Bettis was picked in the first round (10th overall) of the 1993 NFL draft by the then Los Angeles Rams. A star even in his rookie year, he rushed for 1,429 yards in 1993, and was named Offensive Rookie of the Year. He quickly earned the nickname "The Battering Ram." He rushed for over 1,000 in his second season with the Rams.
The Rams moved to St. Louis for the 1995 season, and coach Chuck Knox was forced out in favor of Rich Brooks. Brooks favored a more pass-oriented attack as opposed to Knox' ground-based game, and Bettis all but vanished from the offense. When the Rams let it be known that they wanted to draft oft-troubled running back Lawrence Phillips, it was obvious Bettis' days in St. Louis were numbered.
Meanwhile, the Steelers needed a running back: Bam Morris, their featured back in the 1995 season, had pleaded guilty to marijuana possession and was cut by the team in June 1996. Bettis was traded to Pittsburgh on draft day (immediately after the Rams drafted Phillips) with a third round draft pick in exchange for a second round pick in 1996 and a fourth round pick in 1997. While Bettis became the Steelers' rock at running back for almost a decade, Phillips' off-field problems led to the Rams cutting him in the middle of the following season. The Rams wouldn't have another featured back until trading for Marshall Faulk in 1999.
Bettis rushed for over 1,000 yards in each of his first six seasons with the Steelers between 1996 and 2001. Included in that run were three campaigns of over 1,300 yards. In 1997, Bettis rushed for a career-best 1,665 yards in the team's first 15 games. However, because the team had already wrapped up its playoff position, he was rested for the regular season finale and finished 25 yards short of the team's single-season record.
Bettis was leading the league with 1,072 rushing yards in 2001 when he suffered an injury that sidelined him for the remainder of the regular season. Injuries would also cost him part of the 2002 season and he then began the 2003 season as a backup to Amos Zereoue. Despite regaining his starting role midway through the 2003 season, Bettis again found himself a backup to start the 2004 season, this time to Duce Staley. But when an injury took Staley out of action mid-way through the year, Bettis stepped in and gained 100+ yards in six of the next eight games and would have likely topped 1,000 yards for the season if not for the decision to rest him in the Steelers' meaningless final regular season game. The remarkable late season effort led to the sixth Pro-Bowl berth of his career.
Bettis spent the 2005 season as a full-time short yardage running back, but managed two memorable games along the way: First, a 101 yard, two touchdown effort in a pivotal week 14 win over Chicago (his second-to-last game in Pittsburgh) that is often remembered for a play in which he ran over Bears' linebacker Brian Urlacher on the goal line during a heavy snow squall. And then second, his three touchdowns in a win over Detroit to clinch a playoff berth on the last day of the season (his last game in Pittsburgh). He would finish the season and his career as the NFL's 5th leading all-time rusher.
Bettis was also at the center of one of the most controversial calls in NFL history. During a Thanksgiving Day game with the Detroit Lions on November 26, 1998, Bettis was sent out as the Steelers representative for the overtime coin toss. Bettis called "tails" while the coin was in the air but referee Phil Luckett declared that Bettis called "heads" and awarded possession to Detroit, who would go on to win the game before Pittsburgh had the chance to have possession. After reviewing the incident, the NFL changed the rule and declared that the call of "heads" or "tails” would be made before the coin was tossed rather than during the coin toss and that at least two officials would be present during the coin toss. Some have jokingly referred to the new procedure as the "Jerome Bettis Rule". The readers of ESPN voted the incident as the #7 on its list of the top ten worst sports officiating calls of all time.
In another unique occurrence, Bettis later put together one of the most bizarre single game stat lines in NFL history. In the 2004 season opener, he carried the ball five times for a total of only one yard, a 0.2 yards per carry average. However, he scored 18 points on those carries with three touchdowns.
During that 2004 season, Bettis and New York Jets running back Curtis Martin dueled for position on the all-time rushing yards leaderboard. Bettis entered the season in 6th place all-time and 684 yards ahead of Martin in 9th place. Because Bettis was the backup in Pittsburgh for the start of the season, Martin was able to pass Bettis in week 13 until the Steelers played their game later in the day and Bettis retook the lead by 6 yards. When the Jets traveled to Martin's home town of Pittsburgh to play the Steelers the following week, both backs would cross the 13,000-yard mark, making this the first time two players crossed the 13,000 yard mark (or other similarly high yardage milestones) in the same game. Their combined career totals were also one of the biggest combined career totals for opposing running backs in history. At the end of the game, Martin would lead Bettis by 9 yards. Two weeks later in week 16, Bettis would again pass Martin and establish himself with a lead of 81 yards. In doing so, Bettis passed Eric Dickerson for 4th place on the all-time list. Bettis sat out the final week of the season, and when Martin rushed for 153 yards that week he passed Dickerson and Bettis for the final time.
After the Steelers' defeat in the 2004 AFC Championship Game on January 23, 2005, Bettis announced that he was considering retirement, but would not make a final decision for several months to prevent the sting of the defeat from clouding his judgment. Later, Bettis agreed to stay with the Steelers for another season. He stated he would love to play in the Super Bowl in 2006 since it was to be played in his hometown of Detroit. His wish came true as the Steelers played in, and won, Super Bowl XL (40) against the Seattle Seahawks 21-10 on February 5th, 2006.
Bettis finished his 13 NFL seasons as the NFL's 5th all-time leading rusher with 13,662 yards and 91 touchdowns. He also caught 200 passes for 1,449 yards and 3 touchdowns. He was named to the Pro Bowl in 1993, 1994, 1996, 1997, 2001, and 2004. Bettis won the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award in 1996, and in 2002 he was the recipient of the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award. While Bettis finished with 1,542 more yards than Franco Harris on the NFL's all-time rushing list, Harris remains the Steelers all-time leading rusher on account of 3,091 of those yards coming while Bettis was with the Rams, which do not count towards the Steelers' all-time totals with the team.
Most people think Bettis acquired the nickname The Bus from legendary Steelers radio color commentator Myron Cope; but Myron only popularized the nickname after hearing a brother of a fellow Notre Dame alumni call Jerome "Bussy" in Green Bay. Although some would think otherwise, the nickname had no association with wearing a black and gold uniform; it actually comes from his ability to carry multiple defenders on his back, like a bus ride, during his carries. It was during the Green Bay broadcast that Cope starting using the nickname "The Bus." Jerome credits someone at the Notre Dame school newspaper with first using the now famous nickname.
Another lesser known nickname for Bettis was "the closer". He was given this nickname by former Steeler head coach Bill Cowher because whenever Pittsburgh was ahead and was ready to close out the game Cowher would send in Bettis to run out the clock. This was due to Bettis' very low fumbling percentage and the fact that he was difficult to tackle.
The road to Super Bowl XL
Shortly after the Steelers lost the 2004-2005 AFC Championship game to the eventual Super Bowl XXXIX champion New England Patriots, Ben Roethlisberger approached Bettis. He promised Bettis that if he came back for one last season, he would get him to the Super Bowl. Apparently, it was this promise that got Jerome Bettis to play one last season. In 12 NFL seasons, Bettis had reached the playoffs 5 times, but had never been in the Super Bowl.
In week 17 of the 2005 NFL season, Bettis rushed for 41 yards and three touchdowns against the Detroit Lions. The Steelers won 35-21, and thanks to Bettis's three touchdowns, they clinched a playoff berth. When Bill Cowher pulled Bettis from the game late in the fourth quarter, he was given a standing ovation from the Steeler fans. This game would be the last home game (not including the neutral-site Super Bowl) for Jerome Bettis.
Bettis contributed 52 yards and a touchdown in the Steelers' wildcard playoff victory over the Cincinnati Bengals on January 8. After their wildcard win, Ben Roethlisberger revealed to the team that he promised to Bettis that he would get him to the Super Bowl, in order to get him to come back for the 2005 season.
On January 15, 2006, Bettis was the center of one of football's most memorable endings in a divisional playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts. While the Steelers offensive attack was mostly pass driven during the game, Bettis ran well, taking in 46 yards on 17 rushes, including one touchdown. When the Steelers took possession of the ball on the Indianapolis 2 yard line with 1:20 remaining in the game, leading 21-18, the outcome seemed almost certain. The first play from scrimmage went to the surehanded Bettis, who had not fumbled once the entire year. As Bettis ran towards the end zone, Colts linebacker Gary Brackett popped the ball out of Jerome's hands, where it was picked up by cornerback Nick Harper, (seemingly another sign of the Sports Illustrated cover jinx) who was stopped from returning the fumble all the way for a touchdown by Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Ultimately, however, Bettis's mistake did not result in a Steelers loss, as Colts kicker Mike Vanderjagt missed a 46-yard game-tying field goal, ending the game with a 21-18 Steelers victory.
The next week, the Steelers were set to face off against the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship game. Bettis, who had never been to a Super Bowl in his storied career, delivered a rousing speech to his teammates the day before the game, asking them to "Just get me to Detroit," his hometown, where Super Bowl XL was to be played. Bettis's wish was granted, as he and the Steelers advanced to Super Bowl XL with a 34-17 win over the Broncos, led by Ben Roethlisberger's arm and Bettis's 39 yards on 15 carries, including a touchdown. After the game was over, Bettis found his parents in the crowd and mouthed the words "We're going home" to them.
In front of a crowd that was estimated by NFL analysts in attendance to be "80% - 90% Steeler fans" (as evident by the influx of "Terrible Towels" seen waving in the crowd), Pittsburgh would go on to defeat the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XL, 21-10. Bettis rushed for 43 yards on 14 carries; an average of 3.1 yards per carry.
Asked about the possibility of retirement, Bettis announced, "It's been an incredible ride. I played this game to win a championship. I'm a champion [now], and I think the Bus' last stop is here in Detroit." Thus, Jerome Bettis officially announced his retirement standing on the champions' podium, holding the Vince Lombardi Trophy. Hines Ward, the MVP of the game, said during the Super Bowl commercial; "I'm going to Disney World and I'm taking The Bus!"
On 31 January 2006, Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and the City Council presented the key to the city to Bettis and declared the week "Jerome Bettis Week" for being "a shining example of what a kid with a dream from Detroit can accomplish with hard work and determination."
Governor Jennifer M. Granholm of the State of Michigan declared 1 February 2006 to be Jerome Bettis Day.
In February 2006, at the 2006 Winter Olympics, NBC Sports announced that Bettis had been signed as a studio commentator for NBC's new Football Night in America Sunday night pregame show.
Pittsburgh's Bettis to work as NBC studio analyst
On Tuesday, April 18, 2006, Bettis and his parents teamed up with Don Barden, chairman and chief executive officer of PITG Gaming LLC, in order to get a casino called the Majestic Star, on Pittsburgh's North Side. Their plan would aid the NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins with funding for a new ice arena. Barden said that he would give $7.5 million a year for 30 years to help build a new arena.
Bettis opened a restaurant called "Jerome Bettis' Grille 36" on June 5, 2007 on Pittsburgh's Northside.
On May 21st, 2006 Bettis received an honorary Doctoral degree from Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, Michigan for providing remarkable benefits to young people. He will be awarded the Doctor of Humanities, honoris causa, recognizing his leadership in founding the innovative “Cyber Bus” program that to date has enabled some 120 Detroit middle and high school students to both build and use the latest computer technology.
Before the Steelers' home opener of the 2006 NFL season, a large school bus drove onto the field, and Bettis stepped out to a massive crowd ovation. He was one of several Steelers players being honored as part of the celebration of their five Super Bowl victories; Lynn Swann and Franco Harris were also present.
Bettis makes a cameo as himself in season 3 of the NBC comedy series The Office. Signing autographs at a paper convention, Michael Scott tries to invite him to a room party, which Bettis declines. Later, Michael claims Bettis is nicknamed "The Bus" because he is afraid of flying.
Bettis also appeared in a commercial for Sunday Night Football, where he's handed the keys to a bus that happens to belong to John Madden.
He lives in a suburb of Atlanta, Roswell, Georgia. He and his family also maintain a home in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
In July 2006, Bettis married his long time girlfriend, Trameka Boykin, in Montego Bay, Jamaica. The couple has a daughter, Jada, and a son Jerome Jr., together.
Bettis had made political donations to both Democratic and Republican candidates; specifically the Congressional campaigns of Democratic U.S. Representative Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick and Republican President George W. Bush. On March 29, 2008, Bettis accompanied Barack Obama on a campaign visit to the United States Steel plant in Braddock, Pennsylvania.
Off the field
--Bettis is currently the host of The Jerome Bettis Show on WPXI-TV in Pittsburgh, airing Saturdays at 7:00 PM and 1:00 AM.
--He used to reside in Gibsonia, Pennsylvania during the off season
--He began a charity called the Bus Stops Here Foundation to aid underprivileged children in 1997. --He did a commercial that was a remake of Joe Greene's famous commercial where Jerome shows an asthmatic boy that Jerome also is asthmatic yet he is able to play professional sports and so can the boy with proper treatment for his asthma. Or as Bettis says at the end, "Asthma doesn't stop the Bus, and it doesn't have to stop you."
--His book, Driving Home: My Unforgettable Super Bowl Run, came out in September 2006, published by Triumph Books.
--He is now a commentator for the NFL Network and an NBC studio analyst for Football Night in America.
--He owns a restaurant on the Northshore of Pittsburgh called Jerome Bettis Grille 36.
--He has achieved a "Perfect 300" in bowling and was considered one of the best bowlers in the National Football League and even got inducted into the celebrity bowling hall of fame. On Sundays growing up, Bettis and his family were not watching the one o'clock football games. His family of bowlers was out at the lanes each Sunday in Detroit.
--He is part-owner of several minor league baseball teams - the Altoona Curve, State College Spikes, and Myrtle Beach Pelicans.
--Named his son Jerome Jr.
--He shares the distinct honor of being the recipient of the key to the city of Detroit, MI