When you mention Jerome Bettis in Western Pennsylvania, images of No. 36 ploughing his way through defenders and doing his little sideways “Bus” dance while shaking his head come to mind.
Why not? For 10 seasons, Bettis was the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Bettis has been turned away in three consecutive years as a candidate for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in favor of other running backs, Marshall Faulk, Curtis Martin and Emmitt Smith.
That’s understandable. Those three are among the best to ever play the game .
So was Bettis.
When asked this week who he thought would make it this year, voter Peter King, who works for Sports Illustrated and NBC, didn’t mention Bettis among those who he thought were borderline selections, let alone as a sure pick.
The NFL’s sixth all-time leading rusher with 13,662 yards isn’t a no-brainer? A man who is tied for 10th all-time – with Franco Harris – with 91 career rushing touchdowns doesn’t belong in the Pro Football Hall of Fame?
If that’s the case, there shouldn’t be a Hall of Fame.
Some of the anti-Bettis crowd point to his 3.9 career yards per carry average. But they fail to recognize that in his final two seasons Bettis was used almost exclusively as a short-yardage back and fourth-quarter closer.
They also fail to recognize that John Riggins, a running back with fewer yards but simliar physical traits to Bettis, already is in the Hall of Fame with a career rushing average of 3.9 yards.
Add to that some of the quarterbacks Bettis took handoffs from – Jim Everett, T.J. Rubley and Chris Miller with the Rams, and Kordell Stewart, Mike Tomczak, Kent Graham and Tommy Maddox with the Steelers – and it’s amazing he ever had a 100-yard game, let alone 1,000-yard seasons with all of the eight and nine-man fronts he faced.
It wasn’t until 2004, when the Steelers brought in Ben Roethlisberger, that Bettis ever played with a quarterback who could match his talent.
All Bettis did in that season, at the age of 32, was rush for 941 yards in six starts while sharing time with Willie Parker.
And Bettis did his damage playing at 240-plus pounds throughout his career.
Bettis’ 13,662 yards are twice as many any other 240-pound running back has gained in NFL history.
Riggins and Earl Campbell – two “big” backs Bettis is compared to – both played in the 230-pound range. Christian Okoye, another running back who played at 250 pounds, lasted only six seasons in the NFL because of the beating he took and had just two 1,000-yard seasons.
The bottom line is there are 29 running backs from the modern era in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Only five of those players gained more yards than Bettis.
He should be the 30th modern running back enshrined.
A look at today’s conference championship games.
New England (plus 6½) at Denver
Speaking of Hall of Fame players, New England’s Tom Brady and Denver’s Peyton Manning are both headed to Canton after they finally decide to stop leading their respective teams to the Super Bowl.
This will be the 15th meeting between Brady and Manning, with Brady holding a 10-4 advantage. But they are 1-1 in AFC championship games.
The difference in this one will be New England’s running game, which completely dominated Indianapolis last week.
Take New England, 34-31
San Francisco (plus 3) at Seattle
In their past two trips to Seattle, San Francisco has been outscored 71-16 by their NFC West rival. That’s not a misprint.
Including a 29-3 Seattle win this season. The 49ers won the rematch in San Francisco, 19-17.
The Seahawks have perhaps the biggest home-field advantage in the NFL, though they did lose to the Arizona Cardinals at home this season.
I don’t see the Seahawks losing twice at home.
Take Seattle, 20-16
Last week: 3-0-1 ATS; 4-0 Straight up
Overall: 112-132-8 ATS; 164-85-1 Straight up
F. Dale Lolley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.