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Cheering Bettis onward to victory

Gary Caruso | Friday, February 3, 2006

Notre Dame enthusiasts can attest to the almost spiritual draw that football generally has on its fans. Partisans range from the ridiculous who recite every statistic from every game ever played by their favorite teams to those who merely climb aboard the team bandwagon during championship games. Oftentimes a team will conquer a championship only when fortune smiles through a twist of luck. Seldom, though, do the stars align in such storybook fashion on a specific player like they have this year on Jerome Bettis. I will experience the rare opportunity to share the pinnacle of a 12-month trek the Pittsburgh Steelers are traveling which, in various ways, holds several lessons of life.

This column infrequently ventures into the realm of athletics, but with my suburban Pittsburgh upbringing and a Notre Dame undergraduate degree in hand, Detroit beckons me to personally cheer Bettis to Super Bowl victory. I am lured to witness his final game, the ultimate stage of football which has eluded Bettis for 13 years.

After following the Steelers all season, I conclude that Seattle cannot evenly match with Pittsburgh. The Steelers size, style of “smash mouth” physical play and level of competition by defeating the top three AFC teams on the road will net 27 to 34 points versus Seattle’s 17 to 24 points. Bettis will win his coveted championship ring.

Just as Bettis can teach us to cherish our opportunities in life, many of the game’s legendary greats advise the Super Bowl players to savor their seldom attained moment. John Elway describes both football and life as a challenge, having lost many times until he eventually won back-to-back Super Bowls before retiring. Dan Marino, the Miami quarterback who played his only Super Bowl game in a losing cause during his second season, mistakenly expected to return and warns players to leave no regrets during their play and to relish Sunday’s game. Even Steelers head coach Bill Cowher reflects on how difficult it has been to return from a decade ago.

Bettis shows us how to freeze time to savor a precious moment. His character teaches youth how to successfully play sports on the field and how to be sportsmanlike in life. His outlook is trademarked with a daily smile while he offers himself to others. Watching him after an almost disastrous fumble at the Indianapolis Colts’ one yard line perfectly exemplifies the fiber of his being. Rather than sulk, mope or kick a water cooler in disgust, Bettis sensed the irony of the moment by shaking his head and smiling an “I don’t believe I did it” expression.

Having grasped a share of Bettis’ final Notre Dame game at the Sugar Bowl, I now clutch onto this moment with my first Super Bowl visit. I expect him to dismantle Seattle in the way I witnessed him dismember the Florida defense. In the second half, Bettis burst for a touchdown run where in the end zone a Florida fan threw a cup of beer at him. That act defined the shortcomings and small essence of the fan.

In the final moments of the game, Bettis blasted for another touchdown run of about thirty yards. Upon arrival in the end zone, he held up the ball to the beer-throwing Florida fan as though to say, “See what your bad Karma brought you?”

Notre Dame strives to teach the virtues of service and instill traits for its students to master life’s lessons. For the Steelers team to wear Bettis’ green Notre Dame number 6 jersey to Detroit speaks volumes of their respect, love and admiration of him. His selfless giving, his cheery outlook and his positive support of others are the attributes that have solidified the team in preparation for Super Bowl XL. Those qualities in a uniquely humble national celebrity like Bettis can powerfully influence others.

The Steelers’ sense of purpose, sense of mission and dedication to award Bettis a championship ring in his hometown exemplifies their desire to respond to his humility. Hard work mixed with a touch of fate can reward anyone. We should not need celebrities for inspiration to absorb the essence of life although those role models are never a bad reminder for us to learn how to better treasure our existence. The secret for us is to learn how to make each phase of our lives a Super Bowl moment.

Jerome Bettis is embracing this championship week with all the gusto he can muster, and I am latching on for a ride. Graduating from Notre Dame ends a premier experience reserved only for youth. Grab your moment and squeeze out all of the marrow it contains, for the Super Bowl you next experience will be your own.

Gary Caruso, Notre Dame ’73, is a political strategist who served as a legislative and public affairs director in President Bill Clinton’s administration. His column appears every other Friday. He can be contacted at

hottline@aol.com

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not

necessarily those of The Observer.