Bettis Behind The Booth – By Matt Savrock
Steelers Fever Exclusive Editorial
|As the Steelers made their magical championship run last fall, two things were obvious.
First, 2005 was the last tour for Jerome Bettis. Football players age in dog years, and that’s especially true for power backs. The Bus was no longer the go-to guy. In fact, he considered retiring after the 2004 season but returned in 2005 for the chance to win a championship in his hometown. So when he stood on the podium at Ford Field in Detroit and announced that it was his last stop, the moment was sad but not surprising.
Second, an exciting opportunity was waiting for him as soon as he hung up his cleats. The Bus was headed for the broadcast booth. It wasn’t a question of if, but where.
Television coverage of the NFL is expanding rapidly, showing more nationally televised games, larger teams of broadcasters, and more highlight shows. There is even an NFL Network, now. As the number of job opportunities grows, most of the positions are going to former players and coaches.
Bettis, who landed a position on a newly created Sunday night show on NBC, is everything a network would want. Try to think of another player who would be a perfect fit for a job as a commentator…hard to do, isn’t it?
Part of Bettis’ appeal is his star power, and it’s a formula that works. Simply look at the list of players on the halftime shows. Bradshaw, Marino, Sharpe, Simms, Irvin…most sportscasters were marquee talents during their playing days. Bettis, the fifth-leading rusher of all time and a fan favorite, fits the bill. But it takes more than an impressive career on the field to make a good broadcaster. See Dierdorf, Dan, or Gifford, Frank.
The Bus is a lot more fun to watch. He brings a jovial personality to the table, one the NFL has already used in game promos (“Will somebody PLEASE stop Curtis Martin?”) and video game advertising (“The wheels on the Bus go round and round…and you’re the guy under the Bus”). We can expect the same when he arrives at NBC. He’ll be both entertaining and informative.
He’ll be a rarity in sportscasting because fans will be willing to tune in for him, unlike many sportscasters who are simply a sideshow. Among the current talking heads, only the team of Chris Berman and Tom Jackson can claim the same distinction (imagine NFL Prime Time without them). The rest of the field is largely replaceable or interchangeable. Phil Simms and Boomer Esiason? What’s the difference, really? Shannon Sharpe and Michael Irvin? Sharpe’s a little less annoying and doesn’t have a rap sheet. The Bus, on the other hand, is unique. There isn’t another sportscaster like him. Comparing him to his new peers – a smarter Terry Bradshaw, or a humbler Deion Sanders, maybe – is a stretch.
Best of all, Bettis has already proven himself in front of a camera and microphone. He has experience as a television host on the Jerome Bettis Show (locally aired in Pittsburgh), so there won’t be a learning curve for him when it comes to being a TV personality.
Life after football would be good to Bettis even without his NBC gig, thanks to his asthma awareness campaign and his exceptional bowling ability. Remaining in the world of football as an analyst is a nice bonus for the Bus, but even more so for the fans, because we’ll still have a connection to him every Sunday.
Thanks for the memories Bus…and best of luck.