Bettis King of Pain
More than 200 pros interviewed by the Trib said they weren't impressed by individual stats at the back of the sports section. Instead, they value a player's ability to gut out excruciating injuries. And maybe, they say, that should be the yardstick for Hall of Famers in this era of the diminished back -- their ability to stomach the hurt and keep running.
Their King of Pain? Bettis. "For a guy to be his size and to physically put the punishment he does on defensive backs and linebackers, I mean, he gives blows as much as he takes blows," said Steelers wideout Hines Ward. "For a guy to rush for 13,000 yards and he can still go out today and be productive -- that speaks volumes about his career. He's a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame, in my opinion. "I mean, he wakes up every day sore. Trust me."
This season marked the 10th time Bettis got more than 230 touches. In the history of the NFL, only Smith, Chicago legend Walter Payton and Allderdice High School grad Curtis Martin of the Jets have more combined carries and receptions. Of the 18 running backs drafted in 1993, only Bettis remains. He arrived after a fad for beefy backs and stayed as a nimble throwback to men like Csonka, whom Bettis considers a role model. The admiration is mutual.
"I like to watch The Bus," said Csonka. "I like the way he lowers his shoulders. I like the fact that everyone wrote him off, and there he is, picking up the load and running for his team, like I did with the Dolphins in '79." When Csonka picks apart the way Bettis mastered the game, he points to how he wiggles to take a "glancing" blow instead of a head-on hit, or how he ducks low when a linebacker comes high. Csonka admires Bettis so much, he'll be in Canton the day The Bus parks in the Hall.
Bettis says he'll quit when his body tells him it's time to go and he can't help Pittsburgh. Over the last three years, he's suffered excruciating injuries to the hip, groin, knee and shoulder. Perhaps half a dozen concussions every year. He's not sure. He estimates the grind has shaved five years off of his life. Maybe 10. In his mind, every hit brings him a little closer to death, but he's going to keep driving because that's what The Bus does.
"Your ego and your pride don't let you struggle," he said. "You're a big hitter, but it hurts you the same way. I mean, mentally, you're able to get over it because you get used to it. You get used to the feeling of Monday. Struggling. But hey, I'm going to hurt Monday. I'm probably going to hurt Tuesday. You know what? Wednesday, I'm probably not going to feel great. But Thursday, I'm going to feel fine. Friday, I'll be OK. Saturday, I get to rest. And Sunday, I'm going to beat your head in again."