By Ralph N. Paulk, PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Saturday, February 4, 2012
Bettis couldn't have scripted the final game of his 13-year career better. He walked away from the game amid a largely partisan Steelers crowd at Ford Field in his hometown of Detroit.
He left with a diamond-studded championship ring on his finger. He left, too, having vaulted himself into the pantheon of affection that Steelers' fans allot a precious few, guys like Franco Harris, Jack Lambert and Joe Greene.
The 43 yards Bettis rushed for in a 21-10 conquest of Seattle didn't matter nearly as much as the energy and leadership he provided the Steelers that season.
Bettis, a 1993 first-round draft pick of the Rams, put together impressive numbers: 13,662 rushing yards, eight 1,000-yard seasons and six Pro Bowl appearances. He led the Steelers in rushing the first six seasons after the Rams shipped him to Pittsburgh in 1996.
All that's left, it seems, is a bronze bust in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
"It's definitely an honor to make it this far," Bettis told Steelers.com. "When you are on the list of all of these great players and there is the possibility of being in the Hall of Fame, it's an honor definitely."
Bettis is among 17 finalists being considered today for election. The selection committed expects to elect four to seven finalists for induction.
Bettis, a finalist for the first time in 2011, is among four former Steelers on the ballot. The others are center Dermontti Dawson, defensive end/linebacker Kevin Greene and cornerback Jack Butler.
Also, two Pitt products -- running back Curtis Martin and defensive end/linebacker Chris Doleman -- are hoping to secure a place in the hall. Martin gained most his 14,101 yards with the New York Jets, and Doleman established himself as one of the most-feared pass rushers while playing in Minnesota.
The odds are relative good that at least one, maybe two, former Steelers will join the 20 other Steelers in the hall.
Dawson, a six-time All-Pro, is confident Bettis will be among those elected for enshrinement during the induction ceremony scheduled Aug. 4.
"I definitely believe he belongs in the Hall of Fame," Dawson said. "He defines what you're looking for in a tailback."
Bettis led the Steelers in rushing in eight of his 10 seasons with the team. His most productive season was 1997, when he rushed for 1,665 yards on 375 carries.
"There is no doubt about his abilities when you look at the numbers and consider what he meant to the Steelers," Dawson said. "He got it done year in and year out."
In his final season, Bettis took a significant pay cut to spell Willie Parker as a short-yardage back. Bettis totaled a career-low 368 yards, but he led the team with nine touchdowns.