Remembering Jerome Bettis' Hall of Fame Career

Zach Kruse@@zachkruse2Senior Analyst IAugust 8, 2015

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On Saturday, "The Bus" will pull into Canton, Ohio, and park for good at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. 

Former Los Angeles and St. Louis Rams and Pittsburgh Steelers running back Jerome Bettis—whose bruising style helped earn him an iconic nickname as one of the most productive runners in NFL history—will enter the Hall of Fame as part of the eight-man 2015 induction class. 

His 13-year career included eight 1,000-yard rushing seasons, 94 total touchdowns and six Pro Bowl selections. The Detroit native retired from the league after winning his first and only Super Bowl in his hometown in 2006.

Bettis will be presented by his brother, John Bettis III. 

Here's a look back at the Hall of Fame career of the running back best known as The Bus.

The Battering Ram is Born

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ANAHEIM, CA - NOVEMBER 21:  Running back Jerome Bettis #36 of the Los Angeles Rams runs upfield against the Washington Redskins at Anaheim Stadium in Anaheim, California on Novemtber 21, 1993. The Rams defeated the Redskins 10-6. (Photo by Joseph Patronit
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The Bus almost never left the garage. 

During his college recruiting process, many schools wanted the 240-pounder to play on the other side of the football. 

"Michigan wanted me to play linebacker," Bettis said, via Steve Doerschuk of the Canton Repository. "A lot of schools wanted me to be a linebacker."

But Bettis had other ideas. He instead wanted to dish out punishment to linebackers. He wanted to play fullback, once a more glamorous position than it is today. When Lou Holtz and Notre Dame offered him that chance, Bettis took it and never looked back. 

It was a good decision. 

After three years and 27 rushing touchdowns in South Bend, Bettis left Notre Dame and entered the 1993 NFL draft. The Los Angeles Rams made him the 10th overall pick in the first round.

The NFL's Battering Ram was born. 

Head coach Chuck Knox rode his young back in Los Angeles, giving Bettis over 600 carries during his first two seasons. Bettis delivered. His 1,429 yards as a rookie ranked second in the NFL behind only Emmitt Smith's 1,486. He won Offensive Rookie of the Year and was named a first-team All-Pro. A year later, Bettis cracked 1,000 yards and caught 31 passes. 

But while Bettis was developing into a star, the Rams were struggling to stay relevant. Knox's teams won just nine combined games in 1993 and 1994. Change was in the air. The decisions to come helped set the stage for the rest of Bettis' career.  

A Change of Plans and Bam's Mistake

The Rams relocated to St. Louis ahead of the 1995 season. With the move came a new head coach. Gone was Knox, a throwback, run-first operator of offense. Rich Brooks, who had rebuilt the program at the University of Oregon, was in. His style of offense didn't exactly mesh with the rough and tough abilities of Bettis, who carried just 183 times for 637 yards during a frustrating season. 

Brooks had a running back he didn't want. The Steelers, fresh off a Super Bowl loss, needed a runner after losing starter Bam Morris to an arrest for marijuana possession. Need met need, and a deal was completed. 

"It was one of those things that you couldn't believe we had the opportunity when he became available," Steelers president Art Rooney said, via Will Graves of the Associated Press. "Everything just sort of fell into place."

Jerome Bettis: Career Highlights
•6-time Pro Bowler•2-time All-Pro selection
•13,662 career rushing yards•Scored 94 total TDs
•Won Super Bowl XL with Steelers•1993 Offensive Rookie of the Year
•1996 Comeback Player of the Year•2001 Walter Payton Man of the Year
Pro Football Reference

Brooks and the Rams agreed to trade Bettis to Bill Cowher's Steelers during the spring of '96, ridding St. Louis of an unwanted commodity while giving Pittsburgh the power presence it required at running back. The cost for the Steelers was two picks: a second-rounder in '96 and a fourth-rounder in '97. 

"I wanted a little more speed at the position," Brooks said in '96, via Timothy W. Smith of the New York Times. "Jerome is an outstanding player, and the Pittsburgh scheme will suit him more than my scheme will. It is a good move for Jerome."

The trade was a smashing success for both Bettis and the Steelers. 

The Bus Rolls for Pittsburgh

While Brooks and the Rams labored through two mostly unsuccessful seasons in St. Louis, Bettis was using his fresh start in Pittsburgh to regain his footing as one of the NFL's best backs. In fact, from 1996 to 2001, only Eddie George (7,813) rushed for more yards than Bettis (7,785).

"He did it over such a long period of time," former Steelers director of football operations Tom Donahoe said, via Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "Everybody knew he was getting the ball, and they still couldn't stop him. He had a lot of big games, a lot of yards, a lot of tough yards."

Jerome Bettis: Career Rushing Ranks
BettisNFL Rank
Rushing Yards13,6626th
Rushing Attempts3,4794th
Rushing Touchdowns91T10th
Pro Football Reference

Bettis eclipsed 1,000 yards during each of his first six seasons with the Steelers. In '96, Bettis carried 320 times for 1,431 yards and 11 scores, earning Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors in the process. He set career highs for carries and yards a year later, rushing 375 times for 1,665 yards during another Pro Bowl season. 

After three more 1,000-yard seasons, Bettis again became a Pro Bowler in 2001. He rushed for 1,072 yards in just 11 games before an injury cost him the final five contests. It was the last season in which he broke 1,000 yards. 

But Bettis didn't just fade into the background. While he averaged less than 700 yards per year over his final four seasons, Bettis remained an integral part of the Pittsburgh offense—scoring 38 touchdowns from 2002 to 2005 despite ceding starts and carries to younger players. 

Bettis made the Pro Bowl for a final time in 2004, when he started just six games but scored 13 touchdowns. 

"When you look at power running backs and his running style and his ability week-in and week-out, year-in and year-out, it made him very special," Cowher said, via Bouchette. 

Few backs have been better in the closing role. With late leads in hand, Cowher pounded Bettis at worn-down defenses. The result? Cowher's Steelers lost just one game when leading by at least 10 points. 

The only thing missing for Bettis was playoff glory. Late in his career, the Steelers were building a championship-quality core. 

After back-to-back trips to the postseason in 2001 and 2002, Pittsburgh won just six games in 2003. The next season, the Steelers went 15-1 and advanced to the AFC title game. But a crushing defeat to the New England Patriots left Bettis wondering if he'd ever achieve his ultimate goal in the sport. 

Fairy-Tale Ending

Bettis wasn't sure of returning to the game for the 2005 season. Too many hits, too many close calls. At some point, the tank runs empty—even for The Bus. 

"I was very, very close to retiring," Bettis told Jacob Klinger of Penn Live. "In fact, I talked to the team and told the team that I was retiring. So I was pretty much done."

But his story wasn't ready to end. Not without one last ride.

"At the 12th hour, I was convinced to come back and give it one more shot," Bettis said, via Graves. "Boy, I'm glad I did."

The Steelers didn't need the 1997 version of Bettis. He didn't start a game in 2005, and he carried just 110 times for 368 yards. But he did score nine touchdowns for a team that finished 11-5 in the regular season, setting up a postseason run even Hollywood wouldn't sanction. 

The 33-year-old Bettis found the end zone in playoff wins over the Bengals, Colts and Broncos as the Steelers stamped their place in Super Bowl XL. The location? Detroit, of all places. 

The Steelers beat the Seahawks, 21-10. Bettis carried 14 times for 43 yards. He didn't play another NFL game. He didn't need to. 

"I played this game to win a championship," Bettis said during the postgame ceremonies, via Jason La Canfora, then of the Washington Post. "I'm a champion. And I think the Bus's last stop is here in Detroit."

The Bus actually has one last stop. 

A career spanning 13 seasons and 13,662 rushing yards—now the sixth-most in NFL history—will end Saturday in Canton, Ohio. One of the most punishing, productive backs in NFL history, Bettis is joining football immortality. 

Zach Kruse covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. 

Follow @zachkruse2