PITTSBURGH -- Dumbfounded and even discouraged are two words that describe how I felt after learning former Pittsburgh Steelers running back Jerome Bettis had been denied entrance into the Pro Football Hall of Fame for the fourth consecutive year.
What I am missing here?
More importantly, what is he missing?
Bettis has the numbers, he has a ring, and he has the strongest of endorsements of those who should matter the most: the coaches and teammates who were around him on a regular basis and know the impact “The Bus” had on the field and in the Steelers’ locker room.
Consider what former Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward told Steelers.com earlier this week: "To be that size and have quick feet was just amazing. Sometimes you found yourself as a teammate watching like a fan to see him get through a hole, side step somebody, run over somebody and then get up and do his patent ‘The Bus’ dance. That is what made him such a special running back. You don’t see many guys be able to maneuver the holes and run somebody over.”
Eh, what would Ward know?
He only played, fought and bled with Bettis for eight seasons and actually cried for the man after the Steelers fell short of the Super Bowl in 2004.
Bettis fell short of the Hall of Fame again though he did make the cut of modern-day finalists, along with former Steelers outside linebacker Kevin Greene, from 15 to 10.
That isn’t -- and shouldn’t be -- any consolation to the player who is sixth on the NFL’s career rushing list (13,662 yards) and is on a very short list of those who can be considered the best big back of all-time.
If Bettis is paying the price for the perception -- flawed as it is -- that too many Steelers are already in the Hall of Fame, that is hogwash.
It is also a disservice to Bettis as well as the Steelers’ organization.
Want to know why there are so many Steelers in the Hall of Fame? They owned the 1970s and probably didn’t get enough deserving players from the teams that won four Super Bowls from 1974-79 into the Hall of Fame.
Bettis is among the players who laid the foundation for another glorious run that linked the Steelers teams of the 1970s to the ones that won two Super Bowls and played in another from 2005-10.
True, he played on only one of those teams -- Bettis famously retired after Pittsburgh won the 2005 Super Bowl in his hometown of Detroit -- but his influence on the Steelers lingered long after he had stopping pushing piles and displaying the kind of footwork that belied a man of his size.
“When I first got here it was the time the WWJD bracelets, What Would Jesus Do, came out and I would laugh when I was doing things and think, What Would Jerome Do,” Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger told Steelers.com earlier this week. “He is someone I tried to mold myself after. That is what made him so special, outside of the talent he had on the field.”
Like Bettis, Greene can only wonder what it will take for him to receive the call from the Hall of Fame.
One of the greatest pass-rushers of his generation fell short of Canton, Ohio, for the 1oth year despite leading the NFL in sacks with two different teams, including the Steelers in 1996, and earning a spot on the NFL’s All-Decade team of the 1990s.
Greene ranks third on the NFL’s all-time sacks list (160), and, like Bettis, he put up the kinds of numbers that should one day land him in the Hall of Fame.
The question with both remains when.