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The Love Bus
MICHAEL SILVER
February 06, 2006
A favorite of fans, media and his fellow NFL players, Steelers running back Jerome Bettis is looking for final fulfillment in Detroit
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February 06, 2006

The Love Bus

A favorite of fans, media and his fellow NFL players, Steelers running back Jerome Bettis is looking for final fulfillment in Detroit

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After the shoot, as the running back climbed into his Chevy Tahoe, on his way to do another TV spot, a grandfatherly man called out to Bettis, "You will get that ring, buddy." At the studio Bettis changed into a business suit to make a commercial for Urban Mortgage, a Pittsburgh home loan company in which Bettis has an ownership stake. "He had a lot of the big boys coming at him, but he believed in what we're doing: targeting the minority community," says Chuck Sanders, a former Steelers running back who enlisted Bettis after launching the firm last spring. "I've never in my life met anyone more professional than Jerome. I was hesitant to call him after the Denver game--he had the flu, and of course he had the world coming at him--but my phone rang earlier today and he said, 'Hey, what color suit should I wear?'"

Sipping hot water to soothe his sore throat and in desperate need of a nap, Bettis continued his tour, ending up at the Firehouse Lounge to honor his commitment to appear on linebacker Joey Porter's weekly TV show. That accountability is just one reason that the Bus is revered by teammates. They also appreciate that he unselfishly stepped away from his starting job over the past three seasons and helped nurture younger backs, including Duce Staley, a free-agent pickup before the 2004 season, and current starter Willie Parker. "Hey, it's not their fault," Bettis says, referring to his demotion. He recalls being treated coldly by Rams back Cleveland Gary after Bettis was drafted in 1993. "When I got to the Rams," Bettis says, "Cleveland Gary never talked to me. I could have used some help."

Now all good things are coming to Bettis. Given the way this season has unfolded for the Steelers since early December, when they were 7--5 and one loss from playoff elimination, does he buy the notion that the football gods are looking out for him? "I do believe in karma, but only to a point," Bettis says. "When I see what Peyton Manning has to go through--the guy's been a great person, a humanitarian, and it hasn't come back to him on the field--then that line of thinking falls apart." Besides, Bettis believes that regardless of what happens on Super Sunday, his life will be grand: With a one-year-old daughter, Jada; plans to marry Jada's mother, Trameka Boykin, this summer; and networks lining up to bid for his services as a broadcaster, he is as excited about retirement as an athlete can be.

At the end of his long day last week, as the Bus prepared to leave the Firehouse Lounge shortly after midnight, Bettis had one more thing coming back to him. "Hey, I found this on the floor by the couch," a young woman said, presenting a cellphone to Bettis. "I think it belongs to you."

Right now, what doesn't?

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