Tuesday, January 31, 2006
Ask, and the Bus shall answer
By Wayne Drehs ESPN.com
DETROIT -- It took 51 minutes.
It took 51 of the media's precious 59 minutes with Jerome Bettis on Tuesday to get to the core of why the world has its sights set on the city of Detroit this week.
Until then, you might have thought the whole world is watching because Bettis likes to bowl. Or because he listened to Motown music as a kid. Or maybe even because Windsor, Ontario, which isn't too far from where Bettis grew up, features all-nude strip clubs.
So nearly 65 questions into Bettis' hour-long media day session, when a reporter finally got to the point and asked a hard-core football question, you could almost hear the gasp of surprise.
Reporter: "Jerome, what do you think is the key to the game this weekend?"
Bettis: "To not let them score. If they don't score, they don't win."
Welcome to the Bus' life as the official card-carrying media darling of Super Bowl XL, a football game. Bettis, if you've been living under a rock, was born in Detroit, is likely to retire after Sunday's game and can't believe he's playing in the biggest game of his career in his hometown. On Tuesday, at the official media circus side show, the 13-year NFL veteran drew the biggest throng of reporters, most of them packing the heat of tape recorders, notebooks, television cameras or boom mikes.
No question was too obscure or too far removed from football for the Bus.
Of the roughly 75 questions he answered over the course of an hour, only one was about the Seattle Seahawks.
Only one was about the key to the game.
Only one was about Ben Roethlisberger.
And only one was about Willie Parker.
The rest were as far away from the football field as possible. Like Bettis' childhood love for bowling, which was asked 10 times. Or his memories of the inner-city Detroit neighborhood in which he grew up, asked six times. Or whether the outcome of the game will affect his decision to retire, asked three times. Or what his feelings were when his teammates showed up at the airport on Monday wearing Notre Dame Jerome Bettis jerseys, asked twice.
By contrast, four of the first five questions put to Seattle running back Shaun Alexander during the Seahawks' media session were football-related.
The seventh question put to Alexander was about -- what else? -- Jerome Bettis.
"I respect anyone who has played as long as he has," Alexander said. "It's an honor to play with anyone considered one of the best. He's one of the great, great giants of our game."
As for Bettis, maybe the most pertinent question came just a few minutes into the session, when somebody asked if all the attention is too much attention.
"I don't really think so," Bettis said. "The game is in my hometown; it's a compelling story. If anything, this takes some of the pressure and the focus off of my teammates."
Apparently, his teammates agree.
"He's helping us out by sitting down there and answering all that nonsense," Parker said.
Nonsense like a query for a recommendation for a strip club in Windsor. Number of questions to Bettis about that? Same as the number of questions about the Seahawks' defense.
"I was underage when I lived here," Bettis said. "But I'm sure one of your colleagues can help you."
Nonsense like a request to explain what happened when he was "Punk'd" on the MTV show of the same name.
"They got me," he said.
Nonsense like a question about the jerry curl he wore as a freshman at Detroit's Henry Ford High.
"I don't remember that," Bettis said with a grin. "I don't know what you're talking about."
It was only the beginning. Other inquiring-minds-want-to-know, please-tell-the-truth queries for Bettis included:
Do you have a personal assistant? (Yes.)
What's your Mom cooking for the team dinner? (Don't know.)
What type of music did you listen to growing up? (Motown.)
Do you worry that your pregame speech could be too emotional for the team? (No.)
The highlight? Maybe when a reporter entered the fray mid-session and -- tongue firmly planted in cheek -- said, "Jerome, I hear you're from Detroit. Is that true?"
Bettis, fully locked into robotic, answer-what-they-ask mode, actually responded with a "Yes." And then explained -- yet again -- what an honor it will be to play the biggest game of his career in his hometown.
It amounted to a whole lot of talk, without the muss and fuss of football. Which Bettis didn't seem to mind at all.
"I'm enjoying this part," he said. "For a long time, I've wanted to be here. Maybe [for] some of the younger guys, this would be a hassle; but for me, it's a blessing. This is something I've waited all my life to do -- to sit at this podium and talk to you guys."
Wayne Drehs is a staff writer for ESPN.com.