A Tribute To The Bus As He Ponders #13 - By Mike Marino

Steelers Fever Exclusive Editorial

The NFL's fifth ranked career rusher took a substantial pay cut just to play another year in Pittsburgh decreasing his salary by three million. However, Jerome Bettis is expected to announce by June 1st whether or not he will honor that contract and play his 13th season in the NFL. As he ponders retirement, we take a look back at the Bus' greatest years. Going all the way back to his years with the Los Angeles Rams, we pay tribute to one of the greatest running backs to ever come through Pittsburgh.

In high school, Bettis played linebacker and running back for McKenzie High School. Bettis was rated the top player in the state by the Detroit Free Press and he was named Gatorade Circle of Champions Michigan Player of the Year as a senior at McKenzie High School. After high school, he was accepted at the University of Notre Dame in 1990.

Bettis finished his college career at Notre Dame with 337 carries for 1,912 yards for 27 touchdowns. He had 32 receptions for 429 yards, averaging 13.4 yards per reception and 5.7 yards per rush. In his final game of his college career, he ran for 75 yards on 20 carries and two touchdowns versus Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl. Bettis was picked 10th in the first round of the 1993 draft by the Los Angeles Rams.

Jerome BettisBettis had one of the most successful and astounding rookie seasons ever seen in the NFL to this day. He became one of only eight rookies in the NFL ever to rush for 200 yards in a single game, and he became the first Ram's rookie to rush for over 1,000 yards since the great Eric Dickerson.

In his rookie season ('93), Bettis ran for 1,429 yards on 294 attempts, with 7 touchdowns while starting in only twelve games. He averaged an astounding 4.9 yards per carry in his rookie year. His 1,429 yards ranks seventh best among all rookie rushing totals in league history and it was the fourth-highest single-season rushing total in Rams history. As a rookie, Bettis finished only 57 yards behind Emmitt Smith for the rushing title, and he was third in the league in total yards from scrimmage, behind Smith and Buffalo's Thurman Thomas. Bettis recorded seven 100-yard games, which tied Thomas and Smith for the league high.

Bettis was named rookie of the year by the AP, Pro Football Weekly, The Sporting News, and the Pro Football Writers Association. He shared his NFL Rookie of the Year award with former Notre Dame teammate and Seahawks quarterback Rick Mirer. Bettis made the Pro Bowl as a rookie, the first in Rams history since P Dale Hatcher in 1985.

Bettis' immediate success in the NFL was astonishing, and he truly had one of the best rookie seasons in the history of the NFL. Bettis exploded onto the scene in the NFL and proved he was one of the league's best running backs instantaneously.

In 1994, Bettis was named to his second consecutive Pro Bowl as he registered his second consecutive 1,000-yard rushing season by collecting 1,025 yards on 319 carries. In Rams history, only Bettis and Dickerson were ever named to the Pro Bowl in their first two NFL seasons. Bettis had 31 receptions for a career-best 293 yards, which added to 1,318 total yards, ranking fifth in the NFC in total yardage. Bettis was one of four offensive players in 1994 to start all sixteen games for the Rams.

In 1995, the Rams moved to St. Louis, and the change of scenery was bad karma for him. He missed the first game of his career in week eight with an ankle injury, that broke his streak of 40 consecutive games played. Still, Bettis started thirteen games, gathering 637 yards with three touchdowns on 183 carries.

After three successful seasons with the Rams, what was seen as the "trade of the decade", Jerome Bettis was headed east to Pittsburgh in exchange for two second round draft picks. Jerome Bettis was now a Pittsburgh Steeler.

In his first season with the Steelers, 1996, Bettis ran for 1,431 yards with 11 touchdowns on 320 carries while starting twelve games. Bettis had only nine carries in the final two games of the season, yet his season totals of yardage, touchdowns, and carries were all ranked second highest single-season marks in Steeler history, and third-best in the NFL that year.

Bettis was named Steeelers MVP, NFL Alumni Running Back of the Year, All-Pro by College & Pro Football Weekly and USA Today, AFC All-Conference by Football Digest, Football News, and United Press International, and All-Madden Team.

Bettis showed exactly why he was one of the league's premier running backs that year. Against his former team, Bettis ran for over 220 yards in a 42-6 Steeler win. Bettis lead the team to the AFC Divisional Playoffs, where they lost to the New England Patriots 28-3.

In 1997, Bettis was named Steelers MVP for the second consecutive year and he became the third running back in team history to earn the MVP award two years in a row since Terry Bradshaw. Bettis was named to his fourth Pro Bowl, his second as a Steeler, as he finished the season with an incredible 1,665 yards on 375 carries with seven touchdowns. Bettis was just 26 yards shy of the team record for most yards in a single season, set by Barry Foster in 1992.

Bettis' 1,665 yards ranked third in the NFL, and he eclipsed the 1,000 yard mark just nine games into the season. Bettis did miss one game in the '97 season. Bettis' 375 rushing attempts were the second most in one season in team history. Bettis lead the Steelers to an 11-5 regular season record as they went on to defeat the New England Patriots in the Divisional Playoffs. They lost the next round in the AFC Conference Championship 24-21 to the Denver Broncos.

In 1997, Bettis was busy off the field as well. He started J.B.E., a full service sports marketing firm which introduced his own line of apparel, managed his endorsements and produced his award-winning website, www.thebus36.com. Bettis was an advertisers dream with successful marketing campaigns such as Nike, Ford, and EA Sports. He had his own videogame, named Cyber Bus. He was also involved with pharmaceutical giant Glaxo Wellcome and him and Jackie Joyner-Kersee were involved with one of the most successful campaigns to fight asthma.

But his marketing campaigns didn't affect his on-field play, as in 1998, Bettis ran for his third consecutive 1,000-yard season totaling 1,185 yards on 316 carries with three touchdowns. The Steelers did however struggle in '98, finishing with a record of 7-9 while losing their last five games.

The Steelers record fell once again in 1999, but Bettis improved his stats from the previous year. He ran for 1,091 yards on 299 carries for seven touchdowns. Bettis recorded his sixth 1,000-yard season, his fourth as a Steeler. Bettis had a major injury and missed the entire pre-season after being placed on the active non-football injury list prior to training camp. Bettis went through arthroscopic surgery on August 3rd on his left knee and was moved back to the active roster before the season-opener against the Browns. The Steelers record dropped to 6-9, and it was their second straight year without making the playoffs.

The new millennium brought along an increase in Bettis' stats along with an increase in Steelers' wins. Bettis ran for 1,341 yards on 355 carries with eight touchdowns in his seventh 1,000-yard season. Bettis was named team MVP in 2000 after recording the fouth-best rushing mark in Steelers history. Bettis missed most of the preseason that year with a bruised knee and the critics began to get on him early in the year. They said he was too old, too injured, and his stats were declining. Bettis answered those critics with his best season in two years as the Steelers record improved to 9-7. Their record improved, but for the third straight season, they didn't make a playoff appearance.

In 2001, Bettis reached a career milestone, as he became only the 14th running back in NFL history to reach 10,000 career rushing yards. Bettis ran for 1,072 yards on 225 carries with four touchdowns. Bettis would have had a huge breakout year if he suffer a leg injury and miss the final five games of the season. The Steelers made a return to the playoffs with fury, with a 13-3 record, as they defeated the Baltimore Ravens 27-10 in the Divisional Playoffs. The Patriots defeated the Steelers 24-17 in the AFC Conference Championship.

Bettis was named to the Pro Bowl and his strong community service was admired around the NFL. He was named the NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year for his community service.

In 2002, Bettis suffered the least productive campaign of his career as he suffered leg injuries throughout the season. Bettis ran for 666 yards on 187 carries with nine touchdowns. The Steelers returned to the playoffs for the second straight year with an 8-5-1 regular season record. They defeated the Cleveland Browns in the Wild Card Playoffs but went on to lose to the Tennessee Titans in overtime 34-31 in the Divisional Playoff Game.

In 2003, Bettis surpassed the 12,000 rushing yard mark, becoming only the 10th running back in NFL history to accomplish such a feat. Bettis moved into sixth place on the NFL all-time rushing list passing Jim Brown as Bettis finished the year with 811 yards on 246 carries with seven touchdowns. Bettis moved into second on the Steelers all-time rushing yardage list with 9,262 yards, and he was only the fifth back in NFL history to have 3,000 attempts. Bettis assumed a different role on the team at the beginning of the season, back up to Amos Zereoue, but by week seven, he was back to his familiar starting spot. The Steelers missed the playoffs in 2003 finishing with a 6-10 record.

In 2004, Bettis ran for 941 yards on 250 carries with thirteen touchdowns. Bettis finished with a career high in touchdowns along with his most rushing attempts since 2000. The Steelers had a miraculous run in 2004; going 15-1, behind the play of rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The Steelers advanced to the Conference Championship, but lost to the New England Patriots 41-27.

As to this point in his career, Bettis has played in 180 games totaling 13,294 yards on 3,369 carries. Bettis has rushed for 82 touchdowns, averaging 3.9 yards per attempt. Jerome Bettis has had a magnificent career, not only according to the statistics, but also in leading his team to victory. Bettis was named team MVP multiple times assuming the role of team leader.

Bettis is one of the greatest running backs the NFL has ever seen, a future Hall of Famer for sure. It has been an honor to watch Jerome Bettis lead the Steelers to victory over the last twelve years, and Jerome, do it for the gipper, and come back and play one more.