AFC North: 2014 Hall of Fame

PITTSBURGH -- Dumbfounded and even discouraged are two words that describe how I felt after learning former Pittsburgh Steelers running back Jerome Bettis had been denied entrance into the Pro Football Hall of Fame for the fourth consecutive year.

What I am missing here?

More importantly, what is he missing?

Bettis has the numbers, he has a ring, and he has the strongest of endorsements of those who should matter the most: the coaches and teammates who were around him on a regular basis and know the impact “The Bus” had on the field and in the Steelers’ locker room.

Consider what former Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward told Steelers.com earlier this week: "To be that size and have quick feet was just amazing. Sometimes you found yourself as a teammate watching like a fan to see him get through a hole, side step somebody, run over somebody and then get up and do his patent ‘The Bus’ dance. That is what made him such a special running back. You don’t see many guys be able to maneuver the holes and run somebody over.”

Eh, what would Ward know?

He only played, fought and bled with Bettis for eight seasons and actually cried for the man after the Steelers fell short of the Super Bowl in 2004.

Bettis fell short of the Hall of Fame again though he did make the cut of modern-day finalists, along with former Steelers outside linebacker Kevin Greene, from 15 to 10.

That isn’t -- and shouldn’t be -- any consolation to the player who is sixth on the NFL’s career rushing list (13,662 yards) and is on a very short list of those who can be considered the best big back of all-time.

If Bettis is paying the price for the perception -- flawed as it is -- that too many Steelers are already in the Hall of Fame, that is hogwash.

It is also a disservice to Bettis as well as the Steelers’ organization.

Want to know why there are so many Steelers in the Hall of Fame? They owned the 1970s and probably didn’t get enough deserving players from the teams that won four Super Bowls from 1974-79 into the Hall of Fame.

Bettis is among the players who laid the foundation for another glorious run that linked the Steelers teams of the 1970s to the ones that won two Super Bowls and played in another from 2005-10.

True, he played on only one of those teams -- Bettis famously retired after Pittsburgh won the 2005 Super Bowl in his hometown of Detroit -- but his influence on the Steelers lingered long after he had stopping pushing piles and displaying the kind of footwork that belied a man of his size.

“When I first got here it was the time the WWJD bracelets, What Would Jesus Do, came out and I would laugh when I was doing things and think, What Would Jerome Do,” Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger told Steelers.com earlier this week. “He is someone I tried to mold myself after. That is what made him so special, outside of the talent he had on the field.”

Like Bettis, Greene can only wonder what it will take for him to receive the call from the Hall of Fame.

One of the greatest pass-rushers of his generation fell short of Canton, Ohio, for the 1oth year despite leading the NFL in sacks with two different teams, including the Steelers in 1996, and earning a spot on the NFL’s All-Decade team of the 1990s.

Greene ranks third on the NFL’s all-time sacks list (160), and, like Bettis, he put up the kinds of numbers that should one day land him in the Hall of Fame.

The question with both remains when.
PITTSBURGH -- Art Rooney II said it succinctly.

The Steelers president also said it best in regard to Jerome Bettis' fourth bid to gain entrance into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

It's time.

Amen to that.

It can be argued that the more pertinent question when it comes to Bettis and the Hall of Fame is this: Why hasn't “The Bus” pulled into Canton, Ohio, already?

Bettis retired after the 2005 season as the fifth-leading rusher in NFL history with 13,662 yards. He is now sixth on that list, and all of the players in front of him who are eligible for the Hall of Fame are in it.

This should be the year that Bettis, one of 15 modern-day finalists for the Hall of Fame, joins them in football immortality.

Full disclosure: Bettis, who will be among those voted on Saturday, is an NFL analyst for ESPN. However, I was given the freedom to make a case for or against him getting into the Hall of Fame.

I frankly don't know of a credible argument I could make against Bettis.

He was one of the most productive running backs in NFL history. He was also unique.

Bettis may have been the best big back of all-time, and he was anything but a plodding, pile pusher.

Bettis' quick feet were as critical to his success as his sheer bulk -- his playing weight was listed at 255 pounds -- and power. He averaged 3.9 yards per carry, which is just a tick below what Hall of Famer Curtis Martin averaged during his career.

Bettis' value transcended the six consecutive 1,000-yard seasons he posted after the Steelers heisted him from the Rams in the greatest trade in franchise history. It also went beyond his ability to grind out the clock when the Steelers were protecting a fourth-quarter lead.

Bettis made those around him better because of the respect he garnered for playing through the pain that is a daily companion for a workhorse back -- and doing so with a smile.

Bettis was also so beloved by teammates that they wanted to win for him as much as for themselves, particularly at the end of his career.

The desire to get Bettis to the Super Bowl in 2005 helped fuel a stirring postseason run that the Steelers capped by beating the Seahawks for their first world championship since 1979.

Bettis called it a career after getting the one thing that had eluded him -- in his hometown of Detroit, no less -- and now it's time for him to receive an honor that has been equally as elusive as a Super Bowl title.

There are plenty of other people stating his case -- from Rooney, who is anything but prone to hyperbole, to Bill Cowher, who coached him, and Mike Tomlin, who coached against him.

Typical of the support Bettis' latest Hall of Fame bid has received is what Franco Harris said.

“Why he isn't in there, I have no clue,” Harris told Steelers.com. “Should he be in there this year? Absolutely. You are talking about a great football player. I am hoping that he will be able to join me in the Hall of Fame this year.”

Bettis has been gracious about his omission from the Hall of Fame, and he is at peace with the argument he made for inclusion in it during a career that spanned from 1993-2005.

“The way I look at it is I can't be selfish in that why am I not in now?” Bettis said. “I think when my timing is there I'll be in.”

As Rooney said, it's time.

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