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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