Q&A: Jerome Bettis

Jerome Bettis is facing the end of his career. He hasn't said so officially, but Sunday could be his final game in Pittsburgh. Bettis answered questions patiently Wednesday, and even saved his better stuff for last.

Q: Jerome Bettis, is this your last home game?

A: The possibility exists. But it's been like that the past few years. The last home game could be my last one. The way I look at it and the way I approach it is that it could be. I'm going to approach it like it is the last home game and hopefully my body tells me otherwise. I'm going to take some time off after the season and think about it.

Q: Will you spend a little extra time on the field looking around?

A: I appreciate things a little bit more, look at the lights maybe a little bit more than you normally would, but it's still a football game. First and foremost, you've got to go out there and win a game. This place has been incredible. The fans have been incredible. It's been really, really fun. I think the biggest thrill I've had is seeing guys and girls and kids and grandmothers and grandfathers wearing my 36 jersey. That's an honor for me. You can pick anybody's jersey to wear. When someone decides to put my jersey on, that means a lot to me. That's been a lot of fun looking up in the stands and seeing 36 jerseys, or driving down the street and seeing a 36 jersey.

Q: Do you have a play or touchdown you remember?

A: It's not just a play, it's a lot of things. It's overwhelming. This whole experience I wouldn't change for the world. I promise you that.

Q: What's it been like being the face of The Pittsburgh Steelers and who's become the face of this team?

A: It's been great. But I think right now, Ben (Roethlisberger) is the face of this team. I don't think I'm the face of this team. I'm a co-star right now. I think Hines (Ward), Ben and those guys are stars of this football team. Defensive guys like Joey Porter and James Farrior. Those guys are the stars. I'm riding on the bus this time.

Q: How does it feel to hear all of your teammates talk about how much you mean to this organization, this city?

A: It's important. I try to lead by example. I'm a team guy who tries to show guys the right way to do things. For the guys to think of me in that way is special. At the end of the day, all you have is what you stand for. If I stand for everything positive and the city respects everything that I've done and what I do, it's great.

Q: When you came here, what were your first thoughts of Pittsburgh?

A: I didn't know much about Pittsburgh. But I was excited. They had just come off a Super Bowl, so I was excited to come to that caliber of a football team. The one surprise to me was that the fans and the city were so into their football team. That was something I hadn't seen since college. That was new to me. It took me a little while to adjust to having fans at every hotel on the road. That was new and special and it's still special today.

Q: Did you think it was a little city or what?

A: I didn't know anything about it. I knew the team. I hated the team because I was a Dallas Cowboys fan. Initially, I was like, well, we'll give it a shot. But my heart was in Dallas. After I got here, everybody won me over.

Q: Is it fitting this last game is against Detroit?

A: I don't think it's any one particular team you'd rather play if it's the last game. It's great that the fans in Detroit get to see me in the last game of the season. I don't look at it as I'd rather play this team as my final game.

Q: How do you feel about this team's chances?

A: I feel good. The first step, though, is winning this game Sunday. If we get into the playoffs, anything can happen.

Q: How do you feel right now?

A: I feel like it feels in Week 16: beat up and my body's sore. But I don't think there's anybody in this locker room who would tell you they feel 100 percent. Everybody's a little beat up.

Q: Does having something to play for help you play your best football as opposed to having everything locked up?

A: You'd rather have everything wrapped up because that would mean you'd been playing well all year. But it's fine that we're playing for something. There's a sense of desperation. You've got to play at your best at all times because you know that if you lose you go home. There's a sense of urgency there and that's fine. Because of the way we were playing, it was something that was needed. Since we are at that point, you're starting to see the best of us.

Q: It also helps to keep that continuity going into the playoffs, doesn't it?

A: Yeah. Instead of getting a week off, you have to try to find a positive. We're just starting to finally get going. So maybe it benefits us to play through it.

Q: What does it mean to you when people tell you that you are the face of the Steelers?

A: That's a pretty awesome compliment. That's an honor because this organization is so highly respected and thought of around the league and country. For people to say that, it means a lot. The reality is, I may be one of the third, fourth, fifth faces that you think of now. In my heyday, that was so. But it's an honor that people would say that. What I try to do is do it the right way every time I step on the football field. Every time I do anything, I try to do it the best that I can do. So if people feel that way, that's an honor.

Q: You talk about the momentum, but only one AFC sixth seed has ever won a playoff game.

A: Well hopefully there will be another one. It's been done before, so it can happen. It's going to be a tough road. It is what it is; we've dug ourselves into this hole. It's up to us to get ourselves out of it. We're playing our best football, so we can do some things. The one good thing is that on the road, we've been really, really good the past couple of years. I think that's something we can hang our hats on is that on the road, we've been good on the road. It's something we can take as a positive that if you look at our record the past two years, we've been really good, so hopefully that can equate to a win.

Q: Why are you waiting to decide on retirement?

A: Same thing as last year: to get myself to the point where I can actually think about it and make a rational decision. Last year, if you would have talked to me after the New England game, I would have told you I'm done. I'm going to wait.

Q: But you have to like your role of closer on a winning team?

A: Yeah, it's not bad at all. I'm not complaining. But the question is: Can I still do it? At the end of the day, you have to understand, because of where I fit into this role, I may be asked to carry the load. You never know. You have to realistically think that if something happens, can you carry the load. That's the reality of it. You can't think that I'm in a specialty role that won't change. Everything changes. If something happens to Willie (Parker, they're looking at you like, ‘Hey, let's go.'

Q: And then you have to worry if you can take that?

A: Right. That's what I had to ask myself last year because two years ago, it was the same situation. I come back and if Duce (Staley) goes down, you've got to carry the load. You can't have any (indecision) and say I'm only the closer. If you're going to be here, you have to be ready to do everything. That's the mentality I have to have because you can't go on thinking, I'm only going to have to carry the ball eight times a game. So I can handle that.

Q: I see you on TV shows where you are having trouble walking down the stairs.

A: That's nothing new. Two years ago, five years ago, it was the same walk. It's physically demanding. It's nothing where it's one of those things where you can't do it any more. It's just physically a grind.

Q: Do people understand the kind of pounding you take?

A: I don't think so. I think because I'm there every week the assumption is that I'll be fine. Whereas some guys you see they're in street clothes, they play three games and then they're in street clothes again. But you don't think I'm beat up because you see me. You tell yourself that he can't be that beat up because he's out there. But I'm able to play through some things that maybe somebody else couldn't. The assumption is that I'll be fine, but everything takes its toll. Realistically, I have to look at it as can I go 16 weeks? That's the way I've looked at it every time. It's like this year, what happened? I was penciled in as a starter in training camp. I'm like OK. But you know what? I understood that. I went into the season expecting that if that happened, I would be fine. I've got to look at that that way. It's not a situation that it could happen, it happened.

Q: Are you worried about the long-term effects on your body?

A: Yeah. You have to be concerned about that. But the reality is that's the price you pay. You understand it. That's the nature of the beast. It's nice, but there are a few things that come with it. A healthy paycheck comes with it, but a lot of pain too. But hey, that's why they pay you the big bucks.

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