Thursday, January 26, 2006

Breaking Down the Bus
By Zach

Jerome Bettis is from Detroit. Just making sure you knew that.

I'm not sure when it happened exactly, but at some point during this year's playoffs, I realized I have a deep-seated hatred for Jerome Bettis. I'm not sure if it's the constant shots of his parents in the stands (he's a 36-year-old guy, get over your Little-League mentality. It won't kill either of you to watch a game on TV), or the fact that he's not paying royalties to William Perry, but I have an idea. It's probably the fact that it must be federally mandated that in every article written about him, Bettis be called a "sure-fire," or "first ballot," Hall of Famer. Some have even gone so far as to call him one of the top running backs in NFL history.

Umm...what?

Let's just take a second here to look at the stats. The statistic that gets cited most frequently is the fact that Bettis is fifth all-time in rushing yards. Well, since he's finishing his 13th (and final) season, that's not so surprising. Looking at the all-time leaderboards in football, we see a lot of guys who have played long careers, compiled plenty of numbers, and are nowhere near Hall of Famers. After all, Vinny Testeverde and Drew Bledsoe are 6th and 7th in passing yards...though no one describes them as "sure-fire" or "first ballot" anything (except maybe that many of their passes are "sure-fire" interceptions).

Delving deeper, we learn the following facts about Bettis. Out of the 13 years he spent in the NFL, in only four of them did he average more than 4.0 yards per carry (1993, 1996, 1997, 2001). He never led the league in rushing, and ranked in the top five just three times (1993, 1996, 1997). He had two other top 10 seasons (1994, 2000). Only two times was he in the top 10 in touchdowns (tied for ninth in 1996, tied for 10th in 2004).

He's invariably compared to Curtis Martin, because their careers spanned about the same time period, because they're 4-5 in rushing yards, and because both are perceived as similar players. Yet that's an insult to Martin, who averaged more than 4.0 yards per carry in seven of his eleven seasons, was top-five in yards four times and top-10 three other times. He of course led the league in rushing last year, and had four seasons among the top-10 touchdown scorers in the league.

The NFL Hall of Fame is a tricky beast. Because of the violent nature of football, and the short lifespan of most running backs, the accumulation of statistics means less than it does in other sports. Bettis may have more rushing yards than Jim Brown, but no one thinks he was better.

So why does Bettis get so much (undeserved) love? I've got a few theories. He seems like a genuinely nice guy, or at least virtually every NFL writer seems to love him. He spent most of his career with Pittsburgh, perhaps the most popular team in the league. He's got a physique that looks more like a fan (or sportswriter) than Hall of Fame running back. Chris Berman makes that noise whenever he appears on Primetime.

I don't doubt that Bettis is a good guy, and a good running back. He's an able spokesman for asthma foundations, and apparently gives generously to charity. He's certainly beloved in Pittsburgh. But one thing he's not is a Hall of Famer. There was never a time in his career when he was one of the top backs in the league, and most of his career he was average at best.

As my roommate Lance would say, the wheels on the Bus go "woof, woof, woof." This "sure-fire," "first-ballot" Hall of Famer is, in fact, a dog.

Average Jerome Bettis Season:

268 carries, 1051 yards, 3.9 yards per carry, 7 TDs

Average Curtis Martin Season:

320 carries, 1282 yards, 4.0 yards per carry, 8.2 TDs

7 Comments:

Blogger David Arnott said...

Weird thing about Canton is how they both require and limit a certain number of HOFers each year, between three and six each year, and it seems an unofficial stipulation according to the FHOH website. Given that at least three guys will get in every year, and if that rule holds, I think it's pretty likely that Bettis will get in even if more analytical minds sway the vote.

http://tinyurl.com/89w64

7:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think he was considered one of the dominant backs when he was with the Rams but that was a long time ago and it didn't last long.

Jerome Bettis may be a HoFer but what's nice is that there will be some time between his retirement and his eligibility which should lessen the sentimental feelings of these past couple of years. In my mind he's a possible HoFer but certainly not first ballot.

9:23 AM  
Blogger The Armchair Quarterback said...

I read the David Schoenfield (ESPN page 2)article the other day that makes pretty much the same argument and I'm in total agreement. I've always been big on the yards per carry statistic. Sure there will be seasons where your quarterback sucks or your line sucks so the average yard per carry may dip a bit. But as you've pointed out this statistic has been low for his entire career! He's been a decent running back but not great. I think your dead-on for the reasons why he gets so much love. Perhaps there will be a Bettis backlash after the SuperBowl with all the attention he's getting. Of course if he has a great game then the love-fest is back on.

12:04 PM  
Anonymous Johnny Boy said...

Great, the Super Bowl is SO hyped that we get a backlash against a player based almost solely on the media's over-coverage of him.

I shall play devil's, or in this case Bus's, advocate here.

You try carrying Kordell Stewart for 5 years when there's 8 or 9 in the box on every down because the other team knows the Steelers don't want Kordell to chuck it. And he still cranked out 1,000 yard seasons (that would be '97-'01).

That said, I don't think he'll make it in because of the fact that he was the fastest, or most dazzling back with the gaudiest stats, like a Payton, Sanders, Brown, or Smith. That wasn't Jerome's game.

He'll make it in because he was one of the best OF HIS STYLE of running back. Guys with his size and running style (ex. Earl Campbell) usually don't last that long in the league. Also, factor in how many times he got fed the ball, especially during the Kordell Stewart years, and what Bettis has done and how long he's done it is pretty impressive.

Look, I know everyone's gonna get sick of hearing about the guy. But don't let the media annoy you to the point where you discredit what the guy has done. It's Super Bowl week, and if it wasn't Bettis, there'd be some other story to annoy us until the game started.

Anyways, my case for the Bus is this: Is he a top 5 back of all time? Of course not. But of his style of running back (aka the "Big Bruising Back), it could be argued that no one has done it better. And that's why he'll make it into the Hall. If John Riggins is in, then Bettis should be too. For a guy of that style to last that long and make it into the Top 5 in rushing yards is insane!

Think of it as a closer getting into the Baseball Hall of Fame... except a closer doesn't get tackled by D-linemen and linebackers nearly 30 for a long stretch of his career.

2:47 PM  
Blogger Zachary Geballe said...

Never confuse longevity with greatness. The fact that Jerome managed to play 13 years without having his career ended doesn't make him a Hall of Famer, just lucky. Bettis hasn't been an impact running back since 2000 (at least).

As for the media impact, it's not that I hate him because he's overexposed. But all the attention paid to him (and the fact that he was almost universally tabbed a first-ballot Hall of Famer), it made me look closely at his career. That confirmed my suspicion, which was that Bettis was never one of the top backs in the league.

As for the whole "big-back" thing...it's not a separate position. He's listed at running back just like Brian Westbrook, and while their styles may be wildly different, they still play the same position.

Using your argument, I could contend that Jamie Moyer should be a Hall of Famer because he's one of the best junkball pitchers in recent memory and had a really long career when most pitchers flame out early.

3:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Too bad there arn't stats for yards per carry (of a linebacker). I mean seriously, no one in the top 5 all time in yards (above Bettis) had anywhere near the as hard of yards then him. Not blessed w/ a slim physique or blazing speed he got his the old fashioned way....THROUGH PEOPLE! When a back like M. Faulk got into the open field he could juke and get and extra 5 yards untill he was tackled. Bus would just have 1-2 passengers untill he was finally dragged down. Now i'm biased b/c i live in the 'Burgh but in my mind he is an extrodinary player and a "sure-fire" 1st ballot HOFer

3:31 PM  
Blogger Ben Valentine said...

Ah, commenting how I miss thee. One day I'll post again.

Anyway, it doesn't matter how the Bus accumulated those yards, whether over, by or through linebackers or defensive linemen. The fact remains how many yards he managed to get against those guys. If a guy can pick up 3.9 yards running through defenders and another can pick up 4.2 running around them, guess what? I'm taking the guy who picks up 4.2 a carry because he's more effective.

I hate the argument that the Bus had no QB. Lots of great backs had no QB. Where was Barry Sanders adaquate QB? Rodney Peete? Andre Ware? Scott Mitchell? Charlie Batch?

Curtis Martin was second in the league in yards in 2001 with Vinny Testaverde at QB. In 2004, he his QB had a torn rotator cuff yet he led the league in yards.

Even look at Domanick Davis this year with the Texans. They had one of the worst lines in NFL history with a QB who basically started every play from his back. Davis averaged 4.2 yards per carry, despite being hurt.

Bettis was a nice player and popular because he was a novelty (a really big back who could run). But he's not a hall of famer.

6:50 PM  

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