Get The Bus Out Of The Booth - By Christopher Stout

Steelers Fever Exclusive Editorial

Jerome Bettis needs to retire again. This guy has no business being in the broadcasting booth. It's time for the Bus to end this commentator charade and admit that he needs to find other post-football pursuits (like bowling or restaurant-owning).

Now, don't get me wrong, I love Jerome Bettis. I cheered for the Bus in Los Angeles and in Pittsburgh. Every time I was critical of Bettis and his waning football abilities, Jerome would drop a monster performance that would remind everyone just how awesome he really was. When the Bus posted 101 yards, two TDs and one very memorable Brian Urlacher stomping in last December's 21-9 victory over the Bears, I was genuinely surprised and impressed. Jerome Bettis deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as the game's all-time great running backs. After finally earning that elusive Super Bowl ring, his football greatness can no longer be disputed. Bettis is a first ballot Hall of Famer.

That doesn't mean he has any business being in a broadcasting booth. After he retired, Bettis joined NBC Sports as a studio analyst for Football Night in America. Cool, I thought, good for him. The NFL's fifth all-time leading rusher played 13 seasons and went to the Pro Bowl six times. Certainly, this guy was going to be able to offer up some interesting bits of insider insight.

Boy was I wrong. Watching Bettis frantically flip through his cue cards every time Football Night in America returns from commercial is just the beginning. This guy has no on air personality skills whatsoever. NBC gives him like one line every 20 minutes or so, and every segment, he frantically tries to memorize this line before the camera turns to him.

This week was particularly bad. After futzing around with his cue cards, Bettis began looking more and more nervous. His one line of the segment must be coming up, I thought. Sure enough, as the pressure mounted, all eyes fell on Jerome. He looked down at his cards and mumbled something about team work. After this speaking moment passed, Bettis again relaxed. He wouldn't have to read any more lines for another ten minutes or so.

This got me thinking. Does a first ballot Hall of Famer really need to read off a scripted line about teamwork? Can't he just reflect on his experiences and comment directly on the subject without the help of a staff writer? Can't Bettis just freestyle a little bit and speak from the heart?

As the show rolled on, I realized that you have to be careful what you wish for. I wanted to see the Bus open up and express his true feelings, and when the subject turned to the lowly Pittsburgh Steelers, Jerome suddenly stopped looking at his cue cards. He began to open up. Then, to my surprise, Jerome threw his old team under the proverbial bus.

Look, Jerome's an analyst now, so he can say whatever he wants about any football-related topic. This isn't the first time that a former player-turned-commentator was critical of his old team. If you've ever heard Troy Aikman talk smack about the Dallas Cowboys, then you know he does it like a professional. Troy issues analysis based on his observations. He's able to voice his criticisms without sounding too shrill or nagging.

Not Jerome. He wanted to show the world that he's a neutral, objective commentator. By ripping his old team a new one, I'm sure he thought it would make him look like a real analyst. He proceeded to make faces about Big Ben's inability to do anything positive. The Bus looked physically disgusted when discussing the Steelers. His voice was full of vitriol. Sure Pittsburgh's season is done, but Jerome stuck a fork in them with way too much contempt. Sterling Sharpe couldn't even believe what he was hearing.

"It is officially over," Bettis said with a frown. "Week after week I said, 'They're a better football team than they look, they'll come around.' They're not coming around and they're not a better football team. When you turn the ball over game after game after game, that means you're a bad football team. The Pittsburgh Steelers are a bad football team right now."

Look, I know the Steelers are having a horrific season. Any team that leads the league in turnovers (24) a year after winning the Super Bowl deserves to get skewered by their former star running back. No one can fault Bettis for ripping on his old squad, but the Bus looked way too bitter, and his stinging words didn't come off sounding like analysis. It's not what he said, but how he said it. His scorn seemed overly spiteful, and I think it was just a heavy handed attempt to project analytical objectivity.

Bettis should stick to the cue cards, or better yet, just get out of the booth entirely.