“Jerome was a linebacker that played running back,” said Porter, talking this week from his home in California. “It’s that simple. Jerome was a physical guy. Most backs went away from traffic, linebackers love traffic. Jerome loved traffic. Running backs get in the hole and dodge guys. He would shake a guy every now and then to make fun of them and show he is big and can shake you.”
Porter remembers the days during training camp at St. Vincent College when he had to try and bring Bettis down. Porter, who has never shied away from talking smack on the field, was often left without anything to say after going against Bettis.
“There were times I went against him in practice and he got the best of me,” said Porter. “I couldn’t say anything. I would just walk back to the huddle. I couldn’t feel my shoulders. But I tried to never let him see that. I would always play the next play so he didn’t know he hurt me. I would not go out of practice. I always forced myself to play one more play to make it look like I went down because of something else, but most of the time it was because I got hit by him and my shoulders were hurting.
“It got worse and worse as his career went on because he got bigger. That was Bus though. He was going to run hard, he was a low to the ground guy. He was going to bring it every single time. He was thick. He wasn’t a running back you wanted to tackle every day.”
It was those days, especially early in Porter’s career that helped mold him into the player he became. He said he learned so much from Bettis and that going against him made him gave him the confidence he needed.
“He groomed me,” said Porter. “When I was on scout team my biggest challenge was going against Jerome in practice and being able to know where he was going, go against him in one-on-ones and attempt to hit him in practice. It helped let me know if I was ready. If I got the respect out of him, then I was all right. He gave me that early in my career. We developed a lifetime relationship and I had to earn that. He gave me all of the confidence I had in practice.
“I was going against a future Hall of Famer and I knew that my rookie year.”
It things go the way Porter sees fit, then Hall of Famer will be a description soon attached to Bettis and by far, the most accurate and deserving one. Bettis is a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2013, which is set to be announced this Saturday in New Orleans, and Porter is still stunned he hasn’t gotten in the previous two years he was a finalist.
“There are other big running backs that played the game, but not like he did, not with the level of success he had for 13 seasons, being the man for that long at a high level,” said Porter. “He was a power back. A lot of guys claim to be a power back, but he was one. He earned every yard he has. He ran hard. He caught the ball. He scored touchdowns. He won the Super Bowl. He was a first round pick.
“He did all you could do. He should have been in there the first time out.”
Tags: Hall of Fame, Jerome Bettis, Joey Porter
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“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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Saturday, January 7
The Steelers held a walk-thru on Saturday morning, before boarding a plane and heading to Denver to take on the Broncos on Sunday afternoon.
There was some good news for a few former Steelers on Saturday afternoon as Jerome Bettis, Dermontti Dawson, Kevin Greene and Jack Butler were all finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2012. There are 15 modern-era finalists and two senior members, including Butler.
The Class of 2012 will be announced on February 4 in Indianapolis.
Dawson learned of being a finalist when he received a text from former Steelers wide receiver Louis Lipps, which was then followed up by phone calls and other messages from friends.
“The way I approach it, if I am selected, then I am selected. If I am not, I’m not,” said Dawson, who has been down this road before as a finalist. “At least I am a finalist so I have another opportunity. I just take it one day at a time. That is it.”
Dawson, who played for the Steelers from 1988-2000, is considered one of the best to play the game but has the disadvantage of being at a position where he doesn’t have stats.
“I think that is part of it as well,” said Dawson. “That is a hard thing for offensive linemen. It’s supposed to be based on what you did as a player, what you contributed to the game. We are not stat guys, except for jumping offside or holding, those are the only stats we have. Everything is about stats and that makes it tougher for offensive linemen to get in there. You have only had a handful of centers to get in the Hall of Fame. The percentage is very low when it comes to offensive linemen.”
The perfect scenario for Dawson would be him and his former teammate Bettis going in the Hall together this year.
“That would be great,” said Dawson. “If both of us were elected…I don’t know if it’s happened before with two teammates but it would be great.
“Jerome is more than deserving to be elected. He was consistent throughout his career. Every year he was consistent. He wasn’t the typical running back. He wasn’t a super speedy guy. He got it done, came in every week and got it done. He was a load.”
Dawson continues to follow the Steelers and is looking forward to Sunday’s game against the Broncos.
“It’s going to be a good game,” said Dawson. “Overall I think it’s going to be a close game. I hope Ben’s (Roethlisberger) ankle is going to be good enough that he is going to be mobile. I think it’s going to be a competitive game.
“I think the key is going to be those guys trying to corral (Tim) Tebow and contain the running game.”
Steelers players relax for a minute before the start of the Saturday morning walk-thru – when things got down to business.
Steelers arrive in Denver
Tags: Dermontti Dawson, Hall of Fame, Jack Butler, Jerome Bettis, Kevin Greene, Steelers Playoff Diary
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