So did veteran Steelers fans. They watched Bettis trudge to the sidelines and were reminded of Jack Lambert's farewell during the 1984 opener.
"Did Lambert hurt his Achilles'?" Bettis asked reporters.
Lambert injured his big toe that day, then limped off the field and never played again. It's an indelible image for some Steelers fans, and Bettis, for a few moments, thought he might be done as well.
"I thought it might be my Achilles' tendon," Bettis said. "And when I got to the bench the trainers right away thought it was my Achilles'. I was worried there for a bit. I hear that's how a lot of Achilles' injuries happen, by just taking a step. I thought it was over."
But upon further examination, doctors labeled the injury a simple calf strain. Bettis expects to be back on the field soon.
"I thought it could've been pretty serious because I felt some pain in there," Bettis said. "But as these days have gone, it's felt progressively better. That's definitely a good sign."
Right now, Bettis is day-to-day, and on Monday coach Bill Cowher listed him as doubtful for the Sept. 11 opener. If Bettis can't play, he'll be replaced by Willie Parker, who would make his first NFL start.
Bettis joked that he's unsure of how fast he'll recover because "I haven't had many pulls in my career because my muscles don't go that fast."
He's able to joke now, but he wasn't in a joking mood then.
"It was kind of scary because it was just out of nowhere, a feeling you've never felt before, so it's pretty weird. It's just something I've got to fight through. It's not what you wanted to happen, but the way I look at it, it could've been a lot worse."
Bettis said he wants to play in the opener, but only because "I'm a football player; I get paid to play football games." Otherwise, Bettis isn't worried about how well his replacement would play.
"Speed. Willie is speed," Bettis said. "But he's a good running back, he's not just speed. You see him pounding it up inside between the tackles; he's a complete running back.
"I'm just excited to see these guys get ready for a game. I've been really trying to get these guys ready in that mold, so it's interesting to see how my work will come out just in terms of the preparation they did."
Has Parker become his pet project?
"The coaches are doing a great job with that," Bettis said. "My job is to give him a little bit of the nuances of what he's going to see, some of the pre-snap reads and just some small things that give him an opportunity to be successful; just kind of ease that anxiety level as well."
Bettis thought it was over
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