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Bettis: Can’t Wait To Play Rams

October 29, 1996

PITTSBURGH (AP) _ Playing an opponent with a 2-6 record would seem to have little significance for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who talk confidently of returning to the Super Bowl.

For Jerome Bettis, it’s the biggest game of the season.

Sunday’s game against St. Louis gives Bettis the chance to prove again just how wrong the Rams (2-6) were for casting off one of the NFL’s best running backs.

He’d like to remind them on every single carry, every single yard.

``I’m an emotional player ...″ Bettis said. ``This week is going to be special for me.″

Bettis, discarded on draft day by St. Louis despite 1,000-yard seasons in 1993 and 1994, has re-energized the Steelers’ traditionally tough ground game with six 100-yard games in the last seven weeks.

He ran for 126 yards Sunday in Pittsburgh’s 20-17 victory over winless Atlanta and needs only 176 more for his third 1,000-yard season in four years.

The Steelers (6-2) can only guess where they would be without Bettis, who quickly became one of Pittsburgh’s most popular athletes. The Rams can only wonder how much better they would be with Bettis in their backfield.

The Bettis trade was one of those hasty draft-day decisions that seemed like the thing to do at the time, but now makes little sense.

Intent on building their running game around Lawrence Phillips, the Rams traded Bettis for two mid-round draft choices. But the deal essentially cost Pittsburgh only a fourth-round draft pick.

The Steelers also gave up their second-round pick for the Rams’ third-round choice and then drafted the player they planned to take in the second round, linebacker Steven Conley.

In Pittsburgh, the Bettis trade is known as the ``Steal of the Century.″

``If I weren’t already married, I’d kiss you,″ director of football operations Tom Donahoe told Bettis in Atlanta.

But don’t expect Bettis to kiss and make up with Rams coach Rich Brooks.

Neither Bettis nor Brooks will say disparaging things about the other for publication, but there is no team that Bettis would rather beat than the Rams.

And there probably is no NFL running back that Brooks would rather hold under 100 yards than Bettis, who held out during Brooks’ first training camp as the Rams’ coach in 1995.

Publicly, Bettis says only that the trade was best for him and the Rams, and he is happy in Pittsburgh. Privately, he considers it an insult the Rams gave up on him so quickly and for so little.

``It was a business decision, and it turned out best for me,″ Bettis said.

Bettis, formerly of Notre Dame, ran for 1,429 yards as a Rams rookie in 1993, nearly beating out Detroit’s Barry Sanders for the NFL rushing title. He followed with 1,025 yards in 1994. But he slipped to 637 yards last season as his playing time diminished.

Now, running behind one of the NFL’s best offensive lines, Bettis has 183 carries for 824 yards. By gaining an additional 376 yards, he would trigger a contract clause that makes him a free agent, although the Steelers will make a big push to re-sign him before that happens.

Bettis also could threaten Barry Foster’s team-record 1,690 yards in 1992.

``I’m continuing to surprise people week by week,″ Bettis said.

The Rams will continue what could be the Steelers’ seven-game streak against .500 or below teams. The Falcons (0-8) were first, followed by the Rams (now 2-6), Bengals (2-6), Jaguars (3-6), Dolphins (4-4), Ravens (3-5) and Chargers (4-4).

As of now, the Steelers won’t play a team with a winning record until they meet the 49ers (6-2) and Panthers (5-3) in their final two games.

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