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Jerome Bettis honored to win Dapper Dan Lifetime Achievement Award in 'adopted hometown'

Jerome Bettis honored to win Dapper Dan Lifetime Achievement Award in 'adopted hometown'

02/14/2019
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Story courtesy of post-gazette

As it is for many people, the trajectory of Jerome Bettis’ life can be traced through a set of fortuitous phone calls and sound decisions.

Bettis received a phone call on April 20, 1996, that would change everything.

The 5-foot-11, 255-pound running back had just completed a tough season with the Rams. Bettis only had 623 yards on 183 attempts in 1995, which was the Rams’ first in St.Louis after leaving Los Angeles. In his rookie campaign, Bettis rushed for 1,429 yards and followed up with 1,025 in 1994.

Steelers head coach Bill Cowher called Bettis to let him know that he would be coming to Pittsburgh.

“He said something that I’ll never forget,” Bettis told the Post-Gazette. “’If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.’ He was referring to my rookie year. We played against them they couldn’t stop me. It felt good to know he recognized my talent that way.”

Bettis played the remaining 10 seasons of his career with Steelers and ran for 10,571 of his 13,662 career yards wearing the black and gold.

“It’s an amazing organization. You don’t realize it until you get inside the culture. At first, you think it’s like any other team. But once you’re in, you see it’s different,” Bettis said. “It starts from your teammates to the coaches, to the administration and all the way up to the owner. Everybody in the building was on the same page. We were able to talk to the owner on a first-name basis. I appreciated that coming from a close family. It was an amazing opportunity to play for what I feel is the best organization in football.”

Feb. 20 will be another special date for Bettis. He will be honored with a lifetime achievement award at the 83rd annual Dapper Dan Dinner and Sports Auction at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. Money raised at the event primarily goes to the Boys and Girls Club of Western Pennsylvania. Bettis has been active with Dapper Dan, winning the Sportsman of the Year award in 2006 after playing a key role on a Super Bowl-winning team. It wasn’t his best statistical season, but it was his most rewarding.

“Winning that ring for this great city will be something I’ll never forget,” Bettis said. “I can’t think of a better way to end my career. I’m so thankful for that organization and its fans. They embraced me.”

Before that moment, Bettis had to make a tough decision. The Steelers went 15-1 in 2004 but lost to the New England Patriots in the AFC championship game. He strongly considered retiring.

“I struggled with making a choice for a while,” Bettis said. “We put so much into that season and we didn’t quite get it done. I didn’t want to go out that way, but I also was tired of the grind. I was working out some days and I’d ask myself if I was still sure. I’m glad I came back.”

We were able to catch up with Bettis for a few questions before the event. We discussed his love for Pittsburgh and what he’s doing now:

Q: What was Dan Rooney like?

Bettis: He cared. He really cared. He was incredible. He would ask questions and listen to the answer. You know how some people ask how your family is doing, but they’re halfway down the hall before you can answer. Rooney didn’t ask just to be asking. He wanted to know how you and loved ones were. Those are the kind of things that stick out and you’re thankful for.

Q: What is it like winning a lifetime achievement award at 46?

A: For me, there’s still work to be done. I’m thankful for the award. I’m still working to impact lives and creating change. I still have a great opportunity and responsibility to keep grinding.

Q: The award speaks to what you’ve meant to the city. What does the city mean to you?

A: It’s an adopted hometown. I’ve been there so long now that people think I’m from Pittsburgh. It felt like they adopted me from the minute I got here. When this city is behind you, they’re behind you 100 percent.

Q: How did you make it out of a tough neighborhood in Detroit?

A: You learn how to keep your head down. My mom and dad were crucial, as well. They were hard on us. They made sure we had good grades. My mom also had the brilliant idea of getting us into bowling. My mom had concerns about my brother and I running the streets. So she started us out bowling. We didn’t realize that she was taking us off the streets. We spent the weekends bowling. Think about it. When you’re in school you have the freest time during the weekends. And you know what they say about idle hands. During the week we had school and we wanted to do well in school so we could bowl. We played league games on Friday night and tournaments on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. So we couldn’t be out because you needed to rest so you could be at your best. We didn’t have time to mess around in the neighborhood. It paid off tremendously.

Q: What did you learn from your football journey?

A: There’s a different measurement for success. When you play in the NFL, the measurement for success is winning a championship. It’s all about becoming a champion. However, I learned that isn’t the true measure of success. I look at your ability to make others succeed. I look at how you handle failures and adversity. I want to see how you survive the journey.

Q: Where did your running style come from?

A: It just came. I didn’t watch a lot of football growing up so I figured it out as I went. Being aggressive worked for me. I’m too big to be tiptoeing.

Q: What do you miss the most about playing ball?

A: I miss the guys and the locker room. For us, as athletes, the locker room is our office. That’s where we spent the majority of our time. That’s where we bonded. We’re there before practice, after practice, before games, and after games. As a retired guy, you miss cracking jokes and hanging out with the boys. Nothing else can replicate that.

Q: What are you up to these days?

A: I do a Steelers show on WPXI. I have a staffing company and I run a transportation company. I enjoy connecting people to opportunities. We have 75 trucks and we work with EQT natural gas in Pittsburgh. We’re one of the largest minority-owned and operated companies in the transportation business. This allows me to provide a chance for so many people to develop and grow.

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