Pittsburgh Steelers running back Jerome Bettis headlined the eight-man class inducted into the National Football League’s Hall of Fame on Saturday, the sixth-leading rusher in NFL history greeted by thousands of roaring Steelers fans clad in the team’s colours of black and gold.
Through 10 seasons with the Steelers, Bettis embodied the blue-collar mentality of the city of Pittsburgh and the storied team he helped lead to a fifth Super Bowl title in 2006 in his hometown of Detroit. He retired immediately after the game.
Bettis was beloved as much for his quick feet and easy smile as the massive thighs and lowered shoulders that churned out 13,662 yards in his career.
Other former players joining Bettis in the Hall of Fame were Vikings centre Mick Tingelhoff, Chiefs guard Will Shields, Chargers linebacker Junior Seau, Raiders wide receiver Tim Brown, and defensive end Charles Haley, who won five Super Bowl rings with the 49ers and Cowboys – the only player in NFL history to do so.
Ron Wolf, the former Green Bay general manager, and Bill Polian, a former GM with Buffalo, Carolina and Indianapolis, were also honoured.
Only Seau was elected in his first year on the ballot. The rest had lengthy waits to join the NFL’s most exclusive club.
Haley gave a rousing speech that included good-natured jabs at everyone from former San Francisco owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr, to Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. DeBartolo called the decision to trade Haley to Dallas in 1992 his biggest mistake during his tenure.
Haley, who retired after the 1999 season with 100 sacks, also made a touching tribute to Jones, who organised a bone marrow drive when Haley’s daughter was diagnosed with leukaemia, and discussed his own battles with depression.
“My life spiralled out of control for years, for years,” Haley said.
Tingelhoff didn’t say a word, instead letting Hall of Fame teammate Fran Tarkenton speak for him shortly after Tingelhoff’s bust was unveiled.
“He’s waited 37 years to get to the Hall of Fame,” Tarkenton said.
Wolf, who hired Mike Holmgren and traded for Brett Favre shortly after taking over in 1991, praised the core that restored the Packers to legitimacy after two decades of mediocrity. Green Bay won its first Super Bowl in nearly 30 years in 1997 when Favre guided the Packers by New England.
“There was always a threat to players of other teams that if they didn’t shape up, they would be traded to Green Bay,” Wolf said.
“We worked hard to eliminate that stigma.”