NFL fans will long remember the iconic image of Jerome Bettis celebrating the Steelers' Super Bowl XL victory in 2006. After 13,662 rushing yards, 200 receptions and 94 total touchdowns, Bettis lifted the Lombardi Trophy in Detroit, where he was born almost exactly 34 years earlier.
Maybe Bettis should not have had to wait 13 seasons to win a Super Bowl. The Steelers lost the AFC championship game to the Patriots in the 2001 and 2004 seasons. ESPN The Magazine reported this week that the Patriots' Spygate tactics might have gone beyond just Week 1 of the 2007 season. According to the ESPN report, which the Patriots refuted, the team videotaped opposing coaches in at least 40 games from 2000-2007.
"During my playing days, they were tough to beat," Bettis says. "They were the enemy. They beat us in some AFC championship games and won some championships that we felt like we could have turned it around and had a different outcome, but they beat us. The fear is they didn't beat us fair and square. That's what you always wonder. What impact did it create in that football game and denied us from having an opportunity to win a championship? That's the frustrating part, but you'll never know."
Earlier this summer, Bettis was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. His emotional speech was embraced by a wave of Steelers fans who crossed the border from Pennsylvania to Ohio. But with a ring and his bust in Canton, Bettis still has an issue with right and wrong regarding the Patriots.
"It's disappointing to know they went that far," Bettis says. "It's not surprising. Once you are going to kind of straddle that line, once someone's committed to that, they're going to go all the way. If you are going to film the signals, why not film the walkthrough? You have that opportunity to. Once you open Pandora's Box, everything is fair game, so it doesn't surprise me at all."
On Thursday night, the Steelers and Patriots open the NFL season in Foxborough. It will be no secret where Bettis' allegiance lies. However, he is quick to say he loves the game of football and will watch "when any team is playing."
Like all NFL players, coaches, fans, journalists, officials and everyone else with any remote interest in the NFL, Bettis will keep an extra eye on the Patriots this season. After allegedly deflating footballs during last year's AFC championship game, the Patriots prevailed in court when the judge tossed out the four-game suspension that league issued to Tom Brady.
"I think they definitely have to be careful because they're going to be under scrutiny," he says. "Everybody's going to be watching everything that everyone does. They're going to have to play it straight, so to speak. It's unfortunate that they've went that far astray as far as some of the things they have been accused of doing. It's disappointing because you hope the game is played between the lines and that the players determine the outcome of the game. You hate that outside influences can affect the outcome of a football game."
The Steelers won the AFC North last season but lost in the wild-card round to the rival Ravens. The Steelers have posted a record of .500 or better every year since 2004. Together, the Patriots and Steelers have won six of the last 14 Super Bowls and nine of the last 14 AFC Championship Games.
In his trip to Canton for his induction, Bettis worked with Bud Light as he and former teammate Hines Ward surprised a father and son duo at the Hall of Fame Game. The Steelers lost to the Vikings, 14-3.
-- Follow Jeffrey Eisenband on Twitter @JeffEisenband.