When discussing Jerome Bettis, it’s tough to find a running back who was tougher to bring down in NFL history. Weighing in at over 250 pounds during his playing days, the affectionately nicknamed “Bus,” was a beast on the football field. Bettis showed a rare combination of strength, size, vision and surprising agility for someone of his size, making him a mismatch for most defenders that had the unfortunate task of trying to stop him.
However, that didn’t mean the soon-to-be Pro Football Hall of Famer didn’t face off against defensive players that could match his physicality. In fact, Bettis found worthy competition in former Steelers Pro Bowl linebacker, Levon Kirkland.
Kirkland was a two-time Pro Bowl and All-Pro selection for the Steelers. He also was selected to the NFL 1990s All-Decade Team and finished his career with over 1,000 tackles and eleven interceptions as an inside linebacker.
During a Wednesday NFL media conference call, Bettis gave his thoughts on the mutual respect between two of the best players on the Steelers in the back-half of the 1990’s.
“Levon Kirkland would be the guy where I was just like, ‘wow!’” Bettis exclaimed. “There were very few linebackers that were bigger than me. Levon Kirkland was one of the few guys that was actually bigger than me, so as a result of that, we developed a truce pretty early on in our relationship in terms of (us) being teammates.
Bettis expanded on his thoughts.
“We knew that each of us would be each other’s kryptonite and that we shouldn’t try to lock horns so to speak if we didn’t have to, and we managed to do that the majority of our career and (we) didn’t have to go after each other.”
There’s no surprise in this statement, although Bettis was over 250 pounds at running back (an almost unheard of amount at the position), Kirkland was a linebacker who fluctuated around 275 or more pounds during his playing days, meaning he was closer to a defensive end size-wise than a linebacker.
That type of size coupled with the speed and agility Kirkland showed would give Bettis a tough challenge on the practice field. In addition, it would also give Kirkland a guy he couldn’t completely smash in to the ground using his size.
While I’m sure neither guy held anything back in practice, let’s be honest, both those guys colliding more often than needed may have produced some injuries. I’m not even talking about Bettis and Kirkland getting hurt, could you imagine if any of the other players got in the middle of that during Bettis’ and Kirkland’s primes?
In the end though, Bettis and Kirkland recognized their superior physical statures and found a mutual respect for each other. Both were great players and I believe I speak for the majority of fans when I say I’m glad we can call both of them former Steelers.
Because, let’s be honest, it wouldn’t have been fun facing either of them back in the day.