It was about time.
On his fifth try — and in a decision long overdo — former Steelers running back Jerome Bettis was elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday night, marking relief and validation at the same time.
Relief that this nonsense hanging around one number (3.9 yards per carry) should hold him back any longer. It was seemingly the lone blemish in a career where no number, no quantification, could accurately depict how he would grind out those tough yards late in games in a career that spanned from 1993-2005.
You see, no matter what that final yards per carry tally was for his career — one in which he played for the Steelers from 1996-2005 — there was seemingly no tackler who could withstand Bettis’ force as the clock dwindled and the Steelers held a second-half lead.
He was one of the greatest closers (if there’s such a thing) to ever play the running back position in the NFL.
That’s what I remember about Bettis and that’s what should have trumped that silly 3.9 stat all along: That this was a man who served as equal parts bulldozer and clocksqueezer when those Bill Cowher-coached teams were trying to simultaneously drain the last life from opponents and last minutes from a clock.
Quite simply, just about every time you put it in Jerome Bettis’ hands, the game was done, finished, kaput.
But Saturday night also had some validation sprinkled in with the relief. There was, from this vantage at least, validation that — even if it took too long — the system finally worked, the voters finally came to their senses and one of the greatest of the greats will now be commemorated in Canton.
With 13,622 yards in a career that spanned 13 seasons, Bettis is still the sixth-leading rusher in NFL history.
That stat, alone, should have had in him the Hall of Fame before Saturday night.
For some reason, it didn’t.
Again, however, at least there was validation — far too late — that the voters can finally do the logical thing.
A deeper study into why Bettis was a no brainer is to consider 11 of the top 14 rushers in NFL history were already in the Hall. The others on the list of the top 14 rushers not in the Hall are Ladainian Tomlinson and Edgerrin James — and they aren’t eligible yet.
On top of all that, Bettis’ full body of work screamed that he should have been in. Amassing 61 100-yard games in his career, Bettis still ranks fifth in league history in that category and he’s tenth all-time with 91 touchdowns.
Should he have been elected before Saturday night? Yep.
But now that Jerome Bettis is headed to Canton, the focus on the process that left him out for too long can become an afterthought and the real story can irrevocably come into view — Jerome Bettis is a Hall of Famer.
Many of us knew that all along.
Saturday night’s announcement just provided relief and validation.
Colin Dunlap is a featured columnist at CBSPittsburgh.com. He can also be heard weekdays from 5:40 a.m. to 10 a.m. on Sports Radio 93-7 “The Fan.” You can e-mail him at email@example.com. Check out his bio here.