Pittsburgh Steelers: Curtis Martin

The Steelers play four of their first six games away from Heinz Field. A 4-2 start to the schedule with early games at Baltimore and Carolina would bode well for the Steelers' rebounding from back-to-back 8-8 seasons, especially given that they play three consecutive home games after that opening stretch. Another slow start might allow doubt to seep into the Steelers' locker room, and it will certainly turn up the heat on coach Mike Tomlin.

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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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