Welcome to Jerome Bettis week here on TotesStillers!
On Tuesday, I mentioned the Bus’s near fatal mistake against the Indianapolis Colts. Thankfully, our last image of Bettis wasn’t him sitting glumly on the sideline after a brainfart of epic proportions but rather him hoisting the Lombardi Trophy aloft after the Pittsburgh Steelers won the Super Bowl in his hometown of Detroit, Michigan. It was a storybook ending for a fantastic career. With his playing days behind him, there is now only one more honor for Bettis to attain.
Will this be the year Jerome Bettis is elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame?
The NFL released a list of finalists last week and, for the fourth consecutive year, the Bus was among the contenders for enshrinement. This year looks to his best shot yet as the field is the weakest it’s been since he became eligible back in 2010. The NFL conducts their selection process a bit differently than does MLB which leads to a whole different level of quirks and biases. Instead of checking names off a ballot like the baseball writers do, the football writers actually meet in person with a writer representing each city (I believe the P-G’s Ed Bouchette is repping Pittsburgh this year) along with a group of national journalists who all sit around discussing the merits of the individual candidates. It’s basically an adult version of the Mock UN we all did in high school minus the little flags and guacamole dip.
There’s certainly much to recommend about the NFL’s way of selecting their HOFers but generally speaking the process has worked against the Steelers. For one, both Bouchette and Ron Cook (whose represented the city in prior years) have spoken openly about an anti-Steeler bias with many writers feeling the team is already over-represented in Canton. Well, that’s just idiotic. When you win as much as we have, it’s only logical that we’d have more than our fair share of the best players from any given era. What, are we supposed to elect a bunch of Detroit Lions or Cleveland Browns even if those franchises have never won anything?
Regardless of whether it’s fair or not , Steelers are going to held to a higher threshold for induction than had they played for another team. I’m sure we’re going to encounter this in a couple years when Hines Ward becomes eligible, as well. Another little quirk besides voters trying to spread the wealth so no single franchise dominates the ceremony, they also like to spread things around positionally speaking. As you look back over the last decade or so worth of inductions, you’ll notice they try to limit it so that the so-called “glamor positions” are equally represented by the grunts. So you usually have one quarterback or one running back each year to go along with an offensive and/or defensive lineman.
Which goes back to why this may be Bettis’s best chance to get in. His first year, he faced tough competition from fellow RBs Marshall Faulk and Curtis Martin. I love the Bus but Faulk was a two time NFL MVP and certainly deserved to be the first RB to get in from his era. The next season the choice came down to Martin and Bettis. For whatever reason, center Dermontti Dawson received a surge of support (it was his seventh year on the ballot) and while I certainly think he deserves to be a HOFer the aforementioned Steeler biased all but ensured Bettis wasn’t getting in since no way would TWO members of the Black and Gold be elected in the same year.
With Faulk and Martin enshrined, last year seemed to be a good chance for Bettis but the voters decided to celebrate the guys in the trenches by electing two offensive lineman and a defensive tackle. They also chose a legendary head coach in Bill Parcells and kowtowed to ESPN’s relentless campaigning by choosing WR Cris Carter. With those big names off the ballot, this year’s finalists are a pretty wide-open field. Michael Strahan is really the only “sexy” name on the ballot with there being plenty of arguments for and against names like Tony Dungy, Marvin Harrison, John Lynch, and former Steeler Kevin Greene.
Lacking any real standout names, the voters usually use “down” years like this and last year to add guys who may have been passed up in previous years. The Bus is currently sixth all-time in rushing yards having played in six Pro Bowls over his 13 year career. Those are certainly HOF credentials. While he may have never been flashiest of players, it’s clear the HOF voters place a premium on longevity which explains why Lynn Swann took so long to get in and why guys like Terrell Davis will probably never be elected. Looking over this year’s finalists, one would be hard pressed to find one more deserving than Bettis.
Let’s hope when the NFL announces their 2014 class at their Awards Show night – shamelessly ripped off from the NHL, not unlike the All-Star/Pro Bowl draft gimmick, by the way – a couple Saturday’s from now, Jerome Bettis will finally receive the honor he so definitely deserves.