Jan. 31, 2015

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NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Former University of Notre Dame football standouts Jerome Bettis (1990-92) and Tim Brown (1984-87) tonight were elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Brown was a finalist for the sixth straight time, while Bettis was a finalist for the fifth consecutive year.

Brown, the 1987 Heisman Trophy winner and a 2009 inductee into the College Football Hall of Fame, received one of the NCAA’s most prestigious awards in 2012 as recipient of an NCAA Silver Anniversary Award. The first wide receiver to be awarded the Heisman Trophy, Brown became the seventh Notre Dame player to be heralded as the nation’s most outstanding college football player.

Brown set 19 different school records during his career. He averaged 116.8 all-purpose yards per game and totaled 22 touchdowns. Brown totaled a then-school record 2,493 receiving yards with 12 receiving TDs and averaged 18.2 yards per catch. He averaged 23.4 yards on 69 career kickoff returns with three returned for TDs and averaged 13.2 yards on 36 punt returns and three TDs. The two-time All-American set a Notre Dame single-season record with 1,937 all-purpose yards as a junior in 1986. As a senior, Brown ranked sixth nationally with 167.9 all-purpose yards per game. He led all Irish receivers as a sophomore in 1985 with 25 catches for 397 yards and three TDs and started 10 games. As a freshman in 1984, Brown set the freshman school record with 28 receptions (since broken by Duval Kamara in 2007 and Michael Floyd in 2008).

Brown additionally was named the 1987 Walter Camp Player of the Year and earned two All-America accolades (1986, 1987), achieving his ’87 All-American selection by unanimous vote.

Selected in the first round (sixth overall) in the 1988 NFL Draft by the Los Angeles Raiders, Brown played 16 seasons with the franchise and one more season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. As a rookie, he led the NFL in kickoff returns, return yards and yards per return average. During his career, Brown set Raiders franchise records for receptions, receiving yards and punt return yards. At the time of his retirement, his 14,934 receiving yards were second highest in NFL history; 1,094 receptions were third; and 100 TD catches were tied for third.

Brown holds the NFL rookie record for most combined yards gained (2,317) and became the oldest player to return a punt for a TD in 2001. A member of the NFL 1990s All-Decade team, he was named to nine Pro Bowls (the first two times as a kick returner) and hauled in an NFL-record 75 receptions in 10 straight seasons.

Bettis, one of the most heralded fullbacks in Notre Dame history, played three seasons in an Irish uniform compiling 2,356 career yards (1,927 rushing, 429 receiving) and 27 TDs during his collegiate career. During the 1991 season, Bettis established program records for most TDs (20) and points (121) in a season. He additionally led the Irish in rushing yards (977) during his sophomore year.

Bettis holds Notre Dame’s bowl game records in rushing yards (150) and rushing TDs (three) after leading Notre Dame to a 39-28 win over Florida in the 1992 Sugar Bowl.

The Los Angeles Rams selected Bettis as the 10th overall pick in the 1993 NFL draft. During his rookie season, he ranked second in the league in rushing yards (1,429) and was the Associated Press Offensive Rookie of the Year and United Press International NFL-NFC Rookie of the Year. His rushing total was seventh-best in league history. During his three-year stint with the Rams (1993-95), Bettis led the team in rushing each year and topped 1,000 yards on the ground in each of his first two seasons.

Bettis joined the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1996 where he rushed for over 1,000 yards in each of his first six seasons with the Steelers and was the franchise’s leading rusher from 1996-2001 and 2003-04. His 50 games of at least 100 yards rushing rank first in Pittsburgh’s history. At the time of his retirement, his eight 1,000-plus yard seasons was tied for third-best in NFL history and his 13,662 rushing yards ranked fifth all-time in league annals.

Bettis was a member of the Super Bowl XL championship team collecting 43 yards on the ground to help the Steelers surpass the Seahawks with a 21-10 victory. He played in the Pro Bowl on six occasions, was named to the All-Pro team on three occasions and named team MVP three other times. Bettis added 1,449 receiving yards and 91 total TDs over his 13-year NFL career.

For the second year the newest class of enshrinees will be introduced Jan. 31 (the day before the Super Bowl) during the fourth annual NFL Honors Show airing on NBC.

Enshrinement ceremonies are set for Aug. 8 in Canton, Ohio. The multi-day festival also includes the Aug. 9 Hall of Fame Game (teams to be determined).

The other 2015 inductees will be modern-era players DE/LB Charles Haley, LB Junior Seau and OG Will Shields, senior finalist Mick Tingelhoff, and contributors Bill Polian and Ron Wolf.

Previous inductees with Notre Dame connections are Dave Casper (2002), Nick Buoniconti (2001), Joe Montana (2000), Alan Page (1988), Paul Hornung (1986), George Connor (1975), Wayne Millner (1968), George Trafton (1964), Curly Lambeau (1963) and John “Blood” McNally (1963).

What They Are Saying and What’s Being Said About Them

— Jerome Bettis

From ESPN.com– “A little fat kid from Detroit who had never played football until high school, to think that I could ascend to this level,” Bettis said. “And this is something that I never dreamed of, never thought of. My goal when I played football in high school was to get to college, and once I got to college and realized that the opportunity was there, it was to earn a living and help my family. So, at no point was there ever a time where I thought to myself that I had the ability to get to the Hall of Fame. That was never the idea, and to now actually be here, it’s humbling because some of the greatest men to have ever played this game — to see Jim Brown, to know that I am now a teammate of the greatest running back to ever play this game, it’s a special and humbling moment, and it’s something I’m going to cherish for the rest of my life.”

From Pittsburgh Post-Gazette– “I played the game of football with passion, with the desire to be a champion,” Bettis said. “And in that drive to become a champion I have now put myself on the most sacred ground that a football player could ever be in and that’s the Hall of Fame. I am humbled and grateful to all the voters who saw my career as being worthy of a gold jacket.”

“It’s euphoric,” Bettis said, his voice slightly breaking. “My father would be so proud of me.” Gladys and Johnnie Bettis, who died in 2006, attended almost every one of their son’s games at both Notre Dame and in the NFL. “It’s an incredible moment for myself and my family, especially my mother, who went on this journey from the start with me,” said Bettis. “I’m even happier for her because I’m going on a journey with her through breast cancer.”

Gladys and Johnnie Bettis famously hosted a dinner for all his teammates at their home in Detroit the week of Super Bowl XL. His mother was diagnosed with breast cancer last summer, but Bettis said the prognosis for her recovery is good. “This is especially great because I get to share it with her, I get to share it with my wife and my two children.”

He also offered “a special thank you to the Rooney family and the Pittsburgh Steelers, who have been champions for me through this whole process. I also want to thank coach Bill Cowher, who had the ultimate trust in me as a football player. I could not ever ask a coach to have more faith in a player than Coach Cowher had in me.”

From PittsburghSteelers.com– “I have never seen a power back who was as light on his feet as Jerome was,” said Bill Cowher, who coached Bettis with the Steelers. “He would make jump cuts in the hole and his shoulders were never anything but parallel to the line of scrimmage. He could see things and get there on his feet. He had the lightest feet for a big back I have ever seen playing the game.

“The great thing about Jerome was you rarely saw him take a hit. He was always the one who initiated the hit. He had a great sense of balance, a great sense of forward lean. Most of the time he was the one who was able to initiate hits. There were times in the fourth quarter when all he had to do was make a little snip-step and he could make people miss because they had to brace for him. I have never seen a guy who could make people miss in a hole better than him. He could go sideways when he needed to. But the biggest thing he had was his sense of balance and his forward lean.”

“He had a brilliant career, made big plays and was a big factor in the run the Steelers had,” said Hall of Fame Steelers running back Franco Harris. “It’s tough to last with the running style he had. Running backs don’t last a long time. He ran tough and ran well.”

Bettis, a favorite among his teammates and Steelers fans, began his career with the Los Angeles Rams in 1993 but had his best days once he was traded to the Steelers on draft day in 1996. Bettis rushed for 10,571 yards with the Steelers, and amassed 13,662 career yards, which puts him sixth overall in NFL history.

“He was a bruiser,” said Harris. “Wow, could he pound that football. He pounded and pounded. He was a great competitor, a great team player. He contributed greatly to those teams. He was one of the main reasons that those teams were successful and accomplished what they did. He went on to put up numbers that were incredible. It was fun to watch him pound and see what he did. We were completely different runners in our styles, but I loved to watch the way he ran. He was so effective.”

Bettis capped his career in fairytale fashion when the Steelers won Super Bowl XL in Bettis’ hometown of Detroit, and then he announced his retirement from the podium with the Lombardi Trophy in his hands.

“You look at his size and tenacity,” said former teammate Hines Ward. “To be that size and have quick feet was just amazing. Sometimes you found yourself as a teammate watching like a fan to see him get through a hole, side step somebody, run over somebody and then get up and do his patented `The Bus’ dance. That is what made him such a special running back. You don’t see many guys be able to maneuver the holes and run somebody over. To do the things he did at that size is amazing. I don’t think there will ever be another big guy like Jerome who did it the way he did and for how long he did it.”

Bettis was the Steelers leading rusher from 1996-2001 and in 2003-04, and he rolled up 50 100-yard games with the team.

“He was unusual because most backs weren’t as big as Jerome,” said Hall of Fame Steeler center Dermontti Dawson, who blocked for Bettis. “Usually a back of his size would come in on special situations, short to mid-range run plays. But he was a feature back for 13 years in the league. What made him unusual being a larger than normal back, he was so agile and strong he could take the pounding and be the feature back all of that time. He was a phenomenal runner.

“As an offensive line you love to have a back like Jerome in the backfield. It doesn’t take a very big hole for him to get through. People think you had to open up big lanes for a back to run through, but Jerome somehow found a way. If you had a big crease or a small crease, he found his way through there. The advantage for us, Jerome was such a big back and was so powerful as a runner he could give you those extra yards. As an offense that is paramount in the success of the running game.”

Bettis was voted to the Pro Bowl six times and was named first-team All-Pro twice.

“Jerome Bettis to me was a great player and great ambassador for the Steelers,” said Hall of Fame cornerback Mel Blount. “His play was reminiscent of the Steelers of the 1970s when we ran the ball, pounded it and threw it when we had to. We lived and breathed and depended on the running game. That is championship football. You have to be able to run the football, and Jerome did it superbly.”

When Bettis is formally inducted into the Hall of Fame on Saturday, Aug. 8 in Canton, Ohio, there will be plenty of familiar faces on hand to welcome him to the family. Harris can’t wait.

“To have another Pittsburgh Steeler be recognized as a Hall of Famer, and especially a running back, makes it so special for me,” said Harris. “The running game is something that I hold very dear and is important. In this day and age it’s getting to be kind of a lost breed. You don’t know where it fits these days. To see another Steelers running back go in, that is just a great feeling and something I am going to really enjoy being a part of that.”

— Tim Brown

From Mark Purdy, San Jose Mercury-News columnist– Tim Brown sat in his hotel room here Saturday afternoon, waiting for a phone call to tell him if he’d finally be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The phone call never came. Instead, there was a knock on the door. When Brown answered it, there was the Hall of Fame president, David Baker. “He had television cameras with him,” Brown said, “so I hoped it was good news.” It was good news. Baker, who decided to deliver the news personally to as many inductees as possible this year, told the former Raiders receiver that he needed to make plans for an Ohio visit in August. Brown’s wife, in the room, screamed in happiness. Brown hugged her. After failing to win enough votes from the 46 Hall of Fame electors over the past five years, he had officially joined his sport’s most exclusive fraternity.

From NFL.com– “I’ve always said, and I think everyone feels this,” said former All-Pro tight end Jay Novacek, “that it wouldn’t matter what team he was on, wouldn’t matter what system they were running, he would have been successful. Tim Brown could have played for any team, any quarterback, and he would have been just as successful.”

From ESPN.com– “First of all, the great Ron Wolf drafted me into the league, so it’s an incredible double honor to be going in with him. But I don’t think there’s any doubt that without Jon Gruden and what he did for me in those four years, I wouldn’t be here,” Brown said. “My numbers were OK, but when he came, in four years what we were able to do sort of put me in a totally different atmosphere. I had the chance to speak with him already tonight and thank him for everything that he was able to do. As far as who is going to give my speech, it will be my brother (Don Kelly). He’s the one that taught me how to catch a ball when I was 7 years old. If not for him, I don’t think I would have played the game.” From Raiders.com– “You know you have to wait your turn,” Brown said. “I came into this year hoping for better things and am delighted to be sitting here.

“I’m all over the place right now, brother, to be honest with you. We’re trying to take all this in and understand the responsibility that we have now and be able to live up to it. It’s an incredible honor and I’m just looking forward to all this may mean in the future.

“I did a little gig for Sony on Thursday–six hours I was there so I guess it was more than a little gig–and I was getting some very positive feedback from a lot of the voters. That was the first time I didn’t hear, `This may not be your year, but it’s coming.’ It was the first time I didn’t hear that from one of the voters. You never want to take something and run with it, but when you’ve been through what I’ve been through the last five years, you try to hold on to any bit of hope you can find. From that standpoint, I felt better. I felt like I could talk a little bit more about what I accomplished this year without my great friends Andre (Reed) and Cris (Carter) feeling as if I’m trying to backstab them. I think from that standpoint, I felt better, and the reception I got was different. I’m glad to realize that I’m not crazy that what I was hearing came to fruition.

“I was up at 4:40 doing a gig for FOX and Friends. Then I had three hours of radio on Sirius radio, came back and tried to lay down for a minute and really couldn’t do that. I had another event around two o’clock that I had to be at, so I was trying to stay busy. Knowing that between four and five o’clock you were going to get a call made it pretty tough. So those last couple of hours being in the room was pretty mindboggling. You’re looking at the phone wondering when it’s going to ring. And then you end up not getting a ring, you get a knock at the door. It was all good.

“Cris Carter said to me last night, he said, `Man you won’t even remember the wait once they call your name.” And last night I looked at him like he was crazy, like, man you’ve got to be kidding me. I’ve been waiting six years now. I didn’t say that to him, but that’s how I looked at him. But, he’s exactly right. Standing here today, it’s like, really I’ve been waiting six years? It doesn’t feel like that. I think that shows me the magnitude of this whole event.

“I think, for me, when I got to the Raiders, I realized one thing–that these folks had a legacy of greatness. What they did off the field was one thing, but how they played football was totally different and was at an incredible level. You never want to put those things out there publically or whatever, but I’d always say to myself and to my family that, `I’ve got a lot to live up to. I’ve got a Hall of Fame coach coaching me. What the heck?’ You’re reminded every day of the standards that you must have on the field. I think from that standpoint, I always knew I had to be as good as I could possibly be and do everything that was possible for me to get done. As far as the fans, there’s no doubt in my mind that what Raider Nation did for me was incredible. The relationship I had with the fans just made it a lot easier for me to come out and do what I did on the field. I felt as if they were actually listening to me when I had my radio show and I would ask them to do certain things in the game. I felt as if I had a connection with those guys. When I was with my family and I tell them, `Hey, hold back a minute,’ or whatever, they just never disrespected me. They always kept their high esteem out there. It’s amazing to have such a great relationship with so many different people around the country. I’m so happy that I stayed and was able to play so many years with the Raiders.”