A virtual offseason presents many challenges for NFL teams. One among the many is trying to provide orientation for the new members of your organization, whether they are rookie draft picks or college free agents, or if they are veteran players who were signed as free agents or acquired via trade.
It is, of course, especially hard on those who are new to the league entirely. Which is why the Pittsburgh Steelers brought their ‘Rookie University’ online this year for guys like Alex Highsmith and Christian Montano, who were addressed by Mike Tomlin and others over the course of the program—including Hall of Fame running back Jerome Bettis.
In an article for the team’s website, Tomlin is quoted as emphasizing the importance of the program not just to provide orientation for players as they transition from amateur football players to professionals, but also specifically to teach them to understand the meaning of being a member of the Steelers organization. And a figure like Bettis was key in delivering that message.
“I have a unique perspective because I didn’t just play for the Steelers. I had the opportunity to see another organization”, he said in addressing the rookies. “When you talk about the Steelers, you have to understand the philosophy of the organization. They believe in character over athletic ability. That means your character is first, and then your athletic ability is second”.
“That is a unique perspective”, he went on. “There are going to be better players than you. There were better players than me. But they look for players that are the right character. That makes this organization different. You have been chosen because you are great players, but more importantly because you have great character”.
Bettis was the 10th-overall pick in the 1993 NFL Draft by the then-and-again Los Angeles Rams, but despite successes, they gave up on him after three seasons, trading him and a third-round pick to the Steelers for second- and fourth-round picks. He chose the Steelers over the Houston Oilers, who were also seeking to acquire him, with the Rams giving him the option.
He would play another 10 years in Pittsburgh, rushing for over 10,000 yards during that time along with 78 of his career 91 touchdowns. The Notre Dame product had his career rejuvenated by the show of faith that the Steelers had shown on him, and that made a big impact on him.
While it’s not universal—see LeGarrette Blount or Nick Vannett—we hear similar reactions by players who come in here from other organizations, like James Farrior, Alejandro Villanueva, Arthur Moats, Darrius Heyward-Bey, and Tyson Alualu, just to name a few.
“This is a community football team. This is an organization built in the community”, Bettis, who owns multiple area businesses, including a restaurant. “You are going to be asked to represent the organization in the community. Don’t be afraid to do that. That is a strong, strong part of what this team has been about”.