“Hi, I’m Jerome Bettis.”
As if the introduction was necessary.
“You guys relax,” Dan Mullen told all 105 players once they settled into their seats. “Eat. Listen.”
So Townsend spoke a little bit, aided by a presentation on the big screen, then said he had videos from some people who know what it takes to be a champion.
“These guys, I trust,” he said. “I broke bread with these guys.”
Up popped video of tight end Heath Miller catching passes for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Townsend’s old team. Miller had even recorded a message specifically for MSU and its players.
Next came highlights of Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor, two prolific members of that Steel Curtain defense from Townsend’s days. They, too, had a message taped for MSU.
“Only for you, Deshea,” Polamalu said, his arm around Taylor’s shoulders. “You raised us.”
Finally, big moments from the career of Jerome Bettis – The Bus – began playing. But after just a couple highlights, the video stopped and showed a message saying the file was corrupted.
All 105 players began booing, until the door at the front of the auditorium opened and Bettis himself walked to the front of the room.
The boos immediately turned to cheers and eventually subsided enough for him to needlessly introduce himself.
“I want to tell you guys about being a champion,” The Bus said.
He shared the story of growing up in Detroit with “a crackhouse on one side and nothing better on the other.”
He was the first in his family to go to college, and football was the reason why as he made his way to Notre Dame. Once he made it to the NFL, his stardom continued, though he’d never expected it to happen like that.
However, he wasn’t happy yet. In high school, college and then with the St. Louis Rams, he’d never found his way to a title.
“I was Rookie of the Year, but we didn’t win.”
He recounted how he then went to the Steelers, where his success continued, but he still hadn’t won a championship, and he wasn’t sure why.
“It wasn’t until I realized it’s not about my success,” he said. “It’s about the team’s success. When I realized that and showed my teammates, we started to win.”
The sixth-leading rusher in NFL history, Bettis rushed for over 10,000 yards in his career and will likely end up in the Hall of Fame.
But it was toward the end of that career, when most of those yards had already been accrued, that he finally got his championship, that he finally understood what it takes.
He’d been the starter, and the star, for years, but going into training camp one year, his coaches let him know that he wasn’t the starter anymore. One of the hot new youngsters was taking that role. A veteran with as much success as Bettis would’ve been well within his rights and boundaries to protest. But he didn’t. Instead, he pulled the kid aside and had a conversation with him.
“You’re the starter, but I’m gonna go out in practice every day and show the coaches they made a mistake,” Bettis remembers telling him. “Your job is to go out there and show the coaches they made the right decision.”
Bettis said the young man smiled, looked at him and understood what he meant.
“It brought the team together,” Bettis told MSU’s players. “That’s when we became a great team.”
“Seniors, stand up,” Bettis ordered after his story. “You all have a job. It’s your job to set the standard. It’s your football team. When you go to practice, everyone follows your lead. If someone slacks, that’s your fault.”
Next in line.
“Juniors, stand up. It’s your job to watch. Pay attention to the leaders. See the standard they set, then say that you’re going to raise it.”
And so it continued.
“Sophomores, get up. You’ve got the most important job. That freshman season is over. Now you have to produce. Potential is gone. That’s now. Show the juniors that you’re coming.”
“Freshmen,” he began, allowing a pause for them all to stand. “People say you’re the future. No, you’re now. You’ve got to grow up fast. Until you know what you’re doing, you can’t reach your potential. You owe it to everyone in here to figure out how you can contribute. Make your name.”
Bettis spoke for a bit longer than that, sharing more stories, joking with Townsend and exhorting the Bulldogs who were so raptly paying attention.
It’s not a usual occurrence for something like that to happen, after all, The Bus striding into your meeting room and sharing the advice that got him where he is.
“You determine how great this team is going to be,” Bettis told them as he finished. “If you trust each other, stay committed to the process and love what you do, it can be a special year. Thank you.”