In August, 10 years after he last played a down in the NFL, Jerome Bettis was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Bettis’s illustrious career spanned 13 years, the last 10 as the beloved centerpiece of the Steelers, and included six Pro Bowl appearances, two All-Pro awards and the holy grail of them all, a Super Bowl ring.
Before Bettis was presented with his Hall of Fame ring during a special ceremony at Heinz Feld Thursday night before the Steelers’ game against the Ravens, we spoke about his induction experience, today's running backs and where Ben Roethlisberger ranks among current quarterbacks.
Bettis’s ring was designed by Kay Jewelers, which is the official jewelry store of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Melissa Jacobs: Congrats on the Hall of Fame induction. What was the first thought that ran through your mind when you heard the announcement?
Jerome Bettis: First thought was, “I made it.” Because as much as you think your career is Hall of Fame worthy, you never know. It wasn’t a big relief, but a big moment. For a lot of my career I was a little underappreciated in terms of what I was able to do because it wasn’t as flashy as some of the other running backs of my era.
MJ: There were so many memorable moments from your induction speech. My favorite was when you told your son, “I don't have much to give you. But I have a good name. Don't mess it up.” Can you explain why you said that?
JB: I said that because it was a direct comment that came from my father when he dropped me off at Notre Dame. I always remember that, and I was very conscious of that statement.
MJ: What was your most memorable experience from Hall of Fame weekend?
JB: It had to be all the Terrible Towels in the stands. The support from Pittsburgh was awesome.
MJ: Recently, Herschel Walker suggested he could still contribute to the NFL at age 53. What about you? Do you ever watch and think you could be out there today?
JB: No way. My body is in no shape to try and go through the rigors of an NFL game or season.
MJ: How is your body in the sense of feeling effects from playing football?
JB: I don’t feel daily pain. But I feel things. The knee I had surgery on, you can feel. You just know it gets sore from time to time. It gets sore, but then I back off any physical activity.
MJ: Since you retired, the league more and more has emphasized passing. After Trent Richardson was drafted and didn’t perform, there has been more hesitancy in drafting backs, and we see more committee situations every year. How do you think running backs are currently valued?
JB: They’re still valued pretty high. The problem is you don’t have the amount of running backs that are NFL-type running backs. For instance, there are only five or six colleges that run a real pro type of offense. You’ve got Alabama, LSU, Georgia, Arkansas, USC and Wisconsin. Everybody else runs the spread type of offense and they utilize smaller running backs. So when it comes time for the draft, you don’t have the featured type of running back available. Because of that you often don’t have a choice but to go to a platoon.
MJ: That’s a great point. Who’s the best back in the game today?
MJ: You’ll be in Pittsburgh Thursday night receiving your Kay Jewelers made Hall of Fame ring at Heinz Field. It’s not a typical chapter in the rivalry with the 0–3 Ravens facing Mike Vick and the Steelers. What do you expect to see out of Vick?
JB: I expect to see a really good quarterback. A quarterback who understands he doesn’t have to win the game himself. Every place that Vick has been, he’s really been the best player on the offense. Now he’s probably the third best player on the offense. He doesn’t have to be the No. 1 option so to speak. His job is to get the ball to Antonio Brown and hand it off to Le’Veon Bell. Bell, by the way, is 1-C when it comes to running backs. He’s very special and just a complete back.
MJ: Is that hard as a player to adjust your style and just overall importance to the offense? We see it with Peyton Manning.
JB: It depends on your personality. If you’re an egomaniac, you’re going to have some issues with it. You have to understand that everything has its phase in life and if you’re humble enough to understand that everything doesn’t center around you, then you can deal. I don’t see Peyton Manning having a problem. I think he understands his mortality in that he’s going to need his teammates to do more.
MJ: You gave a couple of shout outs to Ben Roethlisberger during your Hall of Fame speech and suggested he’s a Hall of Fame quarterback. We’re in such a great quarterback era right now. Where does Big Ben fall in the current crop of quarterbacks?
JB: He’s definitely there in the top five. It’s tough because he’s got Peyton Manning and Tom Brady there. But you have to consider that in this era he still has two championships and been able to put up big numbers when the opportunities present themselves. You also have to understand he’s been in a run-first offense. It’s only been the last two years or so that he’s been able to show his ability throwing the football. When you look at where Roethlisberger stands in the pantheon of great quarterbacks in this era, you probably have to put him at the bottom of the top five after Brady, Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees.