FILE - In this Jan. 11, 2009, file photo, Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Hines Ward, right, and retired Steelers running back Jerome Bettis smiles during an NFL divisional playoff football game against the San Diego Chargers in Pittsburgh. Bettis served as
Gene J. Puskar, File
July 08, 2015

PITTSBURGH (AP) Jerome Bettis served as a mentor to Hines Ward, showing his former Pittsburgh Steelers teammate the ropes when he entered the NFL.

He'll do the same on the links almost 20 years later.

Before Bettis is enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he'll compete in the 26th annual American Century Championship celebrity golf tournament in Lake Tahoe for the ninth time, joining Ward, a rookie in the field, and more than 80 of the biggest sports and entertainment stars for the nationally televised event July 17-19.

''This is like no other tournament,'' Bettis said Wednesday. ''This is one of the only opportunities as a retired player that we have to really be in a competitive environment.''

''This gives us a feeling as if we're playing on the professional tour,'' he said.

Ward, a two-time Super Bowl champion with the Steelers, watched the tournament in the past, but never seriously picked up the game until recently. He's retired, working as an analyst for NBC's Football Night in America, so Ward has more time on his hands.

''I wish I would've gotten started in golf a long time ago when Jerome told me to get a set of clubs my rookie year,'' said Ward, the Steelers' all-time leader in receptions, yards and touchdowns. ''For about the past three years, I've worked on my golf game as far as trying to get down to where I'm able to compete.''

Bettis is the sixth all-time leading rusher in NFL history. He looks forward to joining the immortals of the game in Canton during the first week of August, where his brother John Bettis III will present him for enshrinement. His mother Gladys will be there too, recently declared 100 percent clear from breast cancer that was discovered last summer.

''That was a blessing in and of itself,'' Bettis said. ''It's going to be a special weekend because of the journey that we've taken. To see it come to an end in Canton, Ohio at the Pro Football Hall of Fame is an incredible moment.''

Also competing in the event will be Tim Brown, the former Oakland Raiders receiver who will be joining Bettis as a Hall of Fame inductee in August.

''This tournament is the only one of its kind as far as athletes go,'' Brown said. ''There are a lot of other tournaments around. Even Marshall Faulk has a two, three-day tournament, but it's nothing like Lake Tahoe. This is an opportunity for us to come out and compete.

''We can't get on the football field. We can't throw a baseball or shoot the hoop anymore, but we can certainly get on the golf course and compete and make this thing happen.''

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