On Friday morning, the Pro Football Hall of Fame committee announced their list of 15 finalists for enshrinement in the hallowed halls of Canton, OH. And it just so happens that two of those 15 finalists for football's most prestigious honor are former members of your Pittsburgh Steelers.
Former running back Jerome Bettis and linebacker Kevin Greene have made it through the chopping block and earned a place to be voted on the week before the Super Bowl. On that day, the list of 15 players will be cut down to no more than five who will forever be immortalized in NFL lore.
In 1993, the then Los Angeles Rams made former Notre Dame fullback Jerome Bettis the 10th pick in the NFL draft. Bettis was a staple in Chuck Knox's ground-and-pound offense in his early days with the Rams and rushed for over 2,400 yards in his first two seasons in LA, earning First Team All-Pro honors as a rookie.
But in 1995, the now St. Louis Rams had a new city and head coach in Rich Brooks, who favored the pass, limiting Bettis to just under 650 yards on the ground for the season.
On April 20, 1996, Bettis was traded to Pittsburgh for second and fourth round selections. It was a move that would forever change the Steelers franchise.
Bettis was an instant success in Pittsburgh, rushing for 1,431 yards and 11 touchdowns in his first season, earning him First Team All-Pro honors for the second time in his career. His powerful running style and blue-collar work ethic endeared him to the Steelers fans and affectionately earned him the nickname "the Bus".
Bettis would spend 10 of his 13 year pro career in the Steel City, racking up 10,571 yards and 78 touchdowns with the Steelers. The Bus earned four Pro Bowl appearances during his time in Pittsburgh and won Super Bowl XL in his final season in his hometown of Detroit, Michigan.
The Bus retired following the Super Bowl win in 2006 and still stands as the NFL's sixth all-time leading rusher with 13,662 career yards on the ground. Bettis' 91 career rushing touchdowns ranks him 10 on the all-time list as well.
Bettis' legacy is far-reaching in the city of Pittsburgh. He is one of the most beloved players to ever set foot in Three Rivers Stadium/Heinz Field, and is renowned as one of the two best backs to have ever played for the team.
Linebacker Kevin Greene has a quite different story than the one laid out by Bettis.
Like Bettis, Greene began his career in Los Angeles with the Rams in 1985. The former fifth round pick out of Auburn was used solely as a pass rush specialist in his first three seasons with the Rams, gathering 13.5 sacks without starting a single game.
But in 1988, Greene finally became a full-time starter in LA and made the most of his opportunity. He tallied up a career-high 16.5 sacks, intercepted one pass and forced two fumbles. All told, Greene spent eight seasons with the Rams before leaving for free agency in 1993.
In 1993, Greene signed a three year contract to play in Pittsburgh, a team that had been known for their strong defense. He joined a group of linebackers featuring Greg Lloyd and Levon Kirkland, creating one of the most feared groups during their time. And Greene was the teams top pass rush presence.
Under then (and current) defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, Greene flourished at reaching the quarterback. In 1993, Greene pulled in 12.5 sacks. The next season, he upped the ante to 14, which led the league and earned him All-Pro honors.
Greene only played three years in Pittsburgh, but they were some memorable times. In three short seasons with the team, Greene racked up 35.5 sacks and forced six fumbles. Greene's presence changed the culture in Pittsburgh, and really allowed the adaptation of the 3-4 defense that the team still employs to this day.
When it comes to thinking about the NFL's greatest pass rushers, Greene is often overlooked. The long-haired jester ranks third all-time with 160 career sacks. He was elected to five Pro Bowls and was honored with two First Team All-Pro selections. Greene led the NFL in sacks twice during his career and played in one Super Bowl, the Steelers' 1995 loss to the Dallas Cowboys.
The final list of 15 candidates can be found here and all of the players mentioned are more than deserving. But come Saturday, February 2nd, only five of these guys will be forever immortalized with a bronze bust.
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