CANTON, Ohio -- He asked Pittsburgh Steelers teammates to stand up. Huge crowd.
He asked Notre Dame teammates to stand up. Huge crowd.
MacKenzie High. Huge.
What shaped Bettis' induction speech at the Pro Football Hall of Fame is his ability to bring people together.
Bettis didn't have to wave a Terrible Towel (he did that) to get attention on this night. People followed him because that's what they've always done. Playing well on Sundays earns favor with fans. Having a personality like Bettis' makes grown men wear the No. 36 jersey a decade after he played. The man is beloved. He embodied this crowd.
"We're in Canton, Ohio, but this is Steeler country," Bettis said.
Bettis did his best to work the crowd, though Charles Haley probably had the most powerful speech of the night. Bettis' had the most depth, moving smoothly from family acknowledgments to Steelers matters.
These were the moments that stuck out to me.
This one's fairly surprising: Bettis acknowledged he might not be in the Hall of Fame if Ben Roethlisberger didn't make that open-field tackle against the Indianapolis Colts in the 2005 AFC Championship Game. Roethlisberger was cleaning up Bettis' mess after a goal-line fumble with 1:09 left and the Steelers up 21-18. Roethlisberger was the last line of defense. "Brother, without you saving that tackle, I still might be on the doorsteps, brother," Bettis said. "I owe you for life." Bettis is sixth all-time in NFL rushing yards, so his eventual place in Canton felt fairly safe. But ending his career with a loss caused by him would've been an ugly look that might've stayed with some voters.
Bettis knew his audience well, using his Hall of Fame induction platform to enliven the large Steelers' contingent at his induction ceremony. Bettis, who played 10 of his 13 NFL seasons in Pittsburgh, started a "Here we go, Steelers," asked for the Terrible Towels to wave, then pulled out his own. "Now I'm home," he said.
To Bill Cowher, who was in Ireland for his daughter's wedding, Bettis praised his dedication to blue-collar, run-first football and asked him to drink a pint for No. 36. "Three yards and a cloud of dust was far better than a 40-yard bomb down the football field," Bettis said. "He knew exactly what he would get every time No. 36 stepped onto the football field."
I liked the moment when Bettis told his son the same line his dad told him when dropping him off to college. "I don't have much to give you. But I have a good name. Don't mess it up."
Rams coach Chuck Knox made Bettis a lot of money by asking him to play running back instead of fullback. "I saw what the fullbacks were making, I saw what the tailbacks were making. I said yeah, coach, I can be a tailback."
When Bettis wondered how long he'd be in Pittsburgh, owner Dan Rooney told him, "You go when I go. At that point I knew I was going to be there for a long time."
Bettis listed Alan Faneca, Hines Ward, Troy Polamalu, Joey Porter and Roethlisberger as former Steelers teammates he'd like to see in the Hall with him.
If there was ever a doubt Bettis was the adopted son of western Pennsylvania, this night closed that door. This was the perfect stage for a player who loves it.