It was like a family reunion for Jerome Bettis on Friday night, gathering with many of his former Steelers teammates at the McKinley Grand Hotel in downtown Canton, Ohio, on the eve of his Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement.
It was a chance to reminisce, to share stories of the fun ride they had as teammates, friends, and in some cases Super Bowl XL champions. And the stories, they sure did flow.
More than anything, though, it was a chance for those former teammates to let Bettis know how proud they are of him for being a member of the Hall of Fame's Class of 2015. It was a chance for them to share their appreciation for what he brought on the field, and off the field.
If there was anyone who appreciated what Bettis did during his playing career, it was his offensive linemen. To a man, they have all said they loved blocking for the Hall of Fame running back for a number of reasons – his passion, his drive, his attitude and his powerful running style. Bettis motivated his offensive line with every run, every dance after a run, and every touchdown.
Some of them shared what made Bettis special during his playing days, and what makes him a Hall of Fame running back.
Guard Kendall Simmons:
What does it mean to you that Jerome is being inducted into the Hall of Fame?
"It's way overdue. I don't know what took so long. He was the perfect Pittsburgh Steeler. He exemplified what the organization is all about. Blue collar, tough, great guy off the field. Just the way he went about his business overall."
Was it fun to block for him?
"You had a certain type of swagger when Jerome was in the huddle. When he was out there, you knew the defense was in trouble. He got you going. He got everybody else around him going. Just the way he would walk into the huddle and say let's go gentlemen. That was one of his phrases all of the time. You knew it was time to play, no matter if we were behind or what. I loved to block for him."
What made him special?
"The way he moved. You looked at him and you couldn't imagine the speed he had, his feet and vision. He had perfect vision. He could run over you or make you miss. I loved that about him. He wasn't just a downhill running back.
"Even the offensive linemen, you would get hit by Jerome sometimes and you would get mad because you would think it was a defensive lineman hitting you in the back taking a cheap shot. You would look up and see No. 36 run over the top of you or he would come back to the huddle laughing. You would say 'Dude that wasn't funny' and he would say 'Dude I told you my brakes don't work today.' That is what I loved about him. Seeing him go by (Bears linebacker Brian) Urlacher, and you just didn't do that to Urlacher, that told me what type of back he was. The whole game he would do that. When he would say that, I knew the defense would be in for it."
What's it going to be like to watch him when he is enshrined into the Hall of Fame?
"Respect, lots of respect. When you watch it, it's impressive. But being up close and being a part of it, a part of what he has done. Respect. I respect how he handled himself on the field, as a leader of the team. He was special and I am glad I had an opportunity to be a part of it. He never hid from his fans. When I run into him he is so personable to people. He never thinks he is bigger than the game."
Jerome Bettis gathered with former teammates the night before his Hall of Fame enshrinement.
Hall of Fame Center Dermontti Dawson:What did you like about blocking for Jerome:**
"What amazed me about Jerome was his sheer size. Most running backs weren't his size. He was a powerful runner. He had those big old thighs on him. He was very decisive in his running style. He was a north-to-south runner. He would choose the hole and blast up in there. I don't care if you were in the way, he was going to make those yards north and south. That was what was great about blocking for him."
How much did drive play into it?
"He was a motivator. After a run he would get up and do that prance. You knew he was feeling it, feeling good, he had that confidence and made the offensive line feel good."
Did you have to be on your toes blocking for him?
"I have seen him run up my back if I was in the way. He would be right behind me pushing me and I would go forward and someone would be trying to push my upper body back. I was a firsthand witness to that."
As a fellow Hall of Famer, what's it like to have him be the next Steelers' player inducted?
"It's great. That is the ultimate accolade for us, being enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. That is one team you can never be cut from. That is the ultimate for us. It's going to be great to have Jerome inducted. I was in the locker room with him for years and blocked for him and be a part of his success was special. It's fun to see."
Guard Alan Faneca
What does it mean to see him ready to be inducted into the Hall of Fame?
"It's special to see him get into the Hall of Fame. You kind of feel like you had a part in it, a chance to help make a guy shine. What he was able to do was amazing. We viewed him as one of the offensive line guys. He was one of the few allowed in the offensive line room because he had the same spirit that we did. I enjoyed that about him."
He ran over a few of his offensive linemen in his day, didn't he?
"He would let you know it's getting hairy and I am going to do what I have to do. It was always for the good of the team. It gave you incentive to get your guy and give him that crack even more than you would."
What made him a Hall of Fame running back?
"Besides his work ethic and what he brought, he had a rare combination of size and speed. He had the quickest feet I had ever seen at any position of any size guy. He was able to do things little guys do and still have the ability to run you over. It's a pretty scary thing for a defense. That is one of the things that made him great. His work ethic, how hard he worked, the work he put in got him there."
What will that moment be like when you see him get his Hall of Fame bust?
"It will be a little surreal. It will be a special moment. He is a special guy, a great guy. He has a good presence about him that everyone falls in love with. It will be special for everyone who knows Jerome. I can't imagine what his reaction will be. I will be surprised if he manages to keep it all together, if he doesn't shed a tear or two."