Jerome Bettis recently
traded in his Steelers
uniform for a television
experiment, Sunday night
football, ushering in this
year’s playoff season
BY DENNIS MCCAFFERTY
It doesn’t matter whether you’re a die-hard football fan or
not: before he traded in his NFL uniform for an NBC studio
suit, Jerome Bettis made an unforgettable impression on
you—an impression for the ages in professional sports.
You were watching him right in the moment of his agonizing uncertainty, and you couldn’t turn away. There was Bettis,
a future Hall of Fame running back about to retire. He was in
the playoffs, his last shot at a Super Bowl ring. This was a guy
who gave everything he had—who withstood the pain-threshold
equivalent of a car crash every game—for 13 seasons. There were
so many seasons where he came so close. But somehow, some
way, Bettis and his Pittsburgh Steelers always fell short.
Right there, right then, he was watching his last chance slip
away. Actually, the Steelers had the game in the bag just minutes
before. But Bettis, whose hands are as strong as vise grips, had
just fumbled near the goal line against the Indianapolis Colts.
The Colts advanced the ball well within the comfort zone of their
star kicker, Mike Vanderjagt. At 46 yards, the kick was a gimme
for the Colts to tie the game and, with the momentum, likely take
the victory. Please, please, please, Bettis thought, don’t let it end
like this. It cannot end like this ...
That’s when someone like Bettis reaches a universal connectivity to the everyman in all of us. For, like the professional
athlete, most people sitting on the train of life pursue existence
in a rather Sisyphean state. Pro athletes vie every year to claim
the superlative status of a championship, yet few ever do so.
In the real world, we chase after ultimate rewards that often
remain out of reach: We come up short in snagging that record
in the 50-meter freestyle in the over- 40 league. The countless
book proposals never result in a published work. One unremarkable date after another fails to produce a life partner. We
try. We try again. Then we settle.