Steelers great Bettis leads NFL Hall of Fame class

ABS-CBN Sports on Aug 09, 2015 03:29 PM
Steelers great Bettis leads NFL Hall of Fame class
Bill Polian, right center, former president and general manager of the Buffalo Bills, poses with Bills who preceded him into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, during inductions Saturday, Aug. 8, 2015, in Canton, Ohio. From left are Joe Delamielleure, Bruce Smith, Jim Kelly, Marv Levy, Polian, Thurman Thomas, Andre Reed and James Lofton. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

WILL GRAVES, AP Sports Writer

CANTON, Ohio (AP) — 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 colors 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.

"I really thought the Bus' last stop was in Detroit at Super Bowl 40," he said, referring to his nickname during his playing days, "the Bus." ''But now I know the Bus will always and forever run in Canton, Ohio."

Other former players joining Bettis in the Hall of Fame were Vikings center 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 honored.

Only Seau was elected in his first year on the ballot. His induction, however, proved bittersweet, coming more than three years after he took his own life. His death and the complex fallout from it — Seau's family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the NFL — set the backdrop for the evening's most touching moment.

Hall of Fame rules about players awarded posthumously prevented Seau's daughter from giving a full speech on her father's behalf. Instead she spoke at length during an extended video tribute, calling her dad "a perfect match for football: both stubborn, both relentless, competitive and hard-hitting."

Those hard hits are at the center of the family's legal battle with the league, though Sydney Seau used the stage to instead pay homage to his spirit.

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 100½ sacks, also made a touching tribute to Jones, who organized a bone marrow drive when Haley's daughter was diagnosed with leukemia, and discussed his own battles with depression.

"My life spiraled out of control for years, for years," Haley 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."

Polian praised Hall of Fame coach Marv Levy for helping him resurrect the Bills after Polian took over as general manager in 1984. The two men put together the foundation of a team that made four straight Super Bowl appearances behind Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas and Andre Reed, all of whom Polian joined in the Hall.

Polian finally won a Super Bowl with Indianapolis in 2007.


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