After starting his career with the Rams, Jerome Bettis enjoyed a 10-year run with the Steelers that ultimately led to his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The trade, however, could have easily resulted in Bettis heading to Houston instead of Pittsburgh.
Bettis, during a recent appearance on the All Things Covered podcast, explained how he could have just as easily become an Oiler during the 1996 offseason. After the Rams had agreed to trade him, Bettis said that he had his choice between the Oilers and Steelers, who at that time were rivals in the AFC Central division.
"I wanted to make sure the organization liked a big running back, because I was 245," Bettis said. "I wasn't a little guy. Both organizations historically loved big running backs. The Steelers, though, what gave them the edge was they had just lost in the Super Bowl against the Dallas Cowboys. So they had a championship-caliber team that just played in the Super Bowl.
"I'm thinking to myself, 'If I'm going to go to the best team, the better team is the Steelers because they were just in the Super Bowl, and they got a chance to go right back.' I was thinking thinking, 'Hey, I'm the missing piece. We can go right back.' It took 10 years, but I think I picked the right team."
While he had his own reasons for choosing Pittsburgh, there were other factors that contributed to Bettis' decision.
"My agent, he had another running back that was coming out in the draft. His name was Eddie George," Bettis said. "So whichever team I picked, Eddie was going to go to the other team. So I needed to make sure I picked right, because I knew that Eddie was going to go to the other team.
"My agent selfishly wanted me to go to Pittsburgh because Houston was picking higher. It made sense for everybody, right? Everybody was happy when I chose Pittsburgh. Eddie ended up going to Houston and had an amazing career. He was Rookie of the Year when he came out. It all worked."
With the 14th overall pick, the Oilers drafted George, the former Ohio State standout and Heisman Trophy winner. The Steelers traded the following year's second- and fourth-round picks to acquire Bettis, as well as the Rams' third-round pick in that year's draft.
It's safe to say that the trade worked out for Steelers, Rams and Titans (after the Oilers rebranded). As a rookie, George rushed for the first of five his five consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. In 1999, George earned his third consecutive Pro Bowl selection while leading the Titans to their first Super Bowl appearance. In Super Bowl XXXIV, George's 95 yards and two touchdowns helped the Titans nearly upset the Rams, who at that time had replaced Bettis with Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk.
While a Super Bowl trip was not immediate, Bettis did enjoy instant success in Pittsburgh. Bettis averaged 1,548 rushing yards during his first two seasons in Pittsburgh while helping the Steelers reach the AFC title game in 1997. He rushed for over 1,000 yards during each of his first six seasons in Pittsburgh and became a fan favorite in the process.
In 2005, Bettis capped off a Hall of Fame career by helping the Steelers become the first sixth seed to win the Super Bowl. And while his career may have turned out OK had he chosen the Oilers, it's safe to say that Bettis is happy with his decision.