Bettis won't make Hall of Fame this year

INDIANAPOLIS -- The next stop for "The Bus" won't be the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton.

Don't misinterpret this -- running back Jerome Bettis will eventually be enshrined beside the likes of other former Steelers greats such as Jack Lambert, Terry Bradshaw and Franco Harris. It just won't happen Saturday, when the Hall of Fame's 44-person selection committee meets to determine the Class of 2012.

Bettis' biggest roadblock to getting the nod is running back Curtis Martin, even though "The Bus" would actually plow right through Martin if he were standing in the way.

Last year, in Bettis' first year of eligibility, he was passed over for Marshall Faulk. That was the expected outcome because, despite not having as many rushing yards as Bettis or Martin, Faulk redefined the position as an all-purpose weapon.

This year, Bettis will get denied again, but this will be based on the numbers. Martin has the edge over Bettis in nearly every category and played two fewer seasons as well as 24 fewer games.

"The way I looked at it now, I've learned to manage my expectations," Bettis told the NFL Network. "When you look at that list, there's not a name on it that doesn't deserve to be in. You can make an argument for anyone on that list. If it's this year, that's great. If it's not this year, that's great, too. That means some great football players are going into the Hall of Fame. You can't really complain about it."

Bettis is one of 15 modern-day finalists this year (of which a maximum of five are selected), but his true competition is just Martin.

Two players from the same offensive position rarely get in the same year these days. It hasn't happened since 2006, when quarterbacks Troy Aikman and Warren Moon were both inducted. This is the reason why there has been a logjam at wide receiver.

"If a running back gets in this year, it's going to be Curtis Martin," one Hall of Fame voter said this week. "And two running backs aren't going in."

So, if the decision comes down to Bettis or Martin, the choice is Martin.

Bettis has fewer 1,000-yard seasons in his career. He has fewer yards per carry. He has fewer receptions. He has fewer total touchdowns.

There are a couple of places where Bettis has the upper hand on Martin, who played his first three seasons for the New England Patriots and his last eight with the New York Jets. Bettis has more 100-yard rushing games, and he has a Super Bowl championship.

Still, running backs are judged more on rushing yards than rings. Bettis ranks sixth all time in the NFL with 13,662 yards rushing. Martin is fourth with 14,101, 439 more yards than Bettis.

Three voters brought up one other statistic that pushes Martin over the top of Bettis.

"It's hard for me to vote Bettis instead of Martin when Bettis didn't average four yards per carry for his career," one voter said.

On the surface, rushing average might not seem big in this debate. Bettis averaged 3.9 yards per carry while Martin averaged 4.0. The difference is that Bettis cracked 4 yards per carry in four of his 13 seasons. Martin did it in seven of his 11 seasons.

One argument for Bettis goes beyond the statistics. The burly 5-foot-11, 255-pound running back defined ball-control offense for his time. Others counter by saying Bettis' numbers are inflated by Pittsburgh's run-heavy philosophy.

But Martin epitomized toughness for a running back, too. He carried the ball over 360 times in four seasons and recorded the lowest fumble rate (.820, 29 fumbles on 3,518 carries) among running backs with 1,500 attempts.

Bettis' broad smile and down-home personality has made him a big fan favorite in Pittsburgh. In a SportsNation poll this week, 49 percent of the 5,500-plus voters say Bettis is the Steeler who is the most deserving to get into the Hall of Fame this year. But it's the media voters who ultimately count, and they're not as convinced as Steeler Nation.

"Bettis is a borderline pick like [John] Riggins," one voter said of the running back who played for the Washington Redskins and New York Jets. A member of the Hall of Fame's Class of 1992, Riggins also averaged 3.9 yards per carry for his career.

The Steelers won't get shut out in this year's Hall of Fame voting. Longtime center Dermontti Dawson and cornerback Jack Butler (a senior nominee) are favorites to get voted in Saturday.

Dawson succeeded Hall of Fame center Mike Webster in 1988, and some believe outperformed him over the next decade. Dawson was tough, playing in 170 consecutive games, the second-longest in Steelers history. What separated Dawson from other centers was his ability to snap the ball and lead a sweep on the outside. While some of the best centers can get to the second level of defenses and block linebackers, Dawson often reached the safeties.

The other offensive linemen among this finalist group are tackle Willie Roaf and guard Will Shields. There are only eight centers currently in the Hall of Fame, but Dawson isn't like most centers.

"The guy was a tremendous athlete, the strongest and probably most athletic offensive lineman I've ever seen," former Steelers cornerback Rod Woodson told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette two years ago.

While this looks to be Dawson's year, 2013 should be the year for Bettis. If Martin gets inducted, that would mean the top four all-time leading rushers would be in the Hall of Fame. The next logical candidate is Bettis.

Next year would be Bettis' third as a finalist, which is not a long wait by the Hall's standards. Wide receiver Michael Irvin (third year as a finalist), linebacker Derrick Thomas (fifth), wide receiver John Stallworth (10th) and tight end John Mackey (15th) are just some of the players who made the Hall of Fame after at least two years of failing to make the final cut.

"Last year, I was disappointed because I didn't know how the process worked," Bettis said. "Now I understand and I'm fine with it."