(To hear the audio version of this interview, use the player at the end of this article.)
Not more than a half mile from the spectacular new digs of the Dallas Cowboys, Jerome Bettis—a Pittsburgh Steelers legend and Pro Football Hall of Fame finalist— is greeted like a rock star by a hundred or so privileged fans, VIPs and media.
Most of the crowd was already into the second or third of their three complementary pints when the bus carrying “the Bus” rolled in. As soon as Bettis entered the Buffalo Wild Wings to make his appearance for Guinness and their “Perfect Pour” campaign, the electric crowd began the lusty chant, “Hall of fame! Hall of fame!”
Jerome Bettis is one of 15 finalists for the 2011 class of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Bettis played 13 years in the NFL, 10 with the Steelers. He rushed for 13,662 yards, good enough to place Bettis at fifth on the list of the NFL’s all-time leading rushers. Eight times in his career, he exceeded 1,000 yards rushing in a season.
After he lost the Guinness “perfect pour” competition against contest winner Dan Horan of Buffalo, New York, Bettis shared his thoughts on his chances of making the Hall of Fame class of 2011, why he believes the Steelers will roll over the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XLV, and what makes the Steelers organization the most successful NFL team of the Super Bowl era.
Here is what Jerome bettis had to say about…
Losing to some dude from Buffalo.
SBB: “Hey Jerome, do you think this contest was rigged or what?
Bettis: “Yeah, I think it was rigged. That’s why he picked that keg over there to pour from. He knew something that I didn’t know.”
SBB: “Nobody in Buffalo can win a championship. We know that, right?”
Bettis: “We definitely know that.”
SBB: “We’re in Dallas. We know Buffalo can’t win a championship here, right?”
Bettis: “Exactly! That’s why I’m upset.”
The broad smile and good-natured laughter said Bettis was anything but upset, but those Steelers never did like to lose.
On being selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, class of 2011.
SBB: “You are up for the Hall of Fame this year. You’re one of 15 finalists. There are three running backs: you, Curtis Martin and Marshall Faulk. How do you like your chances?”
Bettis: “I like my chances as good as the next guy. I know it’s going to be tough, because I don’t think there is any way you’re going to get three running backs in by any stretch of the imagination. Somebody’s going to be left out and I have come to the realization that it could be me.
“At the end of the day I know that my body of work is such that it’s going to be appreciated. Maybe not now and maybe not next year, but some time.”
SBB: “We’re talking 13,662 yards rushing in your career, eight years of 1,000 yards or more. If there is one running back that ought to be a lock this year, it has to be you, right?”
Bettis: “There’s no locks in this business. But you know, I do understand that, if I don’t get in, it isn’t because I wasn’t worthy. It’s because there were five to seven other guys that were worthy.”
Jerome Bettis ranks number five on the all-time leading rushers’ list. Of the four ahead of him, three are in the Hall of Fame: Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton and Barry Sanders. Curtis Martin is number four on the list, and is on the ballot along with Bettis this year.
On finishing his career as a Super Bowl champion.
SBB: “Your final year, it kind of became a deal of ‘Let’s win one for Jerome.’” What did it mean to you to have your teammates put it all on the line like that for you?”
Bettis: “It meant a lot. We had gone through so much that year. For us to endure such a difficult year, but still to go out and play some road games in the playoffs and win them. To get a chance to play for a championship, and to think that they would do it for me, is an honor you could never put into words. To think that your teammates will do everything they can to make sure you become a champion.”
SBB: “That has to say something about you as a player. Obviously a selfless player gets that kind of thing back to him.”
Bettis: “I like to think I was. I did I could to help my teammates and to help us become a better football team. I like to think I did my part.”
On the Pittsburgh Steelers—Dallas Cowboys rivalry.
SBB: “You guys are playing in your eighth Super Bowl. You have already won six, which is more than anyone else. Now you are tied with the Cowboys for most appearances, and doing right here in Jerry Jones’ stadium. Is the rivalry between the Steelers and Cowboys still alive?
Bettis: “I don’t think it is. We haven’t played each other in a meaningful game like that in decades. I don’t think it’s that significant anymore.”
Actually, it only feels like decades, especially to Cowboys’ fans. In 1996, the Dallas Cowboys beat the Steelers in Super Bowl XXX. In the ’70s, the Cowboys and Steelers met twice in the Super Bowl—Super Bowls X and XIII—with the Steelers eking out victory in both contests.
Sadly, it takes two to do the rivalry tango. Thus, Bettis can say it is dead and Jerry Jones can smile and say he isn’t mad that the Steelers are playing for their seventh Lombardi trophy in his stadium.
On why the Steelers will beat in the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XLV.
SBB: “What do the Steelers bring to the table that will assure their win over the Packers? What do they have that the Packers don’t?”
Bettis: “I think it’s the experience that they have. Having been in big games like this and having won those games, that’s an advantage that you can’t sweep under the rug. It’s significant. I think it will be a tough game, but they win it in the end. When the going starts getting bad, the poise on the Steelers team will win it in the end.
Do you think there is a former Steeler anywhere in the world that is picking the Packers to win? Or, vice versa?
On who really belongs in Super Bowl XLV.
SBB: “Do you think this is as good a matchup as the NFL could have put together for the Super Bowl?”
Bettis: “Absolutely! You’ve got the two best teams in the NFL and you can’t argue about it. It’s undeniable: You have the two best teams in the NFL and that’s all you want.”
How about? Any arguments?
On how the Steelers manage to stay on top decade after decade.
SBB: “I am a Dallas writer. The Cowboys have had their success in the past, but it has been a long draught. The Steelers have been to eight Super Bowls in three different decades. In your estimation, what is it that keeps the Steelers that close to the top and keeps them competing for championships decade after decade?
Bettis: “It’s the ownership’s pilosophy of how this team is going to play football. The way they designed this team is with great defense, a great running game and and timely play from the quarterback position.
“That’s the recipe. It doesn’t change from coach to coach. It’s the coach that has to blend his ideas into the system. Because of that, they are able to draft the same type of players and insert them without having to start over because the coach wants a whole different system. The system is in place from ownership. The coach’s job is to mandate that system and make it work.”
There can be little doubt that the Rooney family is the driving force behind the longterm success of their team. They have committed themselves to a program that works and do not deviate from it.
The Rooneys do their diligence when hiring a head coach. Consequently, the Steelers have had but three head coaches in 42 years. They are about to compete for their seventh Lombardi trophy.
Meanwhile, Jerry Jones has plowed through six head coaches in 22 years and is now on his seventh. Each coach has come with a different blueprint for success. Each one since the first one, Jimmy Johnson, has been, more often than not, unsuccessful.
It may be hard to accept that the Steelers are playing for another world championship in the home of the Dallas Cowboys. It may be hard to accept that the Cowboys’ old nemesis doesn’t even consider them a factor anymore. It may be hard to accept that the Cowboys are having to re-group and rebuild once again while the Steelers just reload.
It may be hard to accept. But it isn’t hard to understand.