Bettis' Hall of Fame run falls short again
By Alan Robinson
Published: Saturday, Feb. 1, 2014, 7:03 p.m.
NEW YORK — Jerome Bettis, one of the best short-yardage backs of all time, keeps getting it near the Pro Football Hall of Fame goal line but can't get into the end zone.
Bettis, the best big-man running back of his time and the sixth-leading rusher in NFL history, was denied Hall of Fame induction for a fourth time Saturday following a nearly nine-hour meeting by the hall's selection committee. He made the cut from the 15 modern era finalists to the top 10 but was not one of the final five.
All five finalists were chosen: Buccaneers linebacker Derrick Brooks, Cardinals cornerback Aeneas Williams, Seahawks left tackle Walter Jones, Giants defensive end Michael Strahan and Bills receiver Andre Reed, who made it on his ninth time as a finalist. Brooks and Jones were chosen in their first season of eligibility.
The first punter ever chosen, Ray Guy, was voted in by the veterans committee, as was former Falcons defensive end Claude Humphrey, making it a seven-man class.
Also not selected were former Steelers linebacker Kevin Greene, who is third all time in sacks; former Bucs and Colts coach Tony Dungy, a former Steelers defensive coordinator; and former 49ers owner Edward J. DeBartolo Jr. of Youngstown, Ohio.
Bettis couldn't get in the past two years even though there weren't elite running backs among the 15 finalists as there were when Marshall Faulk (2011) and Curtis Martin (2012) got in.
“I didn't know (whether to be optimistic or not),” said Bettis, who came to New York several days in advance of the vote. “You don't know what to think. You just hope this is your year.”
Despite retiring following the Steelers' 2005 season Super Bowl win as the NFL's fifth-leading career rusher, Bettis has been viewed as an on-the-bubble candidate each year. His 3.9-yards-per-carry average doesn't rank in the top 100, although it was dragged down by all of his short-yardage carries late in the his career.
He finished his career with 13,662 yards and eight 1,000-yard seasons, including 7,785 yards in his first six Steelers seasons from 1996-2000.
Bettis is the second-leading rusher in Steelers history to Hall of Famer Franco Harris, and his 50 100-yard games rank first in team history.
After being traded by the Rams to the Steelers after three seasons in the league, he changed the dynamics of their offense, giving them a power back whose ability to close out games made them almost unbeatable when they had a lead in the fourth quarter. The Steelers had a 106-1-1 record in such games, even with often-erratic quarterback play.
When Bettis retired following the Steelers' Super Bowl win in his Detroit hometown following the 2005 season, his eight 1,000-yard seasons were tied for third best in history. He was a six-time Pro Bowl selection and three-time All-Pro.
He was listed as 255 pounds but likely played at a higher weight part of his career, and no other running back of that size gained anywhere close to the yards he did.
Bettis' latest snub displeased Steelers president Art Rooney II, who said last month that it was time for Bettis to get in.
Bettis could find it difficult to get in next year, when players such as Ty Law, Kevin Mawae, Torry Holt, Orlando Pace, Junior Seau, Kurt Warner and Edgerrin James become eligible.
Guy is a ground-breaker in that punters long were dismissed as players who got on the field only a couple of times a game — if that — and couldn't possibly make the impact of an every-down player.
“I played football,” said Guy, who hopes his selection leads to other punters getting in. “I was a quarterback in high school, a defensive safety in college. When I got to the Raiders, I understood what I could do for your team one or two plays a game. … Now there is a place for us (in the Hall of Fame).”
Reed, somewhat of a surprise selection despite ranking 13th all-time in receiving, said, “It's been a long journey.”
Tim Brown, No. 6 all-time in receiving yards, and Marvin Harrison, No. 7, were passed over for Reed.
Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.
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