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Bettis: 'It was a new lease on life'

Posted Sep 19, 2017

Being traded to the Steelers changed it all for Jerome Bettis.

Legends Series: Jerome Bettis
Running Back
1996-2006

The day of the NFL Draft is an opportunity for college football players to have their dream come true, to go through a life-changing experience of being selected by an NFL team. It’s the start of a completely new journey.

For Jerome Bettis, the day of the NFL Draft in 1996 was the same for him, a new journey. It wasn’t the day he was drafted, but instead the day his football life changed. Bettis was traded that day from the St. Louis Rams to the Steelers, and the rest as they say, is history.

Bettis went on to rush for 10,571 yards with the Steelers, and amassed 13,662 career yards, which puts him sixth overall in NFL history.

Bettis sat down and shared his take on his Steelers career, the trade, and a lot more in this exclusive interview.

What is your best memory from your playing career?
“That is a tough question. I have had so many great moments. The one moment I would have to say is being on the podium, winning the championship, in my hometown of Detroit. When I started playing the game, the ultimate was always to win a championship. To be on the podium, having brought a championship back to Pittsburgh, that was an incredible moment.”

In your wildest dreams could you ever have imaged your career would end as a Super Bowl champion in your hometown?
“I could have never imagined how everything happened. The fact that I was about to retire the year before, I decided to come back, the Super Bowl was in my hometown. We have this amazing football team, and for us to go and win and retire on the podium. That story doesn’t usually happen. For it to happen to me it was like, pinch me because I was dreaming.”

It all started for you on draft day, not the day you were drafted but the day of the NFL Draft, you are traded to the Steelers. How did that play out?
“It was pretty good. It was a new lease on life. I got an opportunity to be traded from the St. Louis Rams to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Fortunately for me I had a hand in it. I had the opportunity to choose which team I wanted to be traded to. There were two opportunities, the Tennessee Titans and the Pittsburgh Steelers. I wanted to play for the Pittsburgh Steelers because of the history of the team, and the history at the running back position. It was a history of big running backs. I was really excited about the opportunity to go play in Pittsburgh.”

Could you ever have imagined the way it would change things for you?
“I could have never dreamed my career would be what it was in Pittsburgh. I thought I was going to have success, but not to be able to go into a class of players that played in Pittsburgh, that ultimately donned Gold Jackets. I was going into that organization, but never thought I would be in that family of players in Pittsburgh.”

Who had the biggest impact on your career?
“That is interesting. Dick Hoak was huge in my playing career. What he did in terms of nudging me along through my career in Pittsburgh. Bill Cowher, he continually challenged me throughout my career. He is the guy that kept me going and always kept me motivated when things were up and down. My parents were there every single football game. When I had good games they saw it. When I had bad games they saw it. They never had a problem interjecting what they thought was their idea of what I needed to do to become a better football player.”

Steelers’ fans immediately took to you and you to them. What was it like to be loved by them?
“The relationship with the fans was special. I wasn’t drafted here, but they took to me so quickly it felt as if I had been here for years, the amount of love that was shown to me early on in the process. They didn’t have a track history with me. When I came in I was immediately embraced by the fans in Pittsburgh. It shows the type of fan base the Steelers have. They support you from the first snap of the first game. The fact that you are a Pittsburgh Steeler, we are going to support you. That meant so much to me having gone through a rough time with my previous team, having been booed at a home game. I was a little bit leery of that fan interaction. Immediately the fans in Pittsburgh took that out of the equation and I felt at home.”

It’s been a few years since you got your Gold Jacket and were enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Is it still kind of surreal? 
“Every time I put the Gold Jacket on, it brings back all of the memories of the incredible years and teammates I had the opportunity to play with. It means so much to me every time I put it on. I will never stop forgetting about all of the players who helped me get to wear the Gold Jacket. It was never me alone that was able to have that success. Every time I put it on is special.

What did it mean to you to play for the Pittsburgh Steelers?
“It’s hard to put that into words. There are so many different meanings. I will take you to the first time I got the opportunity to put the helmet on. I came in and it was minicamp. I got the chance to put the helmet on and I thought I am representing all of the players that have worn this helmet, have worn this logo before me. It was a proud moment for me to now have the opportunity to represent the Pittsburgh Steelers. That meant a lot. I did not like the Pittsburgh Steelers as a kid. The fact that I was putting on this helmet, and the history that went with this helmet, it was significant. Then to don the jersey and go out and play in a football game for the Pittsburgh Steelers, it made you appreciate so much. You appreciate the fans, the organization. It’s more than just you playing a football game. It’s about years and years of tradition, years and years of fan loyalty that comes with it. There is so much that is involved in it, but once you put that helmet on, hit the field, you understand and appreciate it that much more. Now that I am removed from the game it’s that much more important to have played for the Pittsburgh Steelers. You understand what the helmet, what the organization stands for. It stands for respect, success and integrity. All of those things you look at and love about the game, you really appreciate having been a Pittsburgh Steeler.

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