Q&A: Jerome Bettis

Written by Dan Gigler on .

Steelers great Jerome Bettis, speaking about his foundation Friday night at the Meadows Racetrack & Casino.
Has it been six years already?

Indeed it has.

Just over six years, in fact, since Jerome Bettis made the swan song of his storied career as the Steelers began an epic eight-game regular and postseason win streak that culminated in a Super Bowl XL victory in Bettis's hometown of Detroit. Bettis announced his retirement immediately after the game.

Looking just a tad svelter than he has in past years, Bettis, 39, who lives in Atlanta but maintains a home in Pittsburgh, hosted a celebrity blackjack tournament at the The Meadows Racetrack and Casino over the weekend to raise money for his charity, the Jerome Bettis Bus Stops Here Foundation. 

The foundation supports a number of education-related charitable endeavors around the country. Locally,  Bettis's foundation works with Duquesne University to teach children from the Pittsburgh Public Schools not only how to use computers, but how to build them as well. 

"We're giving them a a couple of different skill sets," Bettis said. Upon completion of the program, the kids' receive the computer.

The two-day blackjack event featured dozens of sports stars including Pirates legend Bill Mazeroski, Minnesota Vikings greats Carl Eller and Chris Doleman, ex-Bengal and noted shuffler Ickey Woods and former Steelers Mike Merriweather, Robin Cole and Ray Seals.

I was able to speak with Bettis for a few brief moments Friday night at the Meadows.

Q: In addition to events like this, what have you been doing in your retirement?

BETTIS: Just some television stuff, that kind of thing. Not a whole lot. My second stage of my life has not really been career-based, but family-based. I got married after I retired, I've got two kids now. I've got a six-year old daughter (Jada) and a four-year old son (Jerome Jr.). It's incredible. So that's really been the next step for me in terms of life after football.

Q: Do the kids run you more than a coach ever did?

BETTIS: Oh absolutely. But they've taught me one thing that the coaches never could teach me and that's patience. Because as much as you want to say hey, hey, hey you've got to understand that you've got to give them time, and they'll figure it out.

Q: Who gets into Canton first -- you or your former head coach?

BETTIS: You know I think that coach Cowher may run into that school of thought that because he may wanna coach again they may hold him out because they'll say, 'oh he's gonna come back' ... so who knows. We'll see what happens.

BUS_TROPHYQ: Toward the end of your career you accepted a somewhat diminished role on the team -- Hines Ward may be facing the same. Have you given him any advice along those lines?

BETTIS: Yeah, I got a chance to talk to Hines a little while ago and we talked about just that, about understanding that your role is going to change -- accepting it first -- and then after you accept it, [embrace] it, love it, and say 'this is the next step,' and he has.

And he just talked to me about how he's been coaching up the young guys, trying to give them some of that information that he has from all those years of experience. But the biggest thing is he wants them to know how to practice, and how to be professionals. So I'm proud of him in that regard, absolutely.

Q: Among the greatest individual plays in Heinz Field history was you running over Brian Urlacher for a touchdown against the Bears in 2005. Take me through that if you can.

BETTIS: That game was a tough one because we were going into that game we were 7 and 5, maybe? We had to win out in order to get to the playoffs. At the time, [Chicago] had the number one defense in the NFL. So we knew it was going to be a tough road to hoe, but we said 'hey, we got them at home.'

BUS_SNOWIt was [snowing] pretty rough. First half, we had a tough time running the ball. Willie Parker was kind of sliding around in the mud and coach Cowher came to me in the second half and said 'hey, this is what we brought you for,' considering I'm a mudder because I kind of sink into the mud [laughs] -- Willie kind of stood on top of it. So it was time for me to earn my paycheck, so to speak. So I went out there in the second half, had 100 yards rushing and that play was kind of … it kind of put my whole career into one play. Physical, tough, but at the end of the day, it got the job done. I did it the way I like to do it in terms of going through somebody instead of going around somebody. Unfortunately Urlacher was the recipient.

Q: What was the impetus behind your foundation?

BETTIS: I've always tried to help because as a kid, I was helped. There was a foundation called the Reggie McKenzie Foundation. He was a former player at the University of Michigan and then for the Buffalo Bills -- he blocked for O.J. Simpson -- and the Seattle Seahawks, and he used to give a camp every year, and his goal was to try to impact and reach kids that were underprivileged and at-risk and I definitely fit into that at-risk category because I grew up on some tough streets in Detroit. It was dangerous. He really reached out to the kids in the community. He had his free camp, he had a mentoring program, and he made an impact. And I remember how important it was for me to see actual NFL players coming out to coach us for free. It left such a lasting impact on me that I said, if I ever get an opportunity I want to do the same type of thing because its not about giving these kids a handout, they just need a hand up. And that’s what he was able to provide for me. I was able to see that these guys put their pants on just like me. They were normal guys just like everybody else and they just wanted it more than some of the other guys out there, and so I said to myself 'I'm going to get there one day.'

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