The elder Bettis, who was 61, died Tuesday of an apparent heart
attack while driving in a suburb north of Detroit. Most Steelers
players learned of his death that night, and many said they planned
to call Jerome Bettis in the coming days to offer their sympathy.
Coach Bill Cowher said the team held a moment of silence in
Johnnie Bettis' honor before practicing Wednesday.
"It's a very sad time. He's still a part of our family,"
Cowher said. "I know it's a very close family. I almost felt like
they were part of the team. So I know it's tough times they're
Johnnie Bettis and his wife, Gladys, grew to know nearly all of
the Steelers' veteran players by attending every one of their son's
regular season and playoff games with Pittsburgh from 1996-2006.
The elder Bettis called it one of the biggest thrills of his
life when Jerome, in his final NFL season, helped the Steelers to
their first Super Bowl title in 26 years -- and, in Detroit, the
running back's hometown.
Jerome Bettis retired minutes after that Super Bowl victory in
February as the No. 5 rusher in NFL history and No. 2 in Steelers
history to Franco Harris.
"I've been around Mr. Bettis a lot, really he was a great
man," tackle Marvel Smith said. "It was a terrible loss for
everybody that knew him and his family, or had an opportunity to
cross paths with him. It was like a big family, they were like
parents to our team."
Ben Roethlisberger quickly became one of Jerome Bettis' best
friends with the Steelers after being drafted in 2004.
"This team, the NFL community and the world in general has lost
a good man," Roethlisberger said. "Jerome, being the class act
that he is, he got it from his parents. I know the Bettis family
well and Mr. Bettis was an awesome guy."
During the week before the Super Bowl, nearly all the Steelers'
players attended a family dinner thrown for them at the Bettis
family home. Jerome Bettis' parents did much of the cooking, and
numerous players said the dinner bought the team closer together
during one of the most important weeks of their NFL careers.
"To go to his house and see him in his family situation,
really, I think brought the team close together," defensive
lineman Chris Hoke said. "This is a tough thing to swallow. Things
were going great for Jerome. This is the first tough moment he's
had since the Super Bowl. It's a real tough one too."
The Bettis family also had a similar dinner for the team when
the Steelers played a Thanksgiving Day game in Detroit in 1998.
Defensive back Mike Logan doesn't know any player who didn't
come away impressed after first meeting Johnnie Bettis, a retired
electrician who formerly worked for the City of Detroit.
"Mr. Johnnie was a great man," Logan said. "Every time I saw
him, he spoke very courteous to me. He went out of his way to do
things for other people. I really feel for their family. I saw the
close relationship he had with his wife, with Jerome. You just
respect a man like that."