running back that was special. Then I go to Reggie Mackenzie’s Camp and I’m coaching the linebackers and there was Jerome. I wanted him to stay at linebacker, because he could have been a great one. He might have had a different nickname, maybe Ali because he would have knocked people out. I guess it all worked out with all he has accomplished on the other side of the ball.”

Dozier said Holtz first told Bettis that he wanted to use him on offense, but he had to lose weight. “But after he ran a 4.5, Holtz said, ‘He’s fine like he is,’ ” Dozier recalled.

Interjected former Mackenzie teammate Gilbert Brown, who won a Super Bowl ring with Green Bay (1997): “When I first saw JB at Mackenzie he was kind of shy. But when he got out on the field there was ferociousness to him. I had the pleasure of blocking for him. Everyone in the PSL knew where we were going to run the ball. If I lined up right or left JB would be coming right over my side. It was amazing to see a back with his power and speed.

Detroit Lions Hall of Fame scat back, Barry Sanders told me: “When I think of JB I think of a great competitor you would love to do battle with. He was not a guy defenses wanted to see. He was a wrecking ball, powerful, but agile. I enjoyed watching JB play and the way he carried himself.”

Almost everyone in unison exclaim that Bettis is a superior athlete, but an even better person. Bettis told me that he comes from a loving and caring family, and, his mother (Gladys) and father (Johnnie) were special people that molded him.

“It was great to have two parents there because you get the nurturing from your mother and you get the sternness from your father,” Bettis told a local paper. “With him there, he was my role model. He was a guy that I looked at and saw how you did things, how to be a man. I think there were a lot of benefits to having mom and dad in the household, and it felt normal.”

Along with his Mom and Dad, he has a sister and brother (Kimberly and John). His family’s bond has always been a big part of who Bettis has been and will continue to become.

Concurred former U-M star Thomas Seabron, who is now a Financial Advisor: “To a large extent JB’s success is a direct result of him having a strong family environment. That’s why he understands the need for the human touch.”

Added Mackenzie teammate Walter Smith, a former captain at U-M: “In high school JB’s best resource was his father. I did not have that at home. Just talking to him and sharing advice he got from his dad made me a better person. When I got injured at Michigan, I remembered what JB told me in high school, ‘don’t worry about what you don’t have, and maximize what you do have.’ Although I was not as quick, his words got me through.”

At the end of a rough and tumble NFL career, Bettis received his biggest blessing. He and the Steelers descended on his hometown to contest Seattle in Super Bowl XL, and, they won.

“I played in two Super Bowls, but he played in the one that was in our home,” exclaimed Brown. “I told him he had to be the luckiest cat in the world to play in and win a ring in his own backyard.”

Said Bettis: “It has always been my goal to win a championship, but to do it in my hometown was a dream come true. Then running out on Ford Field at the Super Bowl, it was all a kid from Detroit could imagine.”

Leland Stein can be reached at lelstein3@aol.com and Twitter @LelandSteinIII

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