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Jerome Bettis to move up to the booth

Ken Fowler | Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Former Irish running back and Super Bowl champion Jerome Bettis will trade in his cleats for a microphone next fall, as NBC announced the recently-retired Bettis will join the broadcast team on the network’s upcoming studio show for Sunday night football games, “Football Night in America.”

“After retiring, I wondered what I was going to do on Sundays, but now I still have a place to go every Sunday night,” Bettis said Monday in a statement released by NBC.

Bettis, known as “The Bus” to football fans for his hard-hitting running style and large body frame, will serve as an analyst on the show alongside veteran football hosts Bob Costas and Cris Collinsworth.

“Football Night” includes both the pre-game studio show and the NFL’s Sunday night game, which will replace Monday Night Football in 2006 as the mainstay of the league’s prime-time broadcasts on free TV.

Bettis will get his first taste of regular-season action from press row when NBC’s coverage begins Thursday, Sept. 7 in Pittsburgh, as the reigning champions face an opponent yet to be named.

“When the regular season kicks off in Pittsburgh in September, it will be the proudest night of my life,” Bettis said. “I will finally get my ring, and I will start my new career in television in front of all the Steelers fans.”

NBC Sports Chairman and “Football Night” executive producer Dick Ebersol said in a statement that Bettis’ strong public image and popularity after 13 seasons in the NFL made his selection as the final member of the show’s broadcast team an easy one.

“America followed ‘The Bus’ to the Super Bowl just two weeks ago … and I was awed by how many people were engrossed in seeing his great career culminate in a championship, and seeing the grace and class with which he handled his retirement,” Ebersol said in the NBC statement. “He’s the kind of guy that people want to invite into their living rooms every week.”

Ebersol said Bettis first auditioned with NBC executives for the job during the regular season. “He simply blew us away,” Ebersol said of the league’s fifth all-time leading rusher.

Bettis finished his NFL career with 13,294 yards on 3,369 rushing attempts – the third most carries in league history – for an average of 3.9 yards per carry.

In his three seasons at Notre Dame, Bettis averaged 5.7 yards per carry. He left the Irish after his junior year to enter the NFL draft and returned to Notre Dame to work toward his degree in the spring of 1996 when he ended his tenure with the Rams, who drafted him in 1993. He never earned his diploma, however, as the Steelers signed the free agent, and he has spent the past 10 years in Pittsburgh.

NBC, which carries Irish home football games, did not say if Bettis’ work on the “Football Night” would free him for studio work on Notre Dame’s home telecasts.