Contemplating the Bus

On his first or second carry of Sunday's game at Giants Stadium, Jerome Bettis will pass Franco Harris to become the eighth-overall rushing leader in NFL history. <br><br> Does that mean Bettis is the eighth-best running back in NFL history? Hardly.

When you take a look at the players on the list ahead of and just behind Bettis on the list, it looks like a who's who of NFL runners.

Up on top there are Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton and Barry Sanders. Just below them are Eric Dickerson, Tony Dorsett, Jim Brown and Marcus Allen.

Right behind Bettis are Thurman Thomas, John Riggins, Curtis Martin, O.J. Simpson and Marshall Faulk.

Of those players, Martin and Faulk are still active and will likely pass Bettis within the next couple of years, pushing him two spots down the list.

That will still leave Bettis somewhere in the top 10. Any talk about the top running backs of all-time has to begin and end with Brown and Payton.

They may no longer be on the top of the list as both once were, but both men were so unique in what they did that it's hard not to consider them the best in history.

Smith tops the list with 17,366 yards and counting - depending on whether he gains or loses yards for his current team, the Arizona Cardinals - while Sanders is third at 15,269.

But it's likely Sanders would have been No. 1 had he not decided to hang up his shifty shoes following his 10th season. Like Brown, he went out while he was still on top and those two men are the only two players on the list of top 15 runners who averaged over 5.0 yards per carry.

Still, Smith has scored an amazing 154 touchdowns - 31 more than the next closest man on the list, Allen - something that is hard to overlook. The game is about scoring touchdowns after all.

Dickerson was a pain in the butt for whatever team had him and a failure as a sideline reporter, but that doesn't take away from his accomplishments. He was an extremely durable back and is worthy of consideration as one of the best ever.

Then there is Dorsett and Allen, two somewhat similar players in my opinion, especially early in their careers. Both were home-run hitters, though Allen showed a great knack for scoring later in his career. Had he not been buried deep in Al Davis' doghouse midway through his career, he likely would have finished ahead of Dickerson on the all-time list.

Harris was the heart and soul of four Super Bowl championship teams, while Thomas was the heart and soul of four teams that reached the Super Bowl only to fall short.

And when talking about great backs, it's hard to overlook players such as Gale Sayers, Billy Simms and Earl Campbell.

In my mind, Bettis doesn't rank with the greatest of all-time. He's been very, very good for a long time. Maybe his last few seasons have tarnished his image a little bit, although they actually haven't been any worse that what Smith has done by hanging on too long.

Bettis may not be one of the top 10 or 15 backs of all time, but he has to be firmly entrenched in the top 25.

That's why Steelers fans should enjoy these last three games in which he will carry the ball for their team. Bettis isn't going to be back next season. Take that to the bank.

But Bill Cowher is doing the right thing, letting Bettis go out on his own terms as a starter, just how he came in. Bettis has meant so much to this franchise over the past seven years. He's been their face, their star, their leader. His departure after this season will leave a void both in the locker room and on the field that will be difficult to fill.

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