His NFL playing career ended with a trip back home to Detroit, for Super Bowl XL, and now he will enter football immortality as Jerome Bettis was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Bettis was selected as a member of the Class of 2015 that was announced on Saturday night, becoming the 23rd member of the organization elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
"I have never seen a power back who was as light on his feet as Jerome was," said Bill Cowher, who coached Bettis with the Steelers. "He would make jump cuts in the hole and his shoulders were never anything but parallel to the line of scrimmage. He could see things and get there on his feet. He had the lightest feet for a big back I have ever seen playing the game.
"The great thing about Jerome was you rarely saw him take a hit. He was always the one who initiated the hit. He had a great sense of balance, a great sense of forward lean. Most of the time he was the one who was able to initiate hits. There were times in the fourth quarter when all he had to do was make a little snip-step and he could make people miss because they had to brace for him. I have never seen a guy who could make people miss in a hole better than him. He could go sideways when he needed to. But the biggest thing he had was his sense of balance and his forward lean."
Bettis became the fourth Steelers' running back in the Hall of Fame joining Bill Dudley, John Henry Johnson and Franco Harris, who has been a fan of Bettis' since day one.
"He had a brilliant career, made big plays and was a big factor in the run the Steelers had," said Harris. "It's tough to last with the running style he had. Running backs don't last a long time. He ran tough and ran well."
Bettis, a favorite among his teammates and Steelers fans, began his career with the Los Angeles Rams in 1993 but had his best days once he was traded to the Steelers on draft day in 1996. Bettis rushed for 10,571 yards with the Steelers, and amassed 13,662 career yards, which puts him sixth overall in NFL history.
"He was a bruiser," said Harris. "Wow, could he pound that football. He pounded and pounded. He was a great competitor, a great team player. He contributed greatly to those teams. He was one of the main reasons that those teams were successful and accomplished what they did.
Photos from the career of former Steelers running back and Hall of Fame finalist Jerome Bettis.
"He went on to put up numbers that were incredible. It was fun to watch him pound and see what he did. We were completely different runners in our styles, but I loved to watch the way he ran. He was so effective."
Bettis capped his career in fairytale fashion when the Steelers won Super Bowl XL in Bettis' hometown of Detroit, and then he announced his retirement from the podium with the Lombardi Trophy in his hands.
"You look at his size and tenacity," said former teammate Hines Ward. "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 patented '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.
"To do the things he did at that size is amazing. I don't think there will ever be another big guy like Jerome who did it the way he did and for how long he did it."
Bettis was the Steelers leading rusher from 1996-2001 and in 2003-04, and he rolled up 50 100-yard games with the team.
"He was unusual because most backs weren't as big as Jerome," said Hall of Fame center Dermontti Dawson, who blocked for Bettis. "Usually a back of his size would come in on special situations, short to mid-range run plays. But he was a feature back for 13 years in the league. What made him unusual being a larger than normal back, he was so agile and strong he could take the pounding and be the feature back all of that time. He was a phenomenal runner.
"As an offensive line you love to have a back like Jerome in the backfield. It doesn't take a very big hole for him to get through. People think you had to open up big lanes for a back to run through, but Jerome somehow found a way. If you had a big crease or a small crease, he found his way through there. The advantage for us, Jerome was such a big back and was so powerful as a runner he could give you those extra yards. As an offense that is paramount in the success of the running game."
Bettis was voted to the Pro Bowl six times and was named first-team All-Pro twice.
"Jerome Bettis to me was a great player and great ambassador for the Steelers," said Hall of Fame cornerback Mel Blount. "His play was reminiscent of the Steelers of the 1970s when we ran the ball, pounded it and threw it when we had to. We lived and breathed and depended on the running game. That is championship football. You have to be able to run the football, and Jerome did it superbly."
When Bettis is formally inducted into the Hall of Fame on Saturday, Aug. 8 in Canton, Ohio, there will be plenty of familiar faces on hand to welcome him to the family. Harris can't wait.
"To have another Pittsburgh Steeler be recognized as a Hall of Famer, and especially a running back, makes it so special for me," said Harris. "The running game is something that I hold very dear and is important. In this day and age it's getting to be kind of a lost breed. You don't know where it fits these days. To see another Steelers running back go in, that is just a great feeling and something I am going to really enjoy being a part of that."