Let me start off this little tirade by saying that I’ve rooted for the Pittsburgh Steelers for over 30 years, and as long as I have known the NFL existed, the black and gold have been my team. I am unabashed in my fandom, however, I have been criticized by other fans for being cynical, while I consider myself more pragmatic.
I will preface this even further by saying that if I were making a list of my 5 favorite Steelers players of all time, former running back Jerome Bettis would almost certainly be on that list. His style of play and physical make up fit what I consider an ideal running back in many ways. His work ethic was tremendous and he is not only a fan favorite, but the kind of player that even fans of other teams had a hard time rooting against.
Having said all this, when I heard today that Bettis was eligible for the Hall of Fame, and the immediate lobbying that was taking place for him to be on the ballot, I shook my head because there is no way that he belongs in the Hall.
My reason for this is less an argument against Bettis, and more of an argument that the Hall of Fame has lost its way. Bettis just happens to be the guy on the other end of my tantrum.
From a philosophical standpoint, I have an image of what makes a Hall of Fame player. It’s not about statistics. I’ll leave that to the baseball fans. It’s not even about championships. Football is the ultimate team game, so I struggle to exclude an individual player based on his team not being able to succeed.
What do I want? I want a player who was so remarkable, so memorable, that the story of their time in the league cannot be told without them. This isn’t Bettis. Bettis was a solid back. A couple of seasons he was a tremendous back, but I’m not sure you can even say in his best seasons Bettis was the best back in the league.
In his entire career, he led the league in exactly one category (carries) in one season (1997). Even removing the more ambiguous criteria, I cannot in good conscience recommend Bettis be included among the greatest NFL players of all time, if he was never the greatest player in a single season.
If you look back at the career of Bettis, his most memorable football moment didn’t even happen during a game. During a game in Detroit on Thanksgiving 1998, Bettis was involved in a controversial coin toss pregame where Bettis pulled a hea-tails on a coin toss, and the Referee misunderstood and in essence got the toss wrong. It caused a change in the rules where now a player must declare heads or tails pre-flip, and it is repeated by the official to confirm before the flip.
In the big picture, the entire concept of the Hall of Fame has become diluted. Fans lobby for their favorite players and apply whatever type of criteria will fit their argument as the be-all-end-all for their guy. What it has done, is filled the Hall with good players and satisfied the masses who want their players in. However, in turn it has changed the Hall of Fame into the Hall of Really Good.
Sometimes players getting into the Hall of Fame is the equivalent of the whiny 7-year old in the grocery store who doesn’t deserve a candy bar, but if they just go on and on about it long enough,until mom caves and let him have one just for the peace and quiet. There are some truly remarkable, game-changing, and historic players in the Hall. But every year, it’s less about their place in history and more about their place in the hearts of fans and sports writers.
I’ve always contended that the Hall of Fame is bloated now, so adding more good, but not Hall of Fame caliber players like Bettis, just diminishes the value of the players who are in there and deserve to be. I get it that everyone wants as many of “their guys” in the Hall, but at some point being put in the Hall of fame is going to be tantamount to being the Heisman Trophy Winner. A great honor, but not really rewarding what it’s supposed to.
OK Steelers fans, let me have it. I have my fireproof boxers on and I’m ready for all the flames. @nfldraftboard is where you can find me on Twitter so tell me why Bettis should be mentioned in the same breath as Barry Sanders and Jim Brown.