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Jerome Bettis: Franco Harris ‘Opened The Door’ For Big Running Backs In Pittsburgh

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The Pittsburgh Steelers have a storied history marked by consistency and toughness. One of the most notable reasons for this reputation is the history of the running back position in Pittsburgh. Today, it’s Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren showing off the benefits of a modern backfield that sees multiple running backs split touches, but it wasn’t that long ago that Jerome Bettis was receiving the bulk of the workload. According to Bettis, that may not have happened if not for Franco Harris, another legendary Steelers’ running back.

Recently, Bettis appeared on Swartz Talkin’ Sports and was asked if he felt there was any comparison of himself to Harris when he was traded to Pittsburgh in 1996.

“I don’t know if there was a comparison as much as he kind of opened the door for me as a big running back. So he was really the catalyst for all of that,” Bettis said. “Had he not done what he did throughout his career, it would not have given me the ability to be in Pittsburgh because they fell in love with the running game because of Franco Harris.”

Truly, the union of Bettis and the Steelers is one to marvel at, with many football fans often forgetting about Bettis’ time with the Rams to start his career. The big, bruising running back known as “The Bus” seems like a player who was always meant to be an illustrious figure in Steelers’ history.

According to Bettis, that’s just one more thing fans can thank Franco Harris for. Not only did Harris essentially launch the Steelers’ dynasty with the iconic Immaculate Reception and help the team win its first four Super Bowls, but he also helped pave the way for another franchise great and Hall of Famer.

Bettis’ look and style were truly unique on the football field. Even to this day, with the incredible athletes the NFL has, it’s rare to see a player with that size still manage to be so quick and effective. That oddity could have put off many teams as it did the Rams, who decided that Bettis wasn’t a good fit for their offense. For Pittsburgh though, the part of Bettis that went against the grain was just another part of his charm.

It feels impossible to think about the Steelers if they had never traded for Bettis, with all the amazing memories he gave to fans everywhere. The same could also be said about Harris, who unfortunately passed away in 2022. It’s powerful to think about how his presence can still be felt in current and former Steelers today like Bettis. Not everyone was fortunate enough to watch Harris during his prime, but it should provide comfort to those fans who got to see Bettis and other great Steelers running backs that the essence of Franco Harris can be seen there too.



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