“I remember meeting up with him one time and I gave him a hug and I was like ‘Oh my gosh,’” said Hoge, who played for the Steelers from 1987-93 and is now an NFL analyst for ESPN. “To get your arms around this dude was not easy. And him running with a full head of steam…oh my gosh what a defender had to deal with. He was a unique beast. To get your arms around him would be a large task and with a full head of steam, it would be so much harder.
“I feel bad for the defenders. You have to be a big man to take him on and win and get back up and talk about it. To wrap up on him, wow. His quickness and size made it tough. People couldn’t get their arms around him. You can’t wrap him up. You had to get around his legs. If you dealt with his shoulder area, you could forget it.”
While Hoge never had to worry about trying to stop Bettis, former Steelers’ linebacker Jerry Olsavsky was faced with that task at times in practice. And he can tell you, it wasn’t easy.
“When you are six inches away from the guy and you say I got him and you don’t hit him, you wonder how did that happen,” said Olsavsky, now a defensive assistant with the team. “People talk about how he was a good bowler and I think that helped him because his feet were so good.
“I loved him because he had two options, he could beat you outside or he could run you over. I remember him playing here in the first Monday Night game he ever played in. He wasn’t starting for us and we rolled him out and it was like the brand new Corvette comes out with the big rammer on the front. He made a couple of guys miss and he gave the shake and ran them over. I liked watching that as a defensive player. He was good. He made you better.”
Hoge never played with Bettis, his career ending prior to Bettis arriving in Pittsburgh. But he played against Bettis’ Los Angeles Rams team in 1993, watching the rookie running back rush for a 29-yard touchdown in his second NFL game in a 27-0 Rams win. He also watched Bettis as his career developed, particularly during his Steelers’ years, and has always marveled at what he could do.
“He had tremendous feet,” said Hoge. “His lateral movement was great for any size. He could play between the tackles, which in the NFL is the majority of where you play. The combination of his size, power and quickness allowed him to be extremely unique and rare.”
While Hoge loved what Bettis did on the field, he also has the utmost respect for him off the field. Just like anyone who has met Bettis, Hoge glowingly talks about the type of person he is and the type of leader he was for the team, particularly being the driving force behind the team’s run to becoming Super Bowl XL champions.
“Jerome wasn’t much of a talker,” said Hoge. “You can talk all of you want, but you can’t pronounce leadership. People will be motivated maybe for a moment by words, but they are sustained by action, how a person prepared, the things he did. Those are the things that I am sure resonated with that team. All of the things that he had done, that people witnessed him doing to get ready every Sunday is what was impactful to them and what meant the most. If someone was a phony and just got up and gave a speech, players aren’t fools. They think whatever.
“Players respected Jerome. He set that standard. He didn’t have to say anything, people watching him and witnessing him, that inspired them.”
Hoge hopes now that the Pro Football Hall of Fame voters are equally inspired and they will give Bettis his just due when the Class of 2013 is announced this Saturday in New Orleans.
“Jerome did it at a high level for a long time in a physical nature which is rare,” said Hoge. “That style fades fast, but he didn’t. His brutal and punishing style of running, guys like that usually only play seven or eight years. That stands out as a unique and rare quality he had. And some of his most signature runs came in his last years. Running over guys is one thing, but when you run over a guy like (Bears linebacker) Brian Urlacher, that’s another story.
“His style, how he did it, and how long he did it are the things that stand out the most. He was as rare as they come.”
Tags: Hall of Fame, Jerome Bettis, Jerry Olsavsky, Merril Hoge
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At the time Larry Foote really didn’t know that his life could be heading down a dangerous path. He was attending Pershing High School in Detroit, Michigan, but school was not a priority. Hanging out on the streets, being with his friends, that was what life was all about.
That was until he met the man that changed things for him, that changed the direction his life was heading. That is when he met the man that would be his mentor, Pastor Joel Gregory, a youth pastor in Southfield, Michigan.
“I met him when I was in high school in the midst of when I was my craziest,” said Foote. “My future wasn’t looking bright. I don’t think college was an option. I was playing sports, but I was in the streets too and following a group of guys I shouldn’t have been and wasn’t taking life seriously.”
Foote had met others before who tried to steer him away from the streets and put his faith in God in an effort to turn things around. But Gregory was different, and Foote immediately connected with him.
“Not only did he preach the word of God that got my attention, but during that time I wasn’t attracted to the church life and doing things the right way, I was doing what the streets were doing,” said Foote. “He was the first guy that was cool that made it attractive. I had never seen anyone that looked like me, talked like me, and had my kind of swag that loved God too. I thought this guy is cool like the neighborhood guys, he is just preaching a different message.”
Foote would attend youth bible study and soon the results started to show. He wasn’t spending time on the streets, he was focusing on school and even teachers noticed a difference in him.
“He saved my life,” said Foote. “It was at a crucial time. I had to get out of the neighborhood. I was gifted, could play ball, but I wasn’t taking life seriously. I was still caught up in the street life. When God got my attention at that age I put my priorities in line just in the nick of time. I started taking school and sports seriously and colleges started calling. My life took off at that point. I started leaving my foolish things alone and my life took off because of the example Pastor Gregory showed me.”
Foote is one of several Steelers who recently shared their story of who his mentor is with the Mentoring Partnership of Southwestern Pennsylvania (MPSWPA) in celebration of January being National Mentoring Month. And in his case, his relationship with Gregory is one that was definitely life changing.
“Who knows, with what I was doing I could have been shot at any time,” said Foote. “Even when I go back to the neighborhood today I see guys on the street, on the corner begging for change, hear about guys who were murdered. There are guys I went to school with dead or in jail. It’s the reality. When you are in high school you hear people say that guy is going to end up in jail or dead, but you haven’t lived through it. It’s just rhetoric. But as every year goes by I hear about that happening to someone.
“Pastor Gregory got me in line. I took things seriously with God, and he took care of my stuff and my heart. Pastor Gregory showed me how to act, how to pray. That is why I am where I am today, he showed me that example.”
Tags: Larry Foote
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