It’s been 16 years since Jerome Bettis retired at the podium after helping the Steelers win Super Bowl XL. Since then, the player known affectionately as “The Bus” has been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as well as the Steelers Hall of Honor. Bettis also hosts a show in Pittsburgh, where he has continued to work with his foundation.
The 10th overall pick in the 1993 NFL Draft, Bettis entered the league as a fullback before quickly making the transition to running back. He had an extremely rare combination of size (5-foot-11 and about 250 pounds), agility and speed that allowed him to rush for 13,662 yards and 91 touchdowns during his 13-year career. Bettis’ physicality and energetic personality made him an instant fan favorite in Pittsburgh, where he helped the franchise win five division titles as well as the franchise’s fifth Lombardi Trophy.
As he celebrates his 50th birthday, here are five fast facts about Bettis’ NFL career.
Rookie of the Year
Bettis overcame a slow start to capture Offensive Rookie of the Year honors during the 1993 season. Bettis won the award despite making just one start in the season’s first five weeks. He got the ball rolling with a 102-yard performance against the Saints in Week 5. Bettis would record six more 100-yard rushing performances that season that included a career-high 212 yards in New Orleans in Week 15. Bettis also tallied the longest run of his career in that game, a 72-yard touchdown. Ironically, Bettis’ first-career touchdown was a 29-yard run against the Steelers in Week 2.
Bettis finished the season with 1,429 yards, the second-highest total in the NFL behind Emmitt Smith, who won league and Super Bowl MVP honors that season.
Almost an Oiler
The Rams agreed to trade Bettis following his third season in Los Angeles. When looking for his next team, Bettis narrowed his choices down to either the Oilers or the Steelers. The Steelers’ recent Super Bowl appearance was one of two factors that convinced Bettis to come to Pittsburgh.
“My agent, he had another running back that was coming out in the draft. His name was Eddie George,” Bettis said during a February 2021 appearance on the “All Things Covered” podcast. “So whichever team I picked, Eddie was going to go to the other team. So I needed to make sure I picked right, because I knew that Eddie was going to go to the other team.
“My agent selfishly wanted me to go to Pittsburgh because Houston was picking higher. It made sense for everybody, right? Everybody was happy when I chose Pittsburgh. Eddie ended up going to Houston and had an amazing career. He was Rookie of the Year when he came out. It all worked.”
During his first season in Pittsburgh, Bettis earned his second All-Pro selection after rushing for 1,431 yards and 11 touchdowns. Among his big performances that season was his 129-yard, two-touchdown performance in Pittsburgh’s 42-6 win over the Rams. Bettis rumbled for a 50-yard score in that game, his longest run as a member of the Steelers.
Bettis may have been on his way to an MVP season in 2001 after rushing for nearly 1,100 yards in the season’s first 11 games. But an injury prematurely ended his season as well as his hopes to become the first Steelers player since Terry Bradshaw to win league MVP. As it stands, Bettis’ best statistical season took place in 1997, his second season with the Steelers.
In 15 games, Bettis rushed for 1,665 yards and seven touchdowns while helping the Steelers capture a fourth straight AFC Central division title. He tallied 10 100-yard rushing performances for a second straight season; his 20 100-yard games over a two-year span is the most in franchise history. Bettis would have broken Barry Foster’s single season franchise record had he played in Pittsburgh’s regular season finale. Instead of going for the record, Bettis made the unselfish decision to rest with the Steelers having already clinched a playoff bye.
Bettis passed the 1,000-yard rushing barrier in each of his first six seasons in Pittsburgh. Emmitt Smith was the only other running back in the NFL had that many 1,000-yard seasons over that span. The only Steelers player to begin his career in Pittsburgh with six straight 1,000-yard seasons, Bettis matched Franco Harris’ record for the most consecutive 1,000-yard seasons by a Steelers running back. Of the Steelers’ 26 1,000-yard rushing campaigns, 14 of those were authored by either Harris or Bettis.
From backup to Pro Bowler
At 32 years old, Bettis started the 2004 season as a backup to Duce Staley, a free agent pickup out of Philadelphia. An injury to Staley in Week 7 propelled Bettis back into the starting lineup, where he rushed for 149 yards a week later in Pittsburgh’s 27-3 romp of the Eagles. It was the first of six 100-yard games for Bettis, who recorded a career-high 13 rushing touchdowns that season while earning the last of his six Pro Bowl selections. Bettis helped then-rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger win each of his 13 regular season starts. Roethlisberger returned the favor the following season by helping Bettis retire as a Super Bowl champion.