Aug. 9, 2015
Maybe it’s because Pittsburgh is an easy two-hour drive from Canton, Ohio.
Maybe it’s because the Pittsburgh Steelers were matched against the Minnesota Vikings Sunday night in the annual NFL Hall of Fame opening preseason game.
Maybe it was because of Jerome Bettis.
More likely all three of those factors helped create what might have been confused for a Pittsburgh Steeler pep rally/love fest Saturday night as a pair of former University of Notre Dame all-stars officially were enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in ceremonies at Tom Benson Memorial Stadium.
Bettis and Tim Brown provided anecdotes and philosophy–and lots of thank-yous on the subjects of football, family and faith and other topics–in front of a near capacity crowd (the facility holds 22,364) on an overcast 75-degree evening.
It seemed as if nine of every 10 fans wore some sort of Steeler gear–and Terrible Towels, including an official Pro Hall of Fame version sold at merchandise stands, were everywhere. If there were two dozen different Bettis game jerseys in evidence, there were just as many gold and black T-shirts paying tribute to the “Bus.” One of more clever ones read: “Next Bus Stop: Hall of Fame.”
Here’s what took place:
- Canton Mayor William J. Healy began the proceedings by suggesting there were more Steeler fans in attendance in Canton than were left in Pittsburgh. Former Steeler greats including Joe Greene, Franco Harris and Lynn Swann were mobbed wherever they walked. However, the most prolonged cheers were reserved for Steeler owner Dan Rooney.
- ESPN’s Chris Berman served as master of ceremonies and began by saying, “I hear Pittsburgh is close to Canton. Is that true?” Fans responded with the first of many renditions of “Here we go, Steelers, here we go.”
- Berman offered introductory remarks for all inductees as they walked individually down the red carpet to the stage. Of Brown, Berman referred to him as “smooth, smiling and swift.” Bettis came last, and whatever Berman said about him was lost in the translation because the crowd drowned out the longtime sportscaster.
- Prior to Brown’s remarks, the NFL Network introduced Raider great Fred Biletnikoff, who coached Brown for 15 seasons in Oakland. Offered Biletnikoff, “You can be a coach, but if you don’t have great players, you’re not going to be a great coach. That’s what Tim was. He never lowered his level of play. He had a standard and he dragged the rest of the team with him.”
- Added Berman, “He won the Heisman at Notre Dame, so he was hardly undervalued as the number-six pick. And he’s the only Raider to catch a pass, run, return a kickoff and return a punt, all for touchdowns.”
- In his video introductory remarks, Brown’s older brother Donald Kelly said, “He could always catch the football. He was absolutely confident in his ability to catch the ball. He had the ability to see the whole field, so you have to talk about his vision. What makes Tim a Hall of Fame player is that he demonstrated absolute consistency down through the years. Other teams knew to win you had to find a way to stop Tim Brown.”
Here are some of Brown’s remarks:
“All right, all right, all right. All right, Raider Nation. I know we may be outnumbered, but I need to hear `Raiders, Raiders, Raiders.’ Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about. That’s what I’m talking about. Now, I know Jerome is coming up, and he’s going to blow the house up, but I had to get that in.
“When I first had the opportunity to put on this gold jacket I didn’t know who the maker of the jacket was. When I saw that name it almost brought me to tears, simply because this man has been an incredible part of my life for the last 31, 32 years before he passed away a couple of years ago. The name that’s on the inside of this jacket is Haggar, and his family is here tonight. Lydia Novakov, his daughter, is here, (former Irish lineman) Dan Novakov, his son-in-law, is here, and Daniel and Isabel. This family has been an incredible, incredible positive force in my life, and I just wanted to say thank you guys for all that you’ve done, and you guys know that I love you.
“When I got to Woodrow Wilson High School (in Dallas), it seemed as if I got faster and the moves got better, but the losing increased. And my three years on varsity I was 4-25-1. The only team we beat every year was Skyline who was our rival team. And this is where the story starts to become a little improbable.
“We were playing Skyline my junior year, and the University of Notre Dame came to recruit one of Skyline’s players. They didn’t know anything about me. On that particular night, I had a kickoff return for a touchdown. I had a punt return for a touchdown. I had a long pass for a touchdown, and I had a long run for a touchdown. Now that was a great night. Now, if Notre Dame would have come the week before, I scored one touchdown. If they would have come the week afterward, I didn’t score at all. In 27 years of playing football, the only time I played and I scored four touchdowns was when Notre Dame came to recruit somebody else.
“And we did something that’s pretty unusual. We chose the University of Notre Dame not because we thought that we could win a championship but because we thought it could give me a great education. That decision was the toughest decision I’ve ever made in my life. I was a mama’s boy. I wanted to stay in Texas and play football. A lot of things were going on in Texas at that time. But my big brother, Don, he knew a lot about Notre Dame football, knew about the educational background, and we made the tough decision to go to the University of Notre Dame.
“And when I got there, I wanted to prove to everybody that it was about education. So my very first game–yeah, my Notre Dame people are laughing–my very first game in the Notre Dame uniform my freshman year, the opening play of the game I fumbled the opening kickoff. So I told everybody, `Hey, I told you I was coming here for education.’
“After my sophomore season in comes a new head coach, this little 5-8 guy wearing glasses, talks a little funny. He put us through winter ball workouts at 5 o’clock in the morning because we all had 8 a.m. classes. After two days of being in spring ball, once we got in pads he pulled me over and asked me a litany of questions as far as why wasn’t I playing more. Did I get in trouble? Was it grades? He was asking me all kinds of questions. I said, `No, Coach, they just didn’t play me.’ He told me that he thought I could be the best player in the country. I thought this guy had lost his mind. I said, whose film have you been watching? Day after day, he would bring me in his office and show me what I was doing on the practice field. Finally, he said he told the media that I was the most intelligent football player he had ever coached. I felt as if he had more confidence in me than I had in myself. He believed in me more than I believed in myself.
“So we get into the season of my junior year, and it goes great for me, and now I’m following him around like a little puppy dog trying to figure out if he has something else for me to do. My senior year goes great and I end up winning the Heisman Trophy. I can tell you without the great Lou Holtz, I would not have won the Heisman Trophy. I would not have been a first-round pick in the NFL. I probably would have gotten drafted, but I would have just been a guy. The things that he instilled in me made me a better man. Coach Holtz, I love you, just want to say thank you, and God knows whatever I can do for you, you know I’m there for you.
“Gerry Faust. Coach, I don’t know if you’re here, but, Gerry some kind of way convinced my mom to let me go 1,200 miles away to the University of Notre Dame to play football there.
“Now I don’t know if there’s ever been a wide receiver to make it into the Hall of Fame who’s had 20 quarterbacks in their time and I caught a ball from 19 of these guys. Here they are: (former Notre Dame star) Steve Beuerlein, Jay Schroeder, Todd Marinovich, Vince Evans, Jeff Hostetler, Billy Joe Hobert, David Klingler, Jeff George, Donald Hollas, Wade Wilson, Rich Gannon, Bobby Hoying, (former Irish standout) Rick Mirer, Marques Tuiasosopo, Rodney Peete, Rob Johnson, Brian Griese, Brad Johnson and Chris Simms.
“To my incredible mother. She’s had more TV time than me this year, but that’s okay. I don’t think it could have happened to a nicer person. What do you say about somebody who has done everything that they can possibly do to make you the man that you want to be, and certainly makes sure that you’re the Godly man that you want to be? Her wisdom, the Godly example that she’s shown, has been absolutely incredible. And I just want you to know, Mom, that I love you so much.
“I have to tell you guys this story because this, I believe, changed my life. I win the Heisman Trophy, and I play my rookie year and make the Pro Bowl. I come home and there is a big banner outside that says, `Welcome home Heisman Trophy winner, Tim Brown. Heisman Trophy winner, Pro Bowler Tim Brown.’ And she said, `Hey, you see the sign?’ I said, `Yeah.’ She said, `You know why the sign is outside?’ I said, `No.’ She said, `Because all this is going to stay outside my house, and when you come inside my house, you’re not going to be this person. You’re going to be Timmy.’ And for the rest of my career that’s who I was. I was Timmy.
“I had something I believe was miraculous happen to me just today. I lost my dad back in 2011, and I was over at the autograph signing today and I was signing, and this kid came out of nowhere. He wasn’t in line, he just came from the side and he handed me a picture. And when I flipped it over it was a picture of me, my mom and my dad at the Heisman Trophy ceremony. It was a picture I had never seen before. To me, that was just a sign to let me know that my dad was here with me tonight. My dad was an incredible man. The consistency, the hard work and the discipline that everybody talks about with me, I got it from him. Dad, you know I love you, and thank you so much.”
- Bettis was the final player of the night to be enshrined, and at 9:52 p.m. the chant “Here we go Steelers” began in earnest from the pro-Pittsburgh crowd.
- The NFL Network spoke with Harris about Bettis, and Harris said, “In Pittsburgh we do run the ball, baby. That’s a big part of our tradition.”
- Berman had some fun with the spectators, asking how many had arrived in Canton by plane, by train, by car–and the obvious winner from a reaction standpoint, by bus.
- Added Berman, “How many players can say they ended their career with a Super Bowl Trophy in their hometown?”
- Berman noted that one Bettis game to open the 2004 season produced the greatest running back stat line in history–five carries, one net yard, three touchdowns: “That day the bus was a local, but it arrived.”
- Jerome’s older brother John III presented him for enshrinement and said this about the one-time Notre Dame standout:
“He was as big as a bus and quick as a Caddy.
“Every year a young guy was brought in to replace him, but it never happened.”
- Bettis began by introducing his wife (inviting her to stand up) and other members of his family, and he had them all in tears by the time he finished.
He also introduced his high school coach, Richard Dozier, who was wearing a T-shirt that said “The Bus Started Here.”
Here are more of Bettis’ comments:
“I want to thank my mother, Gladys Bettis. We call her Big-Time. How can I thank a woman who through the entire course of my career came to every single football game I ever played in the NFL? Through you and Dad I learned what good parenting really is. And a little over a year ago, we found out that my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, and it scared us and changed all of our lives. But in that moment I realized where my toughness and where my strength really came from because she handled it like a champion. She took care of everything she needed to take care of so that she could be here for us, for her grandchildren and for the entire family. So, Mom, thank you for being a role model, an incredible parent and a leader.
“When people used to ask me growing up, who was my hero, I would always say my dad. My dad was my hero. He was my biggest fan. This is tough here. He taught me how to be a man. You see, he had two jobs. He worked to the bone. Never complaining, never asking for a break. All that while supporting three children. He was the strongest man I will ever know, and it’s because of him that I am here. When my father sent me off to college, he told me one thing. He said, `Son, I’m sending you off to school. I don’t have much to give you, but I have a good name. So don’t mess it up.’ Well, Dad, I hope I made you proud.
“I want to thank the University of Notre Dame for taking a chance on a young kid from Detroit. Going to school truly changed my life. I want to thank Lou Holtz. Coach, you were the best coach an 18-year-old kid could ever have. You taught me not just football lessons, but life lessons. You taught me them though in probably the most unconventional way. Like when you told the entire team that there was this young football player that was going to cost us a national championship. Everybody’s looking around like, what? Who is going to cost us a national championship?
“He said, `Jerome Bettis, would you stand up?’ At that point my heart shrunk. I couldn’t believe what he had done. Then he told the players, `You guys work it out. You figure it out. You straighten him out.’ So needless to say that was the hardest practice I’ve ever had in my life. And after that practice he came up to me and said, `How was practice?’ I said, `Coach, it was the worst practice I’ve ever had.’ He said, `Well, I was just trying to motivate you.’
“But that day, I learned the true meaning of humility, and I developed an incredible work ethic because I was going to outwork every guy there was. And, Coach, time and time again, you taught me what love meant playing football.
“I got a phone call. I was having some rough times with the Rams, and I decided that I was going to leave and go back to school. Coach Holtz called me up and said, `Who was this impostor wearing 36 for the Rams?’ I said, `Well, Coach, that was me.’ He said, `No, that wasn’t. That was not you. That was an impostor. That guy didn’t love the game of football.’ He said, `You need to come back here and you need to develop that love for the game.’ And I went back and I got traded to Pittsburgh, and the love came back.
“So thank you, Coach, for not just being a coach for three or four years, but being a coach to all of us for a lifetime.
“To the Los Angeles Rams, I want to thank Chuck Knox for drafting me and saying you’re not a fullback, you can play tailback. Because I saw what the fullbacks were making and I saw what the tailbacks were making, and I said, `Yeah, Coach, I can be a tailback.’
“I want people to remember that greatness is not a sports term. It’s a life term. I believe there are four things that get you to greatness.
“One, you’ve got to have the ability to sacrifice, and a lot of times that means sacrificing the relationships that mean the most to you.
“The second thing is pain. You’re going to have to endure some type of pain in your life, whether physical or mental, and you’ve got to find a way to endure.
“The third one is failure. You’ve got to have the ability to understand that you’re going to fail. But it’s how you recover that makes you a better person.
“And the last, the fourth one, is love. Because if you love it, then it’s not a job, it’s a passion. If you love it, you’re willing to sacrifice for it, you’re willing to go through all types of pains for it. And if you go through those four things and you understand those and you can handle those, then success is in your path and greatness is available to you.
“In closing, I wish to leave one last message to my son. Son, there is not much that I can give you that’s more important than our good name, so don’t screw it up.”
More Notes and Quotes from Canton
- Former Notre Dame players in attendance at various weekend events included Rick Mirer, Reggie Brooks, Alvin Miller, Flash Gordon, Byron Spruell, Brandy Wells, Rod West, Raghib Ismail, Greg Harris, Ray Zellars, Cliff Stroud, Tracy Graham and Richard Rolle.
- Also in attendance was former Irish assistant coach Brian Polian (his dad Bill was an inductee) and former Irish player J.W. Jordan (he also was there in support of Polian as a former Indianapolis Colts staffer), now player personnel coordinator with the St. Louis Rams.
- The lone former pro hall inductee with Notre Dame connections in attendance was former Raider tight end Dave Casper.
- Pro golfer Jim Furyk, an ardent Steelers fan, came to Canton to see Bettis enshrined after playing his third round in the Bridgestone Invitational in nearby Akron.
— by John Heisler, senior associate athletics director, reporting from Canton, Ohio