While there are plenty of former athletes content to do relatively little after retirement, the premier players look to continue to push themselves with the spirit they had while playing on the field/diamond/court. Jerome Bettis has always seemed like a player who wants to better himself. The Bus did just that last weekend as he graduated from Notre Dame with a degree in business from the university’s Mendoza School of Business.
The coolest part of this journey is that this was personal for Bettis. The 50-year-old may have left Notre Dame 28 years ago to become a legend in the NFL, but this premier player had unfinished business based on a promise that he had made to his mother.
“I promised her years ago, sitting in Coach (Lou) Holtz’s office, that I would come back and graduate,” Bettis said last month on the Pod of Gold podcast. “So, I owed that to her as well.”
While his promise to his mother was one factor that made the Hall of Famer return to school, the other factor was something he wanted to show to the next generation of his family.
“Having children now, I understand how important it is,” he said. “To be a college graduate, I want my children to understand how important that is,” Bettis said.
It is easy to forget that Bettis was not only a premier player for the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Bus was actually drafted by the Rams with the No. 10 overall pick of the 1993 NFL Draft and won Rookie of the Year honors that fall. Bettis rushed for over 1,400 yards and seven touchdowns that season, breaking the myth of the rookie running back wall as he ran over defenders that were not used to seeing a back with his power and size on the field.
It was 1996 when the Rams traded Bettis to the Steelers in a move that would dictate the future of both teams. The Rams would use a Marshall Faulk-led backfield under Dick Vermeil to create “The Greatest Show on Turf” in a speed-based attack that Bettis would not have fit. The Steelers went the other way. They built around Bettis, adding parts like wide receiver Hines Ward, and The Bus got to retire from the sport he loved in the most romantic way possible. His last game was the Steelers winning Super Bowl XL in his hometown of Detroit.
When Bettis retired, the stats book was complete. Bettis had rushed for the eighth-most yards in NFL history (13,662) and the 11th most touchdowns (91). They don’t make players like Bettis anymore, workhorse backs who are out there for three downs every single game drive. They certainly don’t make them as big as Bettis or as durable as he was remarkably healthy throughout his career for a running back that carried such a heavy workload.
Bettis seemed to love going back to school. He was able to participate in the types of activities he couldn’t the first time around as he was so focused on football. He was able to do this while also assisting head coach Marcus Freeman, a man new to that spotlight after taking over from Brian Kelly (who moved on to LSU).
It did not take Bettis long to graduate, as he was only a few credits short when he initially jumped to the NFL. However, his return to college is a shining example of how a premier player can use his platform to keep promises, inspire others, and finish what he started.
Written By Premier Players Steve Wright