NFL Hall of Fame Voting: 10 Reasons Jerome Bettis Is a Lock For Class of 2012
Former Pittsburgh Steelers running back and Super Bowl champion Jerome Bettis missed out on election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2011, passed over for entrants Deion Sanders, Marshall Faulk, Shannon Sharpe, Richard Dent, Ed Sabol, Les Richter and Chris Hanburger.
Bettis is ranked fifth all time in NFL rushing yardage and went out on top in his final year, winning the title that eluded him and then riding off into the sunset.
The five-year waiting period ended this year, but Bettis wasn't inducted in his first year of Hall of Fame eligibility.
The question now turns to 2012, and whether that will be the year that "The Bus" drives over to Canton for enshrinement among the NFL's all-time greats.
I'll lay out the case for Jerome Bettis, and why he should be inducted with the next class of Pro Football Hall of Famers.
Bettis' Final Career Rushing Marks
Jerome Bettis' final, cumulative career accomplishments place him in the sort of company that virtually guarantees placement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He compiled the fifth-most rushing yards in football history, tallying 13,653 yards over his impressive career.
The top three players on the all-time rushing list are already in the Hall of Fame, and No. 4 is Curtis Martin, the former New England Patriots and New York Jets running back who, like Bettis, was passed over for induction in 2011.
The secretive committee that's responsible for choosing the new Hall of Famers each year usually shies away from selecting more than one player from the same position in each class. So, it's rare to see more than one running back in a given year, and 2011 featured the elite runner Marshall Faulk, who was widely considered a first-ballot lock and was rightly put up for induction by the nominating committee.
Since only five modern era players get elected per year, the field can be a bit crowded. Because Faulk will be inducted this year, Bettis can look forward to an invitation in 2012.
The Head-to-Head with Curtis Martin
Curtis Martin is, undeniably, an all-time great running back, with very similar numbers to Jerome Bettis. Both were eligible for the first time this year, but neither was selected.
Now, the question becomes: Who gets inducted into the Hall of Fame first, Martin or Bettis?
For me the answer is Bettis, although the two seem locked in a virtual dead-heat.
Martin is in fourth place on the all-time rushing list with 14,101 yards, 448 more than Bettis' 13,653, good for fifth all time. For his career, Martin averaged 4.0 yards per carry, despite having a reputation as more of an explosive, big-play running back. Bettis' average was 3.9, right behind Martin.
I think what pushes Bettis over the top is his Super Bowl ring, which Martin conspicuously lacks. It's a bit unfair, given that it requires a ton of good fortune to be a part of a Super Bowl team, but the two backs are so equally stacked up, I think this could stand as the one deciding factor.
Other key numbers give Bettis a slight edge over Martin, as well—Martin was a five-time Pro Bowl selection and three-time NFL All-Pro (twice a member of the first team). Bettis was selected for six Pro Bowls, was a two-time All-Pro and was once a first-teamer.
Since these guys are so evenly matched, I think the ring is the thing that seals Bettis' selection in 2012.
A Slight Knock on Skill-Position Players (Except Quarterbacks)
The selection committee seems very stingy when it comes to handing out Hall of Fame spots to running backs and wide receivers, which can partly explain why only one running back made it this year, and exactly zero wide receivers were selected, despite the legitimate cases held by Cris Carter, Tim Brown and Andre Reed.
Come 2012, this logjam of skill players will have to be cleared a bit, and I think Bettis is one of the candidates that will clearly benefit from the fact that the committee will have a long list of skill-position players eligible for election.
This year, they took care of the top cornerback (Deion Sanders) and tight end (Shannon Sharpe) of the recent generation.
I think Bettis and Carter are next in line, ahead of Reed and Brown.
The First-Year Eligible Blues
The mysterious selection committee also tends to avoid players eligible for the first time. Guys like Faulk and Sanders are locks, but waiting at least a year is the norm for players that aren't jaw-dropping statistically.
I think Bettis falls into that group. He has the numbers of an all-time great, but he wasn't head-and-shoulders above the league at his position the way Faulk and Sanders were at their peaks.
He seems like a clear second-ballot Hall of Fame inductee, and I think it will be extremely hard to deny him entry again in 2012.
Not that there will be a ton of backlash over Bettis missing the cut for this year's Hall of Fame class, but the exclusion of Martin, Bettis, Cris Carter and others has raised numerous eyebrows across the football landscape since the announcement was made yesterday of the five modern players selected for induction.
The committee, however, is seemingly set in their ways—the last time they inducted two players from the same position was in 2006, when a pair of quarterbacks (Troy Aikman and Warren Moon) were selected.
The heat will be on the voters to clear up some overcrowding at positions with multiple deserving candidates, such as running back and wide receiver.
Two Steelers in 2012?
Bettis' exclusion opens the door for two former Pittsburgh Steelers to enter the Hall in 2012.
I think Bettis gets in, and he may be joined by center (and Pittsburgh legend) Dermontti Dawson. Dawson has been eligible since 2005, and though he has not yet been enshrined, the voters usually value offensive-line contributions, and Dawson was a unique athlete whose career was cut short by injury.
Perhaps fate has intervened to ensure the induction of two Steelers next year.
Bettis' Central Role in Pittsburgh's Offense
No, he wasn't a speed back who lived outside the tackles and cut up-field with creative moves and agility, but Jerome Bettis was still a central cog in much of what the Pittsburgh Steelers' offenses did during his playing days.
Bettis made his name running inside for the most part, and he was the rock that the Steelers' offense leaned on. Despite his style, he still managed to put up some huge numbers, ending up with more than 60 games of at least 100 yards rushing.
In Bettis' day, the blueprint for Steelers success was usually defense and ball-control. He was the main reason they were able to manage games effectively, as his running ate up clock and valuable yardage week-in and week-out.
Fewer Worthy Candidates
Bill Parcells and guard Will Shields are probably the strongest new additions to the Hall of Fame ballot come 2012, so it will be up to voters to pick between the carryover candidates and only a pair of new names that truly warrant strong first-ballot Hall of Fame consideration. I could see Parcells being passed over as a first-ballot selection, while Shields has extremely impressive credentials for an offensive lineman.
But the good news for Bettis is that the two newly-eligible running backs, Tiki Barber and Corey Dillon, shouldn't do much to push he and Curtis Martin for the running back induction spot in 2012. It's ultimately a numbers game in terms of induction, so I think the somewhat weak class of 2012 first-years will help Bettis get through the selection process.
It's entirely intangible and not what should be the ultimate deciding factor for enshrinement, but Jerome Bettis does have a strong reputation as a quality individual and teammate, which can only help his case for induction next year.
While it's not called the "Hall of Good Guys", it's human nature to weigh the personal attributes of players, especially when they are neck-and-neck with other, similar performers. I think Bettis' standing in the eyes of voters has to be helped by his clean track-record and popularity.
It may seem inconsequential, but every little bit helps towards a Hall of Fame push for a player in a crowded field such as Bettis.