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Bettis assumes role he once had and carries it out magnificently



Published: Mon, November 8, 2004 @ 12:00 a.m.



His 149 yards against the Eagles made a statement.

By BRIAN RICHESSON

VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF

PITTSBURGH -- Steelers running back Jerome Bettis approached Bill Cowher on Sunday morning and provided assurance that the ground game was in good hands.

"This is the reason I'm still here. This is the reason you kept me here," Bettis, 32, told his coach. "I'm not going to prove you wrong."

Cowher didn't have any doubt, and Bettis showed why.

With starter Duce Staley sidelined with a hamstring injury, Bettis assumed the starter's role in impressive fashion.

The veteran running back of 12 years, Bettis carried 33 times for 149 yards as the Steelers dominated Philadelphia.

Motivation

"It's one of those games where you get to prove a lot of people wrong," Bettis said.

Wearing a brown New York Yankees hat following Sunday's game and speaking vibrantly about his career, Bettis expressed resentment about some of his once-proud fans who have turned their backs on him.

"It's directed at everybody who assumed that JB couldn't get it done," Bettis said. "It's for those who said, 'Why are you still keeping this guy here?'

"I'm still here for a reason."

When the Steelers acquired Staley from the Eagles in the off-season, Bettis' role diminished.

"Make no mistake," Bettis said. "I chose to be in this situation, and I'm comfortable with it."

Instead of being the everyday starter, Bettis has become the Steelers' short-yardage back, scoring eight touchdowns this season.

"It's a product of the situation," Bettis said. "I'm in there because I can pound it in between the tackles. I've been doing that my whole career.

"It [the short-yardage role] gives me the opportunity to be useful and for the team to benefit from my 12 years of experience."

Expanded role

At the same time, Bettis showed that he can step in for an ailing teammate, even if doubt existed among Steelers faithful.

"It boggles me that people were concerned that Duce wasn't in there," he said. "I've been getting it done for a long time."

And he got it done Sunday, beginning in the first quarter when the Steelers made it obvious that they intended to run the ball against the undefeated Eagles.

"It was important to establish the running game. That's been our identity," Bettis said. "It was our goal to go out and run the football, regardless of who the running back is."

Before Bettis left the interview room, a reporter asked whether there was a running back controversy in Pittsburgh.

Bettis smiled.

"Not at all," he said. "Duce is the guy. I'm going to be the relief pitcher, and he understands that. That's my role and I'm going to relish it."




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