Friday, August 24, 2007

Return of Buy Sam a Drink: Jerome Bettis vs. Rod Woodson

The Jerome Bettis book scandal has obviously been ruffling some feathers recently. Should we care? Does it matter? Is this bad for his legacy? Will his restraunt suffer?

Personally, I am not partisan either way on the issue. There are a few minor issues, if you haven't noticed, that are making the headlines bleed a little more furiously than a fat guy faking an injury. But the fascination remains because Bettis was the lovable, marshmellowy teddy bear that had a cool nickname, gave us funny soundbites, and, most importantly, gave the city of Pittsburgh THE SAMSH MOUTH FOOTBALL (YEAAARRRGHH!) that it wanted. People loved him early on, but his popularity was at times up and down throughout the new millenium. The whole situation, including body type and production, always makes me think of what will likely happen to David Ortiz in Boston once he wants to cash in/gets old.

Yet even more so than Ortiz, the situation makes me recall the curious relationship with Rod Woodson. Alright, it really isn't that curious. It always seemed venomous because he played for hated rivals, but he is normally quick to support the Steelers in the public forum and on the NFL Network (I know he criticized Arians, but it's his job to do so). Nevertheless, once he left, I remember struggling with the transition from legendary player on my team to older vet on a rival. The restraunt went down hill, he picked up a few more paychecks, grabbed a few more INTs, then was gone. Similarly, it now seems that people are struggling with how to define Bettis as a Steeler legend.

Will Grill 36 falter likethe All-Star Grill? Will Bettis still be loved by the city that saved him from St. Louis? Will he keep making weird decisions that cause people to dislike him? Who knows, but I do know that it is time to decide...


Now, the word "Steeler" is in quotes because it is, obviously, hard to compare a DB and an RB. I am trying to look at which guy did more for the team and was a guy you simply wanted on your squad.

Statistically, Bettis is solid. Not phenomenal, but solid. Three time Steelers MVP, six Pro Bowls, and the 5th all time leading rusher. One of his most impressive stats is perhaps that he is 4th all-time in rushing attempts - for the way he ran, that is almost unimaginable. Though given his number of rushes and his vocation for short-yardage situations, it is a little surprising that he is only tied for 10th on the touchdown list for RBs.

From '93-'00, his stats are praiseworthy nearly every year ('95 was a down year). After that, the carries went down, the goaline garbage stats up, and his reputation wavered slightly. Though some of it likely came of his Bettis' own actions, Mark Madden surely caused a great deal of the anti-Jerome backlash that sought to deconstruct the big (supposedly) lovable running back. Madden, like him or not, has an unbelievably large following. He also has a pretention for hating athletes that will not go on his show. Bettis is exhibit A for this argument. Madden hates Bettis, and this whole book thing is right in his wheelhouse. Madden has always pointed out that Bettis had little to no impact on the Steelers winning Super Bowl XL and that his leadership on the team was vastly overrated. Some would cite the 2006 season as evidence that his leadership qualities were sorely missed, but Cowher mailing it in and The Adventures of Big Ben without question had more to do with the failure.

The Leadership of Bettis debate is one that is virtually impossible to reach a conclusion on. Ron Cook, in trying to figure out who is the best Steelers running back of all-time, once claimed that "It goes to Bettis because he's the greatest team leader I've ever seen". Ron Cook must not get out much. I've seen plenty leaders better than Bettis, but that point remains that some people still feel as if Bettis brought some very important intangibles to the table.

Woodson brought intangibles too - if intangibles mean making the Pro Bowl as a cornerback, safety, and punt returner.
If Bettis' stats are solid, Woodson's are exquisite. An NFL record 1483 interception return yards. An NFL record 12 INT return TDs. 32 fumble recoveries. 2362 punt return yards. 11 Pro Bowls. Yeah, guys like Deion invented the "lock down corner" position, but Rod Woodson played all aspects of the position and even the game at the highest level.

The knock on Woodson's rep as a Steeler is obviously that he left to play for the Ravens and Raiders. He was always a bit of a yapper and naturally when he did this ona different team Steelers fans soured on him.

But that same type of confidence/arrogance produced some great moments. One of the only good memories I have from Super Bowl XXX is "The Rod Woodson Play". After breaking up a pass to Michael Irvin on the left sideline, Woodson popped up, bounced around and started pointing at his reconstructed knee. No one at that point had ever come back in the same season from reconstructive knee surgery, and Woodson made sure to let the Cowboys know that even if they were on their way to a third Super Bowl, Rod Woodson was still going to claim this one small victory over them.

So who was the better Steeler? Statistically, it was clearly Woodson, but Bettis won a Super Bowl while Woodson left town on relatively bad terms. Woodson still speaks fondly of the Steelers and Bettis, I believe, wore black and gold on his NBC show numerous times this past year. Both players helped defined the team - Woodson with his tough, anti-Deion, versatile play and Bettis with his embodiment of smash mouth football.

Bettis is going to be remember more fondly by history. Hell, this blog was almost called "Jerome is From Detroit" to commemorate the media blitz that surrounded the storybook finale to his career. Woodson will likely be more prominent in NFL history, ranking higher as an all-time DB than Bettis would against stiff historical running back competition.

For me, it comes down to versatility. Who can do more for my football team. Both have had people question their attitude and/or team commitment. But Rod Woodson, regardless of his departure to the Ravens, could do more as a defensive player than just about anyone in NFL history. The Bus had a nice long career has a running back, but running backs come rather easily nowadays. Plus, Rod Woodson always showed up to ccamp in shape.
So, with winner's buying....


BUY SAM A DRINK AND GET JEROME ONE TOO! (make sure it is a light beer - he's been packing them on).


Vern said...

Had Woodson retired with the stillers, he'd have won this by a landslide. Unfortunately, I can't get over him going to the Ravens, despite his production in the Burgh. He was my favorite player growing up, to boot.

I disagree with Madden on Bettis' leadership. We've seen his personality through the years, and more so on tv lately. He's likable and charismatic. I think he brought a new dynamic to the locker room and kept it around for many years. His comments in the book weren't meant to undercut the steelers in my mind. Just to come clean and make for some interesting reading.

Buy Sam a drink and get Rod one too!

Anonymous said...

If you're just talking about who was "the better Steeler" on the field, you could make an argument for either player. They'll both be HOFers. But if you factor in who was "the better Steeler" off the field, Bettis wins hands down.

Bettis took a pay cut to retire a Steeler, whereas Woodson (please correct my facts if they're wrong) left the team because he wanted more money and didn't want to switch to safety (with the irony being that he ultimately ended up taking a pay cut AND switching to safety).

Bettis may have aired his dirty laundry in the interest of selling a book now that he's retired, but when he was an active player he was more loyal to the black and gold than was Woodson.