Sports have a knack for writing storybook ends.
The Week 17 35-21 win over the Detroit Lions at Heinz Field on Jan. 1, 2006 was a storybook ending for Jerome Bettis in front of Steelers fans in his final regular season game of his career.
Bettis, playing his hometown Lions with a playoff berth on the line, rushed for three touchdowns and received a standing ovation as Bill Cowher pulled him from the game late with a playoff berth all but sealed up.
The win-and-in game started fast for the Steelers as dynamic wide receiver Antwaan Randle El returned a three-and-out punt by the Lions for an 81-yard touchdown, staking the Steelers to a 7-0 lead just 1:17 into the regular season finale.
Detroit battled back to take a 14-7 lead late in the first quarter on two Joey Harrington touchdown passes to Marcus Pollard and Cory Schelsinger, but the Steelers responded quickly as kick returner Ricardo Colclough returned the ensuing kickoff 63 yards, putting the Steelers in scoring position.
That’s when Bettis made his first real impact on his final regular season game.
Facing a 4th and goal, the Steelers desperately needed six points. In came the Bus. Prior to the 1-yard touchdown run, the Steelers were one of the worst teams in football that season on fourth down, converting just 4 of 11 tries. Bettis made it 5 for 12, pounding his way into the end zone to knot the game at 14-14 at the end of one quarter.
Tied 14-14, special teams standout Chidi Iwouma forced a fumble on a return by Eddie Drummond, later leading to Bettis’ second touchdown of the game.
It’s very tough to stop a force like Bettis once he gets rolling downhill. The Lions found that out the hard way on this 5-yard touchdown, pushing the Steelers in front 21-14.
Pittsburgh carried the lead into the half before then coming out in the third and extending the lead to 28-14 on a bouncing, spinning 4-yard plunge from Bettis that staked Pittsburgh to a 28-14 lead.
It’s so fun to watch Bettis showcase that joy he had when he scored a touchdown. Seeing guys like Max Starks and Kendall Simmons celebrating with him after his third touchdown brings back a lot of 13-year-old childhood memories from a magical season.
Following Bettis’ third touchdown, Detroit clawed back to make it 28-21 as Harrington found Roy Williams to pull within seven, but Ben Roethlisberger sealed the win with a 7-yard scramble to send the Steelers to the playoffs as the No. 6 seed.
We all know what happened on that run.
While Bettis stole the show with three touchdowns on 10 carries in his final regular season appearance in the black and gold, Willie Parker quietly had a monster game, rushing for 135 yards on 26 carries, helping the Steelers control the clock and grind out the win when they needed it most.