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Thursday, January 16, 2014

Bettis belongs in the Hall of Fame

When you mention Jerome Bettis here in Western Pennsylvania, images of No. 36 ploughing his way through defenders and then getting up off the ground to do his little sideways “Bus” dance while shaking his head come to mind.

Why not? For 10 seasons Bettis was the 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 running backs are three of the best to ever play the game.
So was Bettis.

But some of the members of the panel of journalists who vote for the hall apparently don’t think so. In fact, just this week, when asked who he thought would make it this year, voter Peter King, who works for Sports Illustrated and NBC, didn’t mention Bettis even among those who he thought were borderline.


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, they shouldn’t even have a Hall of Fame.

Some of the anti-Bettis crowd – for lack of a better term – point to his career yards per rush average of 3.9. 

But they fail to recognize that he spent his final two seasons almost strictly as a short-yardage back and fourth quarter closer, albeit one on some very good teams.

That also fails to recognize that John Riggins, a running back who doesn’t have anywhere close to Bettis’ overall career numbers, is already 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; 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.

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 just six starts while sharing time with Willie Parker.

And Bettis did his damage playing at 240-plus pounds throughout his career.

In fact, Bettis’ 13,662 yards are twice as many as any other 240-plus-pound running back has gained.
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, only lasted six seasons in the NFL and had just two 1,000-yard seasons.

The bottom line is this: there are currently 29 running backs from the modern era in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Only five of those players gained more yards rushing than Bettis.


Anonymous said...

Rather than post a long boring rebuttal, I think I'll just post Jerome's average per carry for each one of his seasons ...

1993: 4.9
1994: 3.2
1995: 3.5
1996: 4.5
1997: 4.4
1998: 3.8
1999: 3.6
2000: 3.8
2001: 4.8
2002: 3.6
2003: 3.3
2004: 3.8
2005: 3.3

If all you can do is run the ball, you need to run it better than that. And no you don't get brownie points for being fat ... nor should you get added consideration for hanging around past your due date.

Jerome Bettis lost his starting job twice to Amos Zereoue and Willie Parker.

Do I really need to go on?

Anonymous said...

Bettis is a lock this year

overall this year is a pretty weak class

marc said...

I guess it all comes down to how you define hall of fame worthiness. if it's yards per carry, then no, bettis would not get in. however, other than jim brown, no "big back" playing over 230lbs will ever get in because he can't outrun the faster LB's and DB's.

but it's not yards per carry that "big backs" bring to the game. it's pounding the ball, getting first downs, time of possession, closing out games, etc.

the fact that bettis averaged 3.9 yards per carry for his entire career at his size, with 3,479 attempts (4th all time), playing in 192 games over the course of 13 years to cumulate - when he retired - the 5th most rushing yards in history is simply amazing. actually, for a player at his position for his size, it has never been done before. imo, a player like that belongs in the hall of fame.

and, for the record, the great Curtis martin averaged 4.0 yards per carry for his career.

Anonymous said...

Bettis' biggest contribution was that his negative plays were so rare, and he excelled when negative plays are expected.

Sure, his 7 yard runs were rare, but so were runs of -1 to 2 yards, even late in games when the other team had 8 guys in the box.

What's the old stat they used put up? Cowher was like 150 and 3 life time when going into halftime up by a touchdown or more? Yeah, that's Bettis. No one closed the coffin on a lead like he did.

Mark said...

I do wonder how Bettis' ypc changed when the Steelers would turtle with a lead late in the game. As previous people have noted, running even with 8 or 9 in the box helps seal the win, but would hurt Bettis' stats.

Greg Mercer said...

the stat i remember was something like 115 - 1 when leading by 11 points or more.

Dale Lolley said...

Look at the quarterbacks he had to work with. Think he faced a lot of stacked boxes?

As for losing his job to Zereoue and Parker, Zereoue was given his job. Bettis won it back.

By the time he lost his job to Parker, he was 32.

Anonymous said...

Avg per carry is a joke! 1 50 yard run turns a crap day on the ground into a brilliant performance. The bus earned those 3.9 yds because you know he wasn't breaking any big ones. He was getting 3.9 damn near every time he touched the ball. 3.9 x 3 is a first down while a bunch of stuffed at the line followed by a 50 yarder is a lot of 3 and outs followed by a score. I loved "Fast Willie" but we got a taste of that with him.

I recall a game when the camera panned to "the chin" and you could read his lips "give it to jerome" on the goal line. Who does that? Am I the only one who recalls this?

With Jerome in the backfield when the steelers got a lead they were damn near unbeatable. I recall them flashing those stats during the game and I was always surprised. Is this kind of domination not worthy of the Hall?

Sorry I realize most of this is anectdotal but I am no math whiz and wouldn't even know where to begin to calculate an average by removing some agreed upon standard deviation. All I know is when the steelers had the lead and the bus was in the backfield I wasn't nervous about the outcome of the game.

Dale Lolley said...

The bottom line is that at the end of games, nobody wanted to tackle the fat kid any more. He was one of a kind.

He was also one of the toughest players I've ever been around.

I can remember talking to Richard Huntley about Bettis playing with broken ribs. Huntley couldn't believe it.

And when you talked to Bettis after a game or just late in a season, you couldn't help but look at him and wonder how he functioned after the hits he took. His back would look like someone had taken a cane to it. He would struggle to stand up from his seat. But then he'd go out and do it again the next week.

Truly one of the more amazing athletes I've had the opportunity to cover.

adamg said...

If for no other reason than the TD he scored while leaving bus-sized tire tracks up and down Urlacher...

kyle said...

He had the best feet of any big back ever. I've said too many times that Steelers fans do him a disservice when they say "we need a big back like Bettis." Jerome Bettises do not grow on trees. Running backs with that size and power are not supposed to have light feet.

"added consideration for hanging around past your due date" You do get added consideration for that when you're a GD running back. The last I heard the average career for a running back is like a year and change.

Dale Lolley said...

I also don't know about hanging around past your due date. He had 950 yards rushing in 2004, at age 31, while splitting time with Willie Parker.

Anonymous said...

"I also don't know about hanging around past your due date. He had 950 yards rushing in 2004, at age 31, while splitting time with Willie Parker."

That was the only time he got anywhere near 1000 yards or topped 3.6 yards per carry in his last 4 seasons.

Anonymous said...

Dale Lolley said...

I also don't know about hanging around past your due date. He had 950 yards rushing in 2004, at age 31, while splitting time with Willie Parker.

Not to nitpick but that was Duce Staley. Willie's coming out was 2005.

...And Bettis most definitely is deserving of the HoF.


Dale Lolley said...

Right you are. Willie had the 100-yard game in the regular season finale that year at Buffalo.

adamg said...

kyle, that's a great point about Bettis' feet. I recall watching Chris Fu run and thinking that's what Bettis would be without the quick feet.

For as much as Bettis could bowl defenders over, just as often I'd see him pick his way through the line and pop out the other side.