Jerome Bettis could have gone anywhere to celebrate his birthday. But there was no place he would have rather been on Monday than cold and snow covered Canton, Ohio.
Bettis spent his 43rd birthday with his wife Trameka and children Jada and Jerome Jr. visiting the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the place he longed to be since he retired from the Steelers after Super Bowl XL 10 years ago.
Jerome Bettis and his family visit the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
"There is no other place I would have rather spent my birthday," said Bettis, who was welcomed with a birthday cake by Hall of Fame staff. "It meant a lot that it was here and I was celebrating my birthday with my family at the Hall of Fame. It's the best birthday present I ever received. It's the best birthday ever."
The Hall of Fame encouraged members of the Class of 2015 to make a visit, giving them not just an inside look at the Hall of Fame but an overview of what to expect when they return in August for induction weekend. Bettis was the first one to jump at the opportunity.
"The trip was critical," said Bettis. "It gave me an understanding of the environment, what is going on. It was also a great opportunity to take it all in before I get there in August for the induction ceremony and understand the significance of it. I got to see all of the players who have gone in there before and to get a better appreciation of what it means to be in the Hall of Fame."
Bettis was taken on a tour of the Hall of Fame, where he was amazed and slightly overwhelmed that he will be among those generations to come will learn about as a part of the history of the National Football League. And sharing it with his family, an experience he will treasure forever.
"It especially felt great to walk through there with my son and daughter and show them where their dad is going to be," said Bettis. "I want them to be proud of me and to see my career. Unfortunately they weren't able to see me play, so I am happy they are at least able to see part of my career."
It's not the first time that Bettis has been to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but it's the first time he truly appreciated it for what it is. Bettis was there along with his Steelers' teammates in 1998 when the Steelers played the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Hall of Fame Game.
"To be honest, I don't really remember it," said Bettis. "I was looking for certain things. I think I might have had a ball or jersey in there from a game that signified something that happened during the previous season. I don't remember exactly what it was, but I was looking for where I was in there, or a mention of me in the actual Hall of Fame.
"It wasn't as significant as it should have been because I was looking for something like that. I wasn't by any stretch of the imagination good enough to be there as a player."
He is definitely good enough now. Bettis will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Aug. 8 as part of Enshrinement Weekend. The following night the Steelers will host the Minnesota Vikings in the NFL/Hall of Fame Game.
"That means so much that the Steelers will be playing in the game," said Bettis. "It couldn't be any better. Steelers fans will be everywhere."
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