No one thought that a boy from inner city Detroit was going to be a National Football League star. Born in the ghetto of Detroit, the idea of even going to the National Football League was unthinkable. Jerome Abrams Bettis had the natural ability and the mental focus to accomplish his dream of playing professional football. With the help of his family, friends, and coaches Bettis was soon to make a name for himself (Branch 1).
Jerome Abrams Bettis was born February 16, 1972, in Detroit, Michigan to Gladys and Johnnie Bettis. He was the youngest of their three children. Living in the ghetto of inner city Michigan was a challenge for Gladys and Johnnie. Their children were surrounded by drugs, crime, and prostitution. Gladys would think of things to occupy her children and bowling was one of them. The Bettis family shared a passion for bowling and every Thursday night they would get together at the local bowling alley and play. “She felt going bowling was a way to keep me out of trouble in the inner city,” Bettis told the Los Angeles Times (Granholm 1).
At the age of fourteen Bettis was diagnosed with asthma, a disorder which affects a person’s breathing. This can pose a problem for someone that exercises regularly or is an athlete. With his freshman year just beginning, Bettis was not going to let this slow him down (Bell 1). Bettis attended David McKenzie High School in Detroit, where he played both basketball and football. Unfortunately, the pressures of the ghetto reached Bettis at the age of sixteen. At school he was a sergeant at arms for the National Honor Society whose parents would be upset with him if he swore. However, outside of school Bettis carried guns and sold drugs so he could afford new leather jackets and stylish shoes (Dvorchak 1).
Despite what Bettis was doing outside of school he was making a name for himself on the football field. At just five foot ten inches, Bettis weighed well over 200 pounds, making him one of the biggest full backs in the state. Recruiters flocked from all over to see Bettis play hoping he would attend their school. Bettis lettered three times in football and was the team captain his junior and senior season. Rushing for 1,355 yards his senior season and scoring fourteen touchdowns, Bettis was bound for division one college football. He also averaged fifteen tackles a game as an inside linebacker (Granholm 1).
Football was a ticket to college for Bettis because his parents could not afford it. Soon after earning the Circle of Champions Michigan Player of the Year award his senior season, big schools were knocking at his door (Marino 1). He was also named one of the top-100 high school seniors in the country by USA Today and was awarded a spot on the All-American team. A tough decision lay ahead for Bettis as to where he was going to play division one football. Bettis signed a scholarship to play fullback for Coach Lou Holtz at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana (Jenkins 1).
As a freshman, Bettis played the role of the backup fullback playing in eleven games, but only gaining 115 yards on fifteen carries. He impressed the coaches with his mental focus and ability to hold on to the football. After three successful years at Notre Dame, Bettis ran the ball 337 times for 1,912 yards, compiling a total of twenty seven touchdowns. He had thirty two receptions for 429 yards, averaging thirteen yards per reception. The last game of his college career was a success when he ran for seventy five yards on twenty carries against Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl (Marino 1).
After his junior season in 1993, Bettis left Notre Dame so he could enter the National Football League Draft. He was the tenth pick in the first round and was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams. His rookie season was a success; Bettis became one of only eight rookie running backs to rush for 200 yards in a single game. Rushing for 1,429 yards that season, Bettis lacked only fifty seven yards to achieve the rushing title (Marino 1). Given the title of Rookie of the Year by Pro Football Weekly, The Sporting News, and the Pro Football Writers Association, Bettis was now a part of the National Football League scene. Making the Pro Bowl that season added to the astonishing success Bettis received in just one year (Granholm 1).
Becoming only one of two football players in Ram’s history, Bettis made the Pro Bowl again in 1994 for the second consecutive year. After his 1994 season Bettis ranked fifth in the National Football League for total yardage. He was one of four offensive players to start all sixteen games for the Rams (Marino 1). Unfortunately for Bettis the Rams relocated to St. Louis in 1995. This change of atmosphere caused Bettis to leave his professional career and return to Notre Dame, where he hoped to receive a college degree. Taking a full load of classes, Bettis knew this was something he had to get through to receive his degree. However the National Football League was not ready to see Bettis retire (Jenkins 1).
Halfway through the semester Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz was contacted by Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher. He informed Holtz that the Steelers were interested in trading for Bettis (Jenkins 1). Bettis was traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers on draft day in 1996 and it was just what Bettis needed to revive his career. Once again Bettis was nicknamed the “Bus” by the Pittsburgh Steeler fans, due to how enormous he was. Just after one year with Steelers, Bettis was already ranked third best in the National Football League. That year Bettis was named Steelers Most Valuable Player, All-Pro by College & Pro Football Weekly, and All-Conference by Football Digest (Marino 1). With all of the accolades Bettis received that year, he proved that he was one of the league’s premier running backs.
Although in 1997 Bettis suffered from a severe asthma attack during a nationally televised game. “The fact is I was fighting for my breath and I almost died. It was the most frightening experience I’ve ever had, but it also served as a turning point in my life,” Bettis says in an article written by Reed Moran. After his experience, Bettis helped form the Asthma All-Stars Program (AASP). The goal of this organization is to show people with asthma that they can live without limits, but they need to consult a doctor about an asthma action plan (Moran 1).
Bettis was quick to recover and was named Most Valuable Player by the Steelers for the second year in a row. That same year Bettis was named to his fourth Pro Bowl, this was his second as a Steeler (Marino 2). Carrying the ball 375 times that season gathering a total of 1,665 yards, he was just twenty six yards short of the team record for most yards in a single season. Ranking third in the National Football League, Bettis led his team to a divisional playoff game and a successful season (Dvorchak 1).
Football was not the only thing Bettis did; he kept himself busy off the field as well. That same year he created his own full service sports marketing firm. This launched his own line of clothing, it helped manage some of his endorsements, and it helped create his award-winning website thebus36.com (Marino 2). It was easy for advertisers to be drawn to Bettis because of all his success. Companies such as Nike, Ford, and EA Sports became some of Bettis’s main sponsors.
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