Jerome Bettis Does Not Belong in the Hall of Fame

I don’t put much weight into Super Bowls when considering who should get in the Hall of Fame.
The Hall of Fame is an individual award, and – while your production is often dependent on teammates -, you shouldn’t put too much weight on Super Bowls because they are often out of a players’ hands.

I view the 1990s Steelers the same way I view the 2000s Cowboys. Great franchises with plenty of good players in those eras, but probably only two worthy Hall of Famers from each group. Rod Woodson absolutely deserved to be in the Hall of Famer, – so did Dermontti Dawson – and I think Carnell Lake should be considered, and Demarcus Ware and Jason Witten are worthy, too.

Jerome Bettis’ best sell for the Hall of Fame, however, is that he is 5th all-time in rushing yards. Unfortunately, that is just not enough for me.

He was in the top 5 for rushing yards just three times in 13 seasons, never placing above 3rd. Jamal Lewis was top 5 twice (including #1 in 2003), Clinton Portis was in the top 5 four times, and Ahman Green was top 5 twice (including #2 in 2003).

In fact, if you were to combine Ahman Green and Jerome Bettis’ careers together, Green has the top two seasons in yards from scrimmage, 3 of the top 4, and 4 of the top 7.

Bettis’ best season in yards from scrimmage was 1775 in 1997. Here are some running backs that have topped that at least twice: Clinton Portis, Shaun Alexander, Priest Holmes, Ricky Watters, and Roger Craig. Craig, a great part of three Super Bowl teams but an undeserving Hall of Fame finalist in 2010, went over 2000 yards from scrimmage twice in his career.

His 93 TDs are nice, but were spread across 13 seasons. What is more impressive? 93 TDs in 192 games (153 starts) or 73 TDs in 121 games (90 starts), the numbers for Brian Westbrook? I would argue they were both incredibly impressive, but neither are Hall of Fame-worthy.

His best season for total TDs was 13 in 2004. I don’t put much weight on TDs – because your offense has to put you in the red zone to make plays – but if you are truly a supreme athlete, you will usually have a season where you get more than 13 TDs. Running backs haven’t just trumped his mark of 13, they’ve done it by a long shot. Eddie George has two seasons of more than 13 TDs.

I like to find specific seasons of accomplishment, and rank them above just the pure career numbers. Not to be mean, but being 5th all time in rushing after 13 seasons tells me more about his ability to stay injury-free (which does factor into voting) than Bettis’ domination at his position.

As for specific seasons of accomplishment, again, Jerome Bettis only had two seasons – 1996 and 2004 – in which he scored 10 or more TDs. Now, he did have three 9 TD seasons, and 1 8 TD season, but he never really carried a team or punished defenses in the way you would expect a Hall of Famer to. Herschel Walker had three seasons where he scored 10 or more TDs.

What makes Bettis impossible to ignore is his intangibles. He did take on a leadership role on the team, and was also humble enough to take a reduced role (368 rushing yards his final season, the only time he won a Super Bowl), even if those spot appearances were often in the most pressure-filled situations (short yardage, goal line). Bettis was a Hall of Fame character, but simply not good enough to get in. For the record, the only ’90s backs I would vote for are the already-enshrined Barry Sanders, Thurman Thomas, Marshall Faulk, and Emmitt Smith, and 2012 inductee Curtis Martin. The only 2000’s backs that I think are definite Hall of Famers are Ladainian Tomlinson and Adrian Peterson (with eyes on what Maurice Jones-Drew, Chris Johnson, Ray Rice, Arian Foster (who has the best run-blocking O-line) and – yes – Rashard Mendenhall do going forward).

That’s right, I would not vote for Bettis but I would consider Rashard Mendenhall. Here’s why: Bettis has one Super Bowl ring for a season (which he almost fumbled away) where he was the back-up for Willie Parker. Mendenhall already has one Super Bowl appearance, and – while I understand offenses score more now – he has already rivaled Bettis’ best season for scoring with 13 TDs in 2010. It took Bettis 6 postseason games to get to 4 rushing TDs, Mendenhall has done it in 3.

I always think that when you ask about whether someone should go in, you must think about whether or not you can tell the story of the NFL with or without mentioning the player. In the case of Jerome Bettis, he was known for his jolly personality and for having a large build for a running back. Given that he was almost never one of the 3 best running backs of any season he was in, given that his worst season statistically was his only Super Bowl, and given that he averaged 3.8 yards-per-carry or less in 7 of his final 8 seasons (I know this is mostly the line’s fault, but it’s hard to ignore), the Bus must remain parked outside of Canton.

The guy who best compares to Bettis is Fred Taylor. Taylor had great longevity (and had seasons with 17 and 14 TDs on Jacksonville teams that scored 392 and 367 points). One could argue that Jerome Bettis’s TD numbers in his prime were hampered by the offenses he played on, but it’s hard to argue he was much better of a running back and leader than Fred Taylor. His first three seasons with the Rams, they scored 221, 286 and 309 points. His first three seasons with the Steelers, they scored 344, 372 and 266 points. Jerome Bettis had over 1350 yards from scrimmage four times, Fred Taylor notched this six times. Bettis played longer, Taylor put up better numbers (albeit with a different offensive line) when he played. Neither belong in the Hall of Fame.

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14 Responses to “Jerome Bettis Does Not Belong in the Hall of Fame”

  1. matt says:

    You need to work on your ability to make a cohesive argument.

    You say postseason should not be mentioned and the compare Mendenhall’s touchdowns in post season to Bettis’.

    Statistically, Bettis’ numbers are amazing. You point out his low yard per carry and lack of super touchdown seasons (although 93 is still impressive, no matter how you slice it.) What you are ignoring, is the speed and size of the Bus versus the runners you compared him with. Jerome Bettis didn’t make a cut and go, he ran over you.

    I don’t understand your argument about “not wearing defenses down.” He definitely did this, especially in the 90’s. Defensive players across the league always said they hated playing against the Bus.

    The Hall of Fame is about individual recognition. Bettis was the face of the Steelers for over a decade, he played in pain and delivered the Steelers to the playoffs many times with less than stellar quarterbacks. A strong threat of a QB makes it easier to run, less 8 man fronts. The steelers did not get that until Big Ben arrived.

    I say if you are in the top 5 rushing yards in history, you are automatically in. Rushing is not like receiving, it’s a brutal job with lots of contact and injuries. To do it as long and effectively as he did it, while inspiring a city and being a class act as a player and person, I don’t see how you can say he is not deserving.

  2. jdub says:

    Yeah, the Bus never wore down defenses. He just RAN OVER guys like Brian Urlacher and Ray Lewis.

    • Chris Bach says:

      He did make highlight-reel plays. Yet, – whether it was his line or whatever – he 4.29 averaged yards-per-carry vs. the Bears and 3.68 vs. the Ravens and had 6 TDs in those 20 games.

  3. 1rishman1 says:

    U R A Moe-Ron!

  4. John says:

    Staying healthy is the difference between a hall of famer and a non hall of famer. The RB’s that you listed (Clinton Portis, Shaun Alexander, Priest Holmes, Ricky Watters) were crash and burn players that were good for a short period of time.

    The Bus was CONSISTENT over a long period of time.

  5. Blaze says:

    Your an asshole..

  6. Dan says:

    I disagree with you on Fred Taylor. His 4.6 yards a carry average and long career speaks for himself. He’s a Hall of Famer, especially now that Curtis Martin is in.

    But your main point focused on Jerome Bettis, and on him, you’re absolutely right. No Hall for the Bus.

  7. Fish says:

    First of all #5 rushing at his time of retirement is reason alone to be in the HOF. Second. He was the greatest big up the middle back the NFL has ever seen period. He should have been a first ballot HOFamer.

  8. John says:

    Glad someone else see’s Mendenhalls talent. He’s had a good first couple years but now that we got rid of our oh so predictable OC and a line that will hopefully be better than the lines of past, I see big things for him in the future (provided the injury doesn’t hamper his running ability). I just hope Pittsburgh gets him a new contract.

  9. bob schofield says:

    I agree, bettis was a good consistent player over the years but NOT hall of fame good…just because you are popular in the locker room or “lucky” to go injury free for a number of years doesn’t or shouldn’t give you extra credits for the voting members, his numbers are above average in some areas but below in others…there are at least one hundred players who should get the nod to the hall well before bettis..

  10. Christopher says:

    well, i guess youre part of the majority that criticizes the Hall of Fame process these days. Bettis was 5th all time in rushing when he retired and was the greatest big running back only to Earl Campbell. I know he has a 3.9 average, but he was a large guy and was not that fast. so i say hes automatically in

  11. EG says:

    Fortunately for Bettis, your criteria aren’t in line with how the Hall has traditionally worked. If numbers mean so much (averages, in your eyes), and the post-season shouldn’t matter much, you’d never see Namath or Bradshaw in the Hall. And, if you’re about to argue they’re not Hall-worthy, you’re going to lose credibility with a lot of people.

  12. PPCRO says:

    This article lost credibility when the author said they would consider Rashard Mendenhall for the HOF.

  13. Dan says:

    Did a Cleveland fan post this nonsense?