In 2004, Jerome Bettis was considered to be past his prime, but there was one skillset in particular that his Pittsburgh Steelers coaches still highly valued. And that was his ability to move bodies around in tight space. While Duce Staley was brought in to start, it was Bettis who was intended to close, often being featured as the goal-line back.
He went on to rush for 13 touchdowns that season, marking a career-high, and one of just two seasons in his Hall of Fame career in which he scored 10 or more times on the ground. Seven of those touchdowns came in the first six weeks of the season, including three in a season-opener in which he finished the game with five carries for…one yard.
That is what happens when you have three one-yard touchdown runs followed by a run for no gain and then a loss of two yards. Three scores. One yard. Of course, Bettis would go on to start the final six games of that season and nearly hit 1000 yards, but that’s another story.
This is the story of James Conner, who is writing the next chapter of his book and hoping to make the one about Hodgkin’s Lymphoma a distant memory. He has scored four touchdowns over the past two games—two in each—to give him seven over the course of the Steelers’ first six games of the season.
The only other player to record seven rushing touchdowns in the first six games of a season for the Steelers was Franco Harris in 1976. That year, he would go on to rush for 14 touchdowns, and that was of course during the 14-game season era.
James Conner, 2018: 7
Jerome Bettis, 2004: 7
Franco Harris, 1976: 7
— Dom Rinelli (@drinelli) October 14, 2018
That had stood as the franchise record for the most rushing touchdowns scored in a single season for over 40 years. To date, only three running backs have even come within a couple of scores. There have been only 12 seasons in team history with 10 rushing scores in a season, and Harris owns five of them himself.
Bettis, as mentioned, has two. Willie Parker and Rashard Mendenhall each rushed for 13 scores once in their careers, in 2006 and 2010, respectively. Barry Foster rushed for 11 touchdowns back in 1992. DeAngelo Williams is the most recent double-digit runner with 11 touchdowns in 2015. The other name?
No, not Le’Veon Bell, but Kordell Stewart, who ran for 11 touchdowns during the 1997 season, in his first season as a full-time starting quarterback. Bell has rushed for nine touchdowns once, last year, and eight touchdowns one other time.
Conner? He is just two rushing touchdowns from tying Bell’s career-high in rushing touchdowns, and if he keeps up his current pace—if he is allowed to without Bell interfering—he stands a chance of breaking the franchise record for rushing scores in a single season. Wouldn’t that be story?