A bus ride has several stops along the way before reaching its destination.
The route rarely runs in a straight line and goes out of the way before getting you where you need.
Jerome Bettis’ nickname, “The Bus”, is appropriate for many reasons.
His bruising running style and reluctance to be tackled is fitting of the name.
The journey from Detroit to the Pro Football Hall of Fame took him all over the map.
Growing up in the rough streets of the Motor City hardened him.
He found football in high school and his size helped him succeed.
Bettis overcame asthma, got a scholarship to Notre Dame, and impressed with the Fighting Irish.
The Los Angeles Rams drafted Bettis in the first round of the NFL Draft in 1993.
— NFL Football Operations (@NFLFootballOps) April 20, 2015
Three years later, Bettis contemplated retirement and his career nearly ended as a bust.
After that pit stop back in Notre Dame, “The Bus” stopped in Pittsburgh and revived his career.
Next stop, a Super Bowl in his hometown and Canton, Ohio for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The Bus Starts in Detroit
Far before he was nicknamed “The Bus”, Jerome Abram Bettis, grew up in Detroit, Michigan in the 1970s.
Bettis was born into a city that had been dealing with riots, social decline, and white plight out of the city center.
That backdrop created a tough environment for all of the city’s youth to thrive in.
As a teenager, Bettis and his brother, John, turned to sell crack to make income for his family.
“The mind-set was, ‘We’re in the hood. Mom and Dad, they’re working their butts off,” Bettis said on “In Depth with Graham Bensinger” in an interview in 2015. “There’s no money around. We need to make some money.’ So we said, ‘You know what? Let’s give it a shot.’ And it was one of those moments that you regret, but at the moment, that was the only thing that was really available to us.”
In high school, Bettis joined the football team at Mackenzie High School as a running back and linebacker.
His initial passion for bowling took a back seat as his football career took off.
By his senior year, Bettis was rated as the top player in Michigan by the Detroit Free Press.
He received the Gatorade Circle of Champions Player of the Year Award in his senior year of high school.
The University of Michigan recruited Bettis to try to keep the star running back in-state.
Michigan had recruited Ricky Powers as a top running back prospect and wanted Bettis to play linebacker.
Also, Michigan’s storied head coach Bo Schembechler retired during his recruitment of Bettis.
Notre Dame recruited Bettis and promised more opportunity as a running back.
Those factors and a visit from Notre Dame head coach Lou Holtz convinced Bettis to go to South Bend.
Rolling into South Bend
Bettis arrived at Notre Dame’s campus in South Bend in the Fall of 1990.
The freshman running back slotted into the depth chart behind Rickey Watters and Rodney Culver.
The Fighting Irish posted a 9-3 record but lost to Colorado in the Orange Bowl.
Bettis served more as a fullback and only carried the ball 15 times for 115 yards in his freshman season.
Watters graduated in 1990 and headed to the NFL, opening up more carries for Bettis in 1991.
As a sophomore, Bettis exploded onto the scene and racked up a Notre Dame record 23 touchdowns.
The Fighting Irish started the season ranked No. 7 in the country but lost its second game of the season to Michigan.
Happy Birthday to Notre Dame great and Pro Football Hall of Famer Jerome Bettis!
— Notre Dame Football (@NDFootball) February 16, 2016
Bettis struggled to get rolling against the team he rejected in the recruiting process.
He finished with 28 rushing yards on eight carries.
Notre Dame and Bettis hit their stride in the following seven-game winning streak.
Bettis’ most impressive game came against Stanford when he rushed for 179 yards and four touchdowns.
As the Irish kept winning, Bettis scored multiple touchdowns in five games during the winning streak.
Notre Dame faced a tough end to the regular season with matchups against ranked Tennessee and Penn State.
The Fighting Irish held a 34-21 lead against Tennessee but stumbled down the stretch, losing 35-34.
It wasn’t as close against Penn State as Notre Dame fell behind 21-0 early.
Bettis scored a second-quarter touchdown but the Irish lost 35-13.
With a 9-3 record, the Irish headed to the Sugar Bowl against No. 3 ranked Florida.
Bettis entered the game with 20 touchdowns (16 rushing and 4 receiving) on the season.
The Irish led 17-16 heading into the fourth quarter of the Sugar Bowl when Bettis hit his stride.
Notre Dame went on to win 39-28 as Bettis scored three fourth-quarter touchdowns and finished with 150 rushing yards.
Tune-Up for the NFL
Notre Dame’s dynamic backfield exploded for nearly 400 yards in the season opener against Northwestern in 1992.
Bettis rushed for 130 yards and a touchdown in the opener.
In his junior season, Bettis’ production slipped a bit but he still put up several monster performances.
The Irish defeated Purdue 48-0 behind three touchdowns from Bettis.
After a tough loss to Stanford, Notre Dame won its next seven games, including four-straight against ranked opponents.
Bettis capped off his college career in a 28-3 win in the Cotton Bowl against Texas A&M.
The Irish’s running back scored three touchdowns and 101 scrimmage yards.
Following the season, Bettis announced he’d forego his senior season and declare for the 1993 NFL Draft.
Pit Stop with the Rams
The Los Angeles Rams selected Jerome Bettis 10th overall in the 1993 NFL Draft.
Bettis became the second running back off the board behind Garrison Hearst.
Cleveland Gary started four of the first five games for the Rams before Bettis took over.
After becoming the starter, Bettis averaged more than 100 rushing yards per game for the remainder of the season.
He posted a season-high 212 rushing yards in Week 15 against New Orleans Saints.
Despite Bettis’ impressive performance, the Rams finished 5-11 on the season.
Bettis earned his first nickname in the league, “The Battering Ram”, as he won Offensive Rookie of the Year unanimously.
After an impressive rookie season, Bettis followed it up with another 1,000 yard Pro Bowl season.
In 1994, the Rams posted a 4-12 record in their final season in Los Angeles.
Bettis eclipsed 100 rushing yards four times in the first five games then suffered injuries the remainder of the season.
A back injury in Week 5 against the Atlanta Falcons slowed Bettis down considerably.
He didn’t break the 100-yard mark in any of the remaining 11 games in 1994.
This Week In 1994: Los Angeles Rams RB Jerome Bettis in game vs Atlanta Falcons pic.twitter.com/6Ynye7UsrP
— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) September 13, 2016
Even with the decline in the second half of the season, Bettis finished ranked sixth in the league in rushing yards.
The Rams moved to St. Louis in 1995 and hired Rich Brooks as head coach.
Brooks implemented a more pass-heavy offensive scheme and severely limited Bettis’ production.
A disgruntled Bettis also injured his foot halfway through the 1995 season and missed the first game of his career.
He returned but was ineffective throughout the final seven games.
Bettis averaged fewer than 35 yards per game to close out the 1995 season and seriously contemplated retirement.
Frustrated by his playing time, contract, and team’s lack of success, Bettis returned to Notre Dame to enroll in more classes.
Back to South Bend
The return to South Bend wasn’t a stunt or an attempt to get out of his contract with the St. Louis Rams.
Bettis legitimately planned to obtain a degree and find a different line of work.
He readmitted to classes in Spring 1996 at Notre Dame after petitioning the faculty with a letter.
At the time, Bettis took 18 credits and prepared to be a full-time student with no intent to play for the Rams again.
“Well, actually, the thought was that it was over,” Bettis said in 1996. “When I went back to school, I was firm in my commitment on not going back to St. Louis. That was the game plan — for me to finish up and start in the real world. That was why I decided to go back to school, because I wanted to really get ready.”
Behind the scenes, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Bill Cowher was figuring out if Bettis was worth trading for.
As a player at NC State, Cowher played for Bettis’ college coach, Lou Holtz.
Cowher reached out to his old coach and acquired some intel on Bettis.
Holtz persuaded Cowher that the best for Bettis was still in front of him.
“Jerome told me that he was going to spend five months at Notre Dame and get his attitude right,” Holtz said to the New York Times. “I think being around our players and our alumni was a very positive thing. The respect that people had for Jerome made him realize how good he was.”
The Rams had interest from the Steelers and Houston Oilers for Bettis.
Bettis shared his preference of Pittsburgh over Houston, who had announced they’d be moving to Nashville in 1998.
St. Louis worked out a deal and sent Bettis and a 1996 third-round pick to the Pittsburgh Steelers for a 1996 second-round pick and a 1997 fourth-round pick.
Rolling into the Steel City
After being eased into the Steelers’ offense in Week 1, Bettis topped 100 rushing yards in five-straight games and paid dividends to Pittsburgh immediately.
Overall, Bettis topped 100 rushing yards in 10 games and totaled 1431 yards and 11 touchdowns for the season.
After losing the Super Bowl in 1995, the Steelers returned to the playoffs after a 10-6 season in 1996.
The Steelers defeated the Indianapolis Colts, 42-14, behind 102 rushing yards and two touchdowns from Jerome Bettis.
In the AFC Conference Championship, the New England Patriots rolled through the Steelers, 28-3.
Bettis finished with 13 carries for 43 yards in the game.
After not having a winning season in three years with the Rams, making the playoffs was an achievement for Bettis.
Bettis was awarded Comeback Player of the Year in 1996 and voted the Steelers’ team MVP.
“The Bus” followed up 1996 with the most productive year of his career in 1997.
— Alex Kozora (@Alex_Kozora) August 13, 2020
He accumulated 1665 rushing yards in only 15 games as he missed the season finale against Tennessee.
Bettis came with 26 yards of the Steelers’ all-time rushing record a season behind Barry Foster.
The career year was overshadowed by two all-time dominant rushing seasons by Barry Sanders and Terrell Davis.
In the postseason, Bettis struggled against the Patriots once again.
The Steelers came out victorious in a 7-6 defensive contest where Bettis rushed for 67 yards on 25 carries.
Pittsburgh lost in the AFC Conference Championship for the second consecutive season.
Bettis performed admirably with 105 rushing yards but Terrell Davis got the better of the Steelers’ defense with 136 rushing yards.
“The Bus” Keeps Rolling in Pittsburgh
After back-to-back AFC Conference Championship appearances, the Steelers slumped through the next several seasons heading toward 2000.
Bettis topped 1,000 yards in each of his first six seasons in Pittsburgh even as the team’s success dropped from 1998 to 2000.
In 1998, the Steelers finished 7-9 with Bettis compiling 1185 rushing yards and three touchdowns.
After a 5-3 start in 1999, the Steelers lost their next six games.
During the losing streak, Bettis didn’t top 100 rushing yards once.
— BlitzburghVideos ✨ (@BlitzVideos) August 6, 2020
Bettis and the Steelers returned to form in Week 15 with 137 rushing yards in a 30-20 win against Carolina.
The late-season burst came too late as the Steelers finished the 1999 season with a 6-10 record.
In 2000, the Steelers started the season 0-3 with tough losses to the Ravens, Browns, and Titans.
The Steelers rebound with a dominant five-game winning streak where the defense only allowed 19 total points.
Bettis topped 100 yards three times during that stretch and provided quintessential Steelers’ football.
A rocky second half of the season left Pittsburgh sitting at 9-7 on the outside of the playoffs for the third-straight year.
An Injured 2001 Season
In 2001, the Steelers won five of its first six games to kick off the season.
Bettis topped 100 rushing yards in four of the first five games.
He tallied four touchdowns and 1,072 rushing yards through the Steelers’ first 11 games of 2001.
In Week 12, Bettis injured his groin and missed the remainder of the season.
The Steelers headed into the playoffs with a 13-3 record and a first-round bye.
Bettis attempted to return in the Divisional Round against the Baltimore Ravens.
— In The Showcase (@intheshowcase) July 3, 2020
He took the field to test out his groin and was scheduled to receive a pain-reliever shot before the game started.
After going back to the locker room before the game, he decided he couldn’t go because the discomfort was too much.
Chris Fuamatu-Ma’afala played in relief of Bettis in the Divisional Round game.
In the AFC Championship Game against the New England Patriots, Bettis attempted to play but was ineffective with only eight yards on nine carries.
The Patriots defeated the Steelers 24-17 and advanced to the Super Bowl.
Bettis made the Pro Bowl with only 11 games played and was on pace for nearly 1600 yards in a full season.
Slowing “The Bus” Down
Bettis turned 30 in 2002 and never returned to his previous form as a dominant running back
Amos Zereoue began to share a bigger bulk of the load than “The Bus” in 2002.
Bettis finished with 666 rushing yards and served as a goalline option with nine touchdowns.
Zereoue posted 762 rushing yards on the season.
“It was wonderful,” Zereoue said of his relationship with Bettis to Steelers.com. “It made it easier because Jerome is such a nice guy. Normally when you are a younger guy you come in and veterans have a tendency to give you a hard time. You are playing the same position, it’s a competition. Being the guy he is, it made it a lot smoother. We had the little brother, big brother relationship. He took me under his wing. We hit it off good early. Once I came into the building it was easy to talk to him when there were things I didn’t understand on the field, and off the field.”
The Steelers finished 10-5-1 in the regular season and hosted the Cleveland Browns in the Wild Card Round.
This day in #PGHistory: The Steelers open their season at Heinz Field, with a 24-21 win over the Oakland Raiders. (2004)
All three of Pittsburgh’s TDs were scored by Jerome Bettis, who ended the game with one rushing yard and three touchdowns. (Yes, you read that correctly.) pic.twitter.com/DPdUVV4d9i
— Pittsburgh Clothing Co. (@PGHClothingCo) September 12, 2018
Bettis only carried the ball four times for four yards in the playoffs as Pittsburgh lost to the Tennessee Titans 34-31 in the Divisional Round.
Zereoue started the first six games in 2003 before Cowher turned back to Bettis as the starter.
“The Bus” showed sparks of his old form and posted 106 rushing yards and a touchdown in Week 14 against the Oakland Raiders.
Overall, the Steelers struggled throughout the season and finished 6-10.
In the 2004 NFL Draft, the Steelers selected Ben Roethlisberger as their QB of the future.
— Blitzburgh ✨ (@RenegadeBlitz) April 27, 2017
Roethlisberger saw his first action Week 2 in relief of Tommy Maddox and went 13-0 in the remainder of his regular-season starts in 2004.
Duce Staley joined the Steelers roster and split time with Bettis in the backfield.
At 32 years old, Bettis focused more as a short-yardage threat over an every-down back.
He tallied 941 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns and made the final Pro Bowl of his career.
In the divisional round, the Steelers relied on a 33-yard Jeff Reid field goal to beat the New York Jets in overtime, 20-17.
Pittsburgh faced off against its familiar rival, the New England Patriots, in the AFC Conference Championship Game.
Bettis carried the ball 17 times for 64 yards and a touchdown.
The Patriots dominated the Steelers en route to a 41-27 victory.
Heading into the 2005 season, Jerome Bettis considered retirement.
One Last Ride on “The Bus”
Bettis decided to return for one more season with the Steelers, knowing he’d be a complementary piece and not the featured back.
Undrafted running back Willie Parker impressed in the preseason and earned the starting role for the 2005 season.
Parker impressed with 1,202 rushing yards and four touchdowns.
Bettis fulfilled his role as the goalline specialist and scored nine touchdowns on 368 rushing yards.
The Steelers rolled to a 7-2 record before slumping through a three-game losing streak.
Pittsburgh won its final four games to finish 11-5 but lost the tie-breaker to the Bengals for the division.
In the Wild Card Round, the Steelers faced their division-rival Bengals.
Carson Palmer got injured on his first pass attempt of the game, giving Pittsburgh an opening to win the game.
One of the most disappointing injuries I can remember is Carson Palmer’s ACL in the playoffs.
It was fun that the terrible Bengals were finally good. That 05 team was loaded. Palmer was great. Cinch had split with the Steelers in reg season. All over in 1 play. pic.twitter.com/rKFXTix2hy
— Kyle Brandt (@KyleBrandt) January 2, 2018
The Bengals held tough and led 17-14 at halftime.
Bettis received a handoff in the third quarter and took it five yards for a Steelers touchdown.
Pittsburgh scored 17 unanswered second-half points to win 31-17.
In the Divisional Round against the Indianapolis Colts, the Steelers nearly saw it slip away.
After taking a 21-3 lead on a Bettis touchdown run in the third quarter, the Steelers watched the Colts battle back.
The Steelers led 21-18 as Bettis received a goalline handoff to put the game away.
Gary Brackett put his helmet on the ball and caused “The Bus” to fumble.
Nick Harper picked up the ball for Indy and was headed to the end zone.
Ben Roethlisberger tripped up Harper and prevented the touchdown.
The Colts set up Mike Vanderjagt for a 46-yard field goal that he pushed wide right.
Today, in #PGHSportsHistory, 2006: Steelers and Colts face each other in another postseason contest that comes down to a miracle play, aka Roethlisberger's "shoestring tackle."https://t.co/6HhFJ86aFy pic.twitter.com/1n5WZuBVP9
— Pittsburgh City Paper (@PGHCityPaper) January 15, 2018
Pittsburgh and Bettis lived to see another day and won 21-18.
With its newfound hope, the Steelers didn’t waste their chances and stormed out to a 24-3 lead.
Bettis scored a second-quarter touchdown and finished with 39 rushing yards.
The Steelers went on to win 34-17 and advance to the first Super Bowl of Bettis’ career.
Pittsburgh faced the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XL.
Both teams struggled to get their offense going.
Bettis rushed for 43 yards on 14 carries.
Jerome Bettis & Joey Porter’s locker room speech will have you ready to run through a wall.
— Daniel Valente (@StatsGuyDaniel) July 22, 2020
Willie Parker led the way and rushed for 93 yards and a touchdown.
The biggest play of the game came on a trick play when Antwaan Randle El threw a 43-yard touchdown pass to Hines Ward.
The Steelers won 21-10 and sent Bettis off into the sunset with a Super Bowl win in his hometown of Detroit.
Bettis announced his retirement and said, “The Bus’ last stop is here in Detroit,” after winning the game.
Life after Football
Bettis announced his retirement as a Super Bowl winner and finished with the fifth-most rushing yards in NFL history.
Throughout his career, Bettis eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards eight times and totaled 91 rushing touchdowns.
He had to wait nine years before receiving induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio in 2015.
His brother, John, introduced him at the hall of fame.
Bettis joined NBC Sports’ “Football Night in America” as a studio commentator in 2006.
"The Bus will always and forever run, in Canton Ohio, home of the Pro Football Hall of Fame." – Jerome Bettis. pic.twitter.com/EQetVrAcVT
— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) August 9, 2015
After two years in the role, Bettis left NBC to pursue other endeavors.
Pittsburgh and Bettis have a special place in each other’s hearts.
Bettis rode a bus onto Heinz Field for the 2006 home opener and received a standing ovation from Steelers’ fans.
“The Bus” stays connected in the Pittsburgh community and opened Jerome Bettis’ Grille 36 near Heinz Field in 2007.
Bettis hosts “The Jerome Bettis Show” on WPXI-TV in Pittsburgh on Saturdays during the football season.
In 2006, Bettis married his long-time girlfriend, Trameka Boykin.
The couple has two kids, Jerome Jr. and Jada, and live in Atlanta, Georgia.
Bettis nearly saw his career falter like so many other’s have when things go wrong with the team that drafted them.
His perseverance and guidance from some family and coaches got him to a fresh start in Pittsburgh.
Bettis’ kind demeanor endeared him to the city of Pittsburgh and he remains an icon in the Steel City.
“The Bus” made many prominent stops along the way and permanently parked himself in the NFL history books.