Jerome Bettis

Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Famer Jerome Bettis at his home in Atlanta.

After enshrinement, an image of his Hall of Fame bust will be added to the painting of Jerome Bettis' life that hangs in the office of his Atlanta home.

The Bust of the Bus will be unveiled this weekend and he approves of the likeness, sculpted by Blair Buswell of Provo, Utah, where Bettis went for the process.

"Having to sit with [the artist] so long, I saw the actual bust come to life. He did some specific things, like my mustache, my beard, and then the bust started to take on my image ... the more and more it started to look like me."

ATLANTA – White flowers bloom on magnolias nestled under stately oaks and Southern pines, creating a forest canopy that covers the lush Buckhead section of town where the Jerome Bettis family resides.

Inside their home, a painting dominates a wood-paneled office where trophies, helmets from Notre Dame and the Steelers and other treasured memorabilia rest. The large work of art on the wall depicts a mural of the life of Jerome Bettis. There are sketches of him with his parents, with his wife Trameka and two children, the skyline from his hometown of Detroit, as a running back at Notre Dame and with the Steelers, hoisting the Lombardi Trophy and showing off his Super Bowl ring.

The piece is unfinished, yet scheduled for completion soon.

“Right here,” Bettis said, pointing to an unoccupied spot in the lower center of the painting, “is where the bust will go.”

The bust. It is the final piece for the artist and the exclamation point to the football career of Jerome Bettis, who will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame Saturday night.

Not long after he was elected in February, Bettis took Trameka, son Jerome Jr. and daughter Jada to Canton, Ohio, to tour the Hall of Fame “so they could understand what dad had just been elected to.”

“We just wanted to come in look at everything and let my kids get a grasp of what a group of men I’m going into,” Bettis said. “It was amazing. They got an opportunity to really see it and understand that Daddy’s going into a very, very elite group of men that is very, very special.”

That group will be enhanced by its new member, a kid from a tough section of West Detroit who went from Mackenzie High School honor student and hot-shot 10-pin bowler to NFL Pro Bowler. He did not let asthma hold him back from becoming the sixth leading rusher in NFL history with 13,662 yards. His eight 1,000-yard seasons are tied for fifth all-time. He played in 192 games, more than all but two backs ever. Only two Hall of Fame backs fumbled less.

Bettis did things the right way, too, becoming the leader, the heart and soul of a team that produced one of the best eras in Steelers football. He won the NFL’s 2001 Walter Payton Award that honors a player’s performance and community service.

Bettis also went out on top as many others only dream of doing, hoisting that Lombardi Trophy delivered after the final game of his magnificent 13-year career following the Steelers Super Bowl XL victory in his hometown of Detroit.

Jerome Bettis shares a laugh with head coach Bill Cowher and Dan Kreider before getting a team photo taken during media day at Ford Field in Detroit before Super Bowl XL.

Bill Cowher, his coach for the entire decade he spent with the Steelers, cannot make it for the induction ceremony, for good reason. His daughter Lauren will be married Saturday in Ireland.

Said Cowher, "There's only one thing that could keep me from there — because I watched this and was part of it and was so blessed — a family member to get married and it just happened to be that. On this day, I will be in Ireland."

Jerome Bettis pounded his way into the Steelers' record book with five 100-yard games in the 2004 season.

The biggest running back to enter the Hall of Fame will enter a little lighter. Bettis rarely played in the NFL under 255 pounds but he may be closer to the 240 pounds in which the Hall lists him. Since his election, he still looks like The Bus but has been dieting and working out to fit into a smaller size Gold Jacket that will be presented to him at ceremonies Thursday night in Canton.

“In his last year,” said Bill Cowher, his coach all 10 years with the Steelers, “he not only inspired those around him, he put a sense of purpose and resolve into our championship run. I know others have been flashier, but no one had more substance, heart and the spirit of a champion than Jerome Bettis. He was a joy to coach, he was a joy to watch play, he was a joy to be around.”

The real storybook ending comes in Canton on Saturday, 10 years after he entered his final training camp. He was elected in his fifth year of eligibility, a wait that at times frustrated him.

“Now that I’m in, it kind of just blew away immediately, all the heartache and pain, it disappeared once I got the call that I was in,” Bettis said, relaxing in the living room of his house in his adopted hometown, where Trameka’s family lives. “The first year is the hardest because you don’t know the process. Also, I could not be upset because of the names that were going in.

“When the call came it was really that euphoria you get right when Christmas comes: ‘Wow, it actually happened.’ It’s excitement but it’s also relief, in that OK, I finally got in. And you don’t have to get that question or statement – ‘Hey man, you’re a Hall of Famer in my book.’ It’s like yeah, I know, but your book does not count.”

This counts.

“While you’re playing football, it’s never a thought,” Bettis said of the Hall of Fame. “Because there are times in there you can make decisions that will maybe help you in the quest to get into the Hall of Fame.”

One of those times came at the end the 1997 season. He had not missed a game in his first two seasons with the Steelers and he had 1,665 yards rushing heading into the ’97 season finale. He needed 26 to break Barry Foster’s team record.

But the Steelers already had clinched a playoff seed and their finale in Memphis against the newly-moved Tennessee Oilers was meaningless in the standings. Cowher wanted to rest him for the playoffs.

“It was a decision not to play,” said Bettis, who concurred with his coach’s reasoning. “As it turns out, that could have helped or bolstered my resume for the Hall of Fame. Things like that, you don’t really think about or factor in because you want to win. I wanted to be healthy for the playoffs, ready to go for the playoffs.

“I make that decision because that’s in the best interests of me and the team.”

He was unselfish in his play and as a teammate, prompting Hines Ward — another potential Steelers Hall of Famer — to publicly break down crying because he thought their loss in the 2004 AFC championship game at home was the end for Bettis. It wasn’t. For the second straight season, Bettis took a salary pay cut in order to return for one more year.

What a year it was, a fairy-tale ending to a glorious career that culminates with the gold jacket and the bust Saturday in Canton.

“It’s been nothing but a blessing,” The Bus said.

A welcome trade
Jerome Bettis picks up a first down to set up Norm Johnson's game-winning field goal against the Falcons on Oct. 27, 1996, in Atlanta.

Rams running backs Jerome Bettis and Leonard Russell talk before the Rams' game against the Saints on Sept. 20, 1995.

Jerome Bettis "wasn't ready" for what he experienced at his first Steelers minicamp in the spring of 1996.

"I got the ball and I went outside and Dermontti Dawson was in front of me! He had just hiked the ball and he was in front of me! I couldn't believe it. It blew me away because I had never seen a center pull, not just pull but be out in front of me on a sweep outside. I knew we were going to be a special team."

Dawson, the Steelers starting center from 1989 until injuries forced him to retire after the 2000 season, was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2012.

Jerome Bettis goes for a big hole with the Rams' Leslie O'Neal being held up by the Steelers' Jon Witman on Nov. 3, 1996.

Having the Steelers play in the Hall of Fame game the day after his induction is "really cool."

"That's an extra preseason game the team does not have to agree to. But because I'm going in they wanted to be there as well. That's an incredible gesture from the organization towards me."

The best trade in Steelers history was set in motion when St. Louis Rams coach Rich Brooks wanted Jerome Bettis to move to fullback for the 1996 season.

“They want me to play fullback because they’re going to bring in a running back and they, ultimately, drafted a running back,” Bettis said during a recent interview.

His name was Lawrence Phillips; the Rams drafted him sixth overall in 1996 from Nebraska. Before that, Bettis told Brooks he would not switch positions and demanded the Rams trade him.

“I told them no, I’m done. I went back to Notre Dame and re-enrolled into school, because my thought was if they don’t trade me, I’m retiring, I’m done. I’m going back to school, I’m not going back to St. Louis. I was not joking.”

Bettis and Brooks had been at loggerheads since the new coach joined the Rams in 1995. Bettis, playing running back had rushed for more than 1,000 yards in each of his first two NFL seasons but Brooks cut his back’s rushing attempts from 319 in 1994 to 183 in 1995. Bettis gained just 637 yards in 1995, the only time he dipped below 1,000 in his first nine seasons and the fewest of his first 12 seasons in the league.

The Rams gave Bettis and his agent, Lamont Smith, permission to seek a trade. They found two teams interested, the Houston Oilers who were about to move to Tennessee, and the Steelers.

Smith represented another big back, Heisman Trophy winner Eddie George of Ohio State. If Bettis went to the Steelers, he knew the Oilers would draft George with the 14th overall pick. It was a perfect scenario for all except, as it would turn out, the Rams.

“For me, the decision was a no-brainer,” Bettis said. “I wanted to come to Pittsburgh for two reasons – they love big running backs and they just came off a Super Bowl loss so they had a great football team. I’m thinking, ‘I’m the missing piece to this puzzle.’”

Tom Donahoe of the Steelers then swung the trade. He sent the Rams the team’s second-round pick in the 1996 draft and a fourth-rounder in 1997. The Rams traded their third-round pick in 1996 and Bettis to the Steelers.

As fate would have it, the Rams played in Three Rivers Stadium several months later on Nov. 3 and The Bus was revved up. He ran for 110 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries in the first half before coach Bill Cowher took him out in the third quarter, telling him enough was enough. He finished with 129 yards on 19 carries.

The Steelers beat Rich Brooks’ St. Louis Rams, 42-6.

“We annihilated them, just crushed them,” Bettis said with a bounce in his voice. “I got redemption for all that.”

Brooks was fired after the Rams were 7-9 in that 1996 season and is retired. Lawrence Phillips ran five times for six yards in the game against the Steelers. He ran for 1,453 yards total over parts of three seasons with three different teams and is today an inmate in a California state prison on convictions of felony assault with a deadly weapon and domestic assault.

Jerome Bettis, who rushed for 1,431 yards in his 1996 debut season with the Steelers and ranks sixth in NFL history with 13,662 yards, will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame Saturday in Canton, Ohio.

Missed opportunities
Jerome Bettis kisses the Vince Lombardi trophy after beating the Seahawks to win Super Bowl XL on Feb. 5, 2006.

In storybook fashion, the career of Jerome Bettis ended perfectly in his hometown of Detroit, where he raised the Lombardi Trophy after the Steelers won Super Bowl XL.

There could have been much more — two, three or even four Super Bowl rings for Bettis and many of his teammates of that era.

Bettis played in three AFC championship games in Pittsburgh before that successful 2005 season. The Steelers lost those three games to teams that went on to win the Super Bowl.

“You go back and look at those opportunities lost and look at how close we were to being the team of the decade,” Bettis said. “We could have been a really, really special group of guys and we let it get away from us.”

Jerome Bettis sits on the sidelines during the final minutes of the Steelers' Jan. 11, 1998, loss to the Denver Broncos.

Jerome Bettis shows his disgust walking the sideline after losing to the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship at Heinz Field on Jan. 23, 2005.

Blame the coaches for the first loss, the 1997 AFC championship game at Three Rivers Stadium. The Steelers, who had beaten Denver by 11 points a month earlier, led 14-10 late in the first half and were moving toward another possible score with a second-and-two at the Denver 35. There were under five minutes to play in the first half.

“Three weeks before, I ran up and down the field on them,” Bettis said. “Then we come right back and [we’re] running up and down the field on them in this game.”

The plan should have been to keep running, run down the clock, keep the ball away from John Elway, Bettis said. Instead, offensive coordinator Chan Gailey decided to put things in the hands of Kordell Stewart in his first season as their starting quarterback.

“We run a one-route pass, big play-action fake, one-receiver pass, fake to me, throw it in the end zone,” Bettis recalls of that pass attempt to Yancey Thigpen.

Denver cornerback Ray Crockett intercepted in the end zone.

With the help of a long pass interference penalty, Broncos quarterback John Elway followed by guiding the Broncos to a touchdown and a 17-14 lead. With 1:47 left in the half, Gailey had Stewart came out throwing again. They went three-and-out and turned it back to Elway with 43 seconds to go. It took him just 30 seconds to score another TD for a 24-14 Broncos halftime lead. Denver won the game, 27-24.

“They got 14 points in that four-minute time frame they should have never, never gotten,” Bettis said. “It ranks among the most disappointing feelings because [Broncos running back] Terrell Davis has my MVP trophy at home.”

Davis rushed for 157 yards and three touchdowns as the Broncos beat Green Bay 31-24 in Super Bowl XXXII.

“That haunts me to this day,’’ Bettis said, “because we were so much better of a football team and we let that one get away from us and that was probably one of our best teams ever.”

The New England Patriots of the Spygate era then beat the Steelers at Heinz Field in the AFC title games of the 2001 and 2004 seasons and went on to win Super Bowls both times.

“The Spygate thing, that was frustrating,” said Bettis, who believes the Patriots had the Steelers’ hand signals and were later disciplined severely by the league for illegally taping opposing coaches’ signals on the sidelines.

“Looking back, there were opportunities that were blown that was very hurtful,” Bettis said. “But you can’t cry over spilled milk, and we lost those opportunities. We should have played better and we didn’t and we can’t do anything but blame ourselves.”

Worth the wait
Jerome Bettis walks down the ramp to Heinz Field in 2005.
Matt Freed/Post-Gazette
Jerome Bettis laughs with running backs coach Dick Hoak on Jan. 26, 2006.

Among the special guests of Bettis expected in Canton this weekend is Dick Hoak, who coached the Steelers' running backs for 36 years until his retirement after the 2006 season.

"Hoakie was special. People don't realize how good he was in the running game. He was instrumental in a lot of the running game and developing the running game."

Jerome Bettis waves to his family after his third touchdown against the Lions at Heinz Field on Jan. 1, 2006.

There were two holy grails for Jerome Bettis on two different football levels. As a player, he longed to win a Super Bowl. As a retired player, he wanted his bust in Canton.

The wait to accomplish both was disappointing, excruciating and perhaps more rewarding because of it. The Steelers won the Super Bowl in his 13th and last NFL season. The Pro Football Hall of Fame elected him in his fifth year of eligibility.

“Winning in Detroit that year [his last], it made me appreciate the championship that much more,” Bettis said.

“I think the same thing with the Hall of Fame. The fact I had to wait it makes me appreciate the honor that much more, understanding the gravity of what I am going into, the group of men I will be standing next to. It makes me understand now how important that is.

“I don’t know if I would have understood that going in right after I finished playing because you just think that’s the right of passage, the next step,” said Bettis, who retired after the 2005 season.

“Now you understand, no, this is the ultimate step. This is not a step to be taken lightly. You have to understand what this means, what this moment means, for you, what it means for your career, what it means for your family. There are a lot of ramifications of what this means.

“Going in quickly, I may have missed some of that. But now I truly understand it and appreciate it. So in many ways I’m very thankful it’s given me an opportunity to look at it and gain that much more perspective on it.”

Steelers in the Hall of Fame


Life after football
Jerome Bettis walks off the field after the Dec. 18, 2005, game against the Vikings in Minnesota.

Not long after his election, a package arrived at the Bettis home in Atlanta, an acoustic guitar via Steelers fan and IUP alum John Esposito, the CEO of Warner Music Nashville. The autographed inscription: "To: Jerome 'The Bus' Bettis. Congrats on your Hall of Fame induction!!! Blake Shelton."

Jerome Bettis, right, shares a laugh after getting the key to the city of Detroit from Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick on Jan. 31, 2006.

Jerome Bettis holds his daughter after beating the Seahawks at Ford Field in Detroit to win Super Bowl XL on Feb. 5, 2006.

The doors swing open for newly minted Pro Football Hall of Famers. It comes with the territory, but Jerome Bettis has not been idle since his retirement from the field.

Life after the games ended has been just as full for Bettis as his days with the Steelers, except now he takes weekends off.

“I made a deal with my wife, I don’t golf, I don’t do any other activities outside of family time. That’s when me, my kids and my wife get an opportunity to do something on the weekends. I reserve all the weekends for family time.”

He works for ESPN as a commentator on the NFL. During the season, he flies to Pittsburgh to tape a weekly show for WPXI-TV. He’s involved in Papa John’s restaurants in the Pittsburgh area. Bettis partnered in a company that is developing 40 acres along the Detroit River in his hometown, a mix of commercial and residential properties. He owns a staffing company that provides temporary employees to light industrial companies.

Bettis remains heavily involved in the charity work that helped make him the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year in 2001, primarily through his The Bus Stops Here Foundation. He joined the advisory council of President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper Alliance in May.

He also pops up on various television commercials, including his long-standing work for S&T Bank.

“I’m not super busy because my priority when I retired was to raise my children and be there for my children. I have turned down opportunities” because of that priority.

Daughter Jada is 10 and Jerome Jr. is 8.

Bettis, 43, is among the fortunate in that he left the game of football in good health. His knees and other joints are fine. He feels sharp mentally.

“My health is really good. It’s crazy because I took a lot of pounding and I did a lot of pounding. I’ve had those nicks and bruises but nothing significant. I’ve been very fortunate for that. I wasn’t that hard to find — put it that way-- on a football field. For me to come out 13 years of [pro] football and not have a significant injury, I’m very blessed.”

Jerome Bettis pauses at his locker after running for three touchdowns against the Lions at Heinz Field on Jan. 1, 2006.

Ron Cook

He did not join the concussion lawsuits against the NFL as many former players have.

“The way I looked at it was I played the game, I understood the risks and there may be an opportunity if, God forbid, down the road that we could look at the fund they set up players going through those issues.

“But I didn’t feel I needed to be front and center because this was something I signed up for. The one problem that I did have was the fact the NFL had the information [about head injuries] and did not share the information.

“If I had to do it all over again, knowing the risks, I would still play.”


Text: Ed Bouchette

Ed Bouchette has covered the Steelers for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette since 1985. In 2014, he received the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Dick McCann Award, given annually to the reporter who has made a long and distinguished contribution to pro football.

Photo: Peter Diana

Peter Diana is a staff photographer at the Post-Gazette. He followed Bettis throughout his career with the Steelers, including his final season, ending with a victory at Super Bowl XL in Jerome's hometown of Detroit. He and Jerome collaborated on the hardcover book "Driving Home: My Unforgettable Super Bowl Run."

Other credits

Design: Kelly Mills
Development: Zack Tanner
Editing: Carl Remensky, Donna Eyring
Multimedia: Melissa Tkach

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