JEROME BETTIS played 10 of his 13 seasons in the Steel City, rushing for 10,571 yards as a Steeler, and retired as the fifth-leading ground gainer in NFL history. In these excerpts from his new book, Bettis discusses his love affair with the city and Steelers fans.
PITTSBURGH IS MY KIND OF TOWN
It's a blue-collar football town. How I played and how I ran was a blue-collar style of football. It was a perfect fit. Plus, the Steelers were all about tradition, championships and passionate fans. They were like the Notre Dame of the NFL. If you go to the Pittsburgh International Airport, you'll see a life-sized statue of Franco Harris making the Immaculate Reception. There are even stories about Steelers fans who are buried wearing their black-and-gold pajamas, holding a TV remote and having their legs covered by a Steelers blanket. Now that's a city that loves its team. Pittsburgh was my kind of place. It appreciated the players who weren't afraid to get some blood on their jerseys, who didn't care how cold it got on game day, who gave the fans an honest effort, win or lose.
JOINING THE ENEMY
I'll admit it: It felt weird putting on that Steelers uniform the first time. I grew up as a Cowboys fan. I hated the Steelers as a kid. My brother, John, on the other hand, was a die-hard Steelers fan. Even though we grew up in Detroit, we never cared about the Lions. John rarely asked me for anything when it came to football, but when I was traded to the Steelers he couldn't help himself. He said he wanted the first photograph taken of me in a Steelers uniform. So I arranged for the team photographer to take the picture at the first minicamp. My brother loves that photo. It was the ultimate revenge for him: His little brother, who couldn't stand the Steelers as a kid, wearing a Steelers uniform.
ODE TO THREE RIVERS STADIUM
My body is glad it was torn down. That artificial turf cost me an ankle surgery and a knee surgery. But my football soul misses that dump. Three Rivers was one of those cookie-cutter stadiums, but the Steelers fans turned it into an electric place to play. Oh, did that place have character. The rollaway bleachers brought the crowd right on top of you. When the place got rocking, you could see whole sections of bleachers bouncing six inches off the ground. You'd hear these huge boom! sounds every time the bleachers would smack the ground. Boom! Boom! Boom! It was amazing. And loud? Oh, it was loud. It could scare the hell out of the other team.
BLACK AND GOLD ALL OVER
It's ridiculous how many Steelers fans there are in the world. They're the best fans because they're loyal and they're everywhere. I've been in the city square of Turin, Italy, doing an interview on NBC's Today show, and sure enough, someone in the crowd started waving a freakin' Terrible Towel. In Italy. Nobody in the crowd could have known I was going to be on the show that day, but there they were, Terrible Towels. I can't explain it. That's when I realized that it isn't just Steelers City; it's Steelers Nation. Maybe even Steelers World.