Jerome Bettis has been through this rigmarole four times already: the cut-down to 15 finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and the hours of waiting for the final verdict to be delivered on the eve of the Super Bowl. Since “The Bus” became eligible for Canton in 2011, two other running backs who retired at the same time have been inducted (Marshall Faulk was a first-ballot selection and Curtis Martin got his gold jacket in 2012). Bettis, the sixth-leading rusher in NFL history, is still waiting for his call. The Hall’s 46-person selection committee will vote on Saturday in Arizona, where the Steelers great will wait out the news with his wife, a couple friends and no expectations. (UPDATE: Bettis will be inducted into Hall of Fame in 2015.)
VRENTAS: Do you think this is finally the year?
BETTIS: You know, I stopped doing that a couple years ago. The way I look at it is, if it happens, great; if it doesn’t happen, that’s great, too. To be one of those 15 guys, I couldn’t be mad if someone else went in, and I didn’t go in, because when you look at the list, all the guys deserve to be in. That’s how I’m able to kind of manage it, because I understand that’s the deal that I’m dealt. Hopefully it happens. But if it doesn’t, I have to handle that part as well.
VRENTAS: Does the waiting get easier or harder as the years go by?
BETTIS: For me, it gets easier. Because I told myself a long time ago that I won’t become emotionally attached, and so because of that, I am OK with it. Because I am not emotionally attached, I am comfortable with whatever happens.
VRENTAS: Typically only one player per position gets in each year. Do you think it will come down to either you or Terrell Davis this year?
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I hope it doesn’t. But the reality of it is, it really could. That’s a difficult one, because Terrell Davis, if you look at the trajectory of his career, he had some incredible years. Unfortunately, injuries kind of shortened his career. But he is definitely worthy of being in. You keep your fingers crossed and hopefully it happens.
VRENTAS: How would you make your own Hall of Fame case?
BETTIS: Well, the first thing on the résumé is that when I retired I was fifth all time in rushing. LaDainian [Tomlinson] passed me after retired, but to be sixth all time and to have five people in the history of the game that have had more yards than you, I think that says it all right there—to have the longevity, to be able to put the yards in, and put the years in. And to be a running back in the sense where there is no other running back in the Hall of Fame that looks like me, that is my size. I take pride in that.
VRENTAS: What would the Hall of Fame mean to you?
BETTIS: It would mean that you are considered one of the best ever. That’s an incredible, incredible compliment that can be bestowed upon a player.
VRENTAS: You ended your career in a way that few ever get to experience, going out with a championship. When you are back for Super Bowl week, what memories come back to you?
BETTIS: You know what, they don’t come rushing back just being here. When people start asking me about it, that’s when it comes back to me. But coming to the Super Bowl town, I do think about it from time to time when people ask me about it, and talk about it. The best memory is me holding that trophy. That was it. That was what it was all about.
VRENTAS: When you won Super Bowl XL, the Steelers’ rushing game was a big part of the win. What role do you think the ground game will play in deciding this year’s game?
BETTIS: It is going to be significant. I think the running back who has the best game wins this game. That’s how important the running backs are going to be. With that being said, I think the Patriots are going to make it so that Marshawn [Lynch] doesn’t beat them, and so I think LeGarrette Blount, he is going to have a bigger day. I think the Patriots win this football game.
VRENTAS: There are some similarities between your career arc and that of Lynch’s. How does he compare to some of the league’s great running backs, in your eyes?
BETTIS: He compares to all the greats. A couple reasons: One, he makes you miss. A lot of people talk about how strong he is in terms of him running. But when you look at his ability to make you miss, and run you over, and be fast, and have breakaway speed, he’s definitely one of the best in the game right now. Arguably the best in the game outside of Adrian Peterson. He measures up to the alltime greats. That’s how good he is.
VRENTAS: How do you think Deflategate will change the way this Super Bowl goes down in history?
BETTIS: That’s yet to be determined. But I don’t think it’s going to hold that much weight. I think five years from now, we’re going to forget about Deflategate in the sense of the Super Bowl. I think it will still linger with the Patriots, but it won’t linger with the Super Bowl. Even if the Patriots win, I don’t think it will be an asterisk, kind of like Spygate was. I think it will be a totally different narrative. But if they’re found to be negligent, I think it possibly could impact [Brady’s and Belichick’s] legacies. It could negatively impact Tom Brady’s more significantly because this is a situation that is not really a head-coaching scenario, but more from a player perspective. So I think it could hurt Tom Brady’s legacy to a degree, but I don’t think it could hurt it that significantly, because he has been a great player for a long time.
VRENTAS: If your name is called Saturday, do you have an idea of how you’ll react?
BETTIS: I’m going to be elated. Tears of joy, because obviously it is something that you would love to happen. Unfortunately, it’s not under your control. But it is the ultimate praise or accolade that you can receive for playing the game that you love. So it would be a really, really special moment.
VRENTAS: Have you talked to Faulk, or Martin, or any other running backs about what it’s like to be in that club?
BETTIS: No. I’ll talk to them when I get in.
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