ORLANDO, Fla., July 8, 2015 – 2015 Pro Football Hall-of-Fame Inductees Jerome Bettis and Tim Brown, Cincinnati Bengals linebacker A.J. Hawk, and Hines Ward, NBC’s Football Night in America analyst and two-time Super Bowl champion with the Pittsburgh Steelers, previewed next week’s American Century Championship celebrity golf tournament on a media conference call today. The American Century Championship, featuring more than 80 celebrities from the world of sports and entertainment, will take place July 17-19 in Lake Tahoe, airing on NBC, NBC Sports Network and Golf Channel.
INTERVIEW WITH JEROME BETTIS, TIM BROWN, AJ HAWK, HINES WARD
THE MODERATOR: Hi, everyone. Thanks for joining for the American Century Championship preview call. On the line we’ve got Jerome Bettis, 2015 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee and longtime Pittsburgh Steeler running back; A.J. Hawk, linebacker for the Cincinnati Bengals and member of the Green Bay Packers Super Bowl XLV championship team; and Hines Ward, analyst for NBC’s Football Night in America and a two-time Super Bowl champion with the Steelers and a teammate of Bettis.
Bob Papa, NBC’s play-by-play host for the American Century Championship, his flight was delayed, so he’s not available. Tim Brown has not joined us yet.
The American Century Championship is coming up next week in Lake Tahoe on NBC, NBC Sports Network and on Golf Channel. The first round is on the 17thon NBCSN and continues through the weekend on NBC.
Jerome is going into the Hall of Fame as we know. Jerome is 50 to 1 to win the tournament. Tim also going into the Hall of Fame. He is 50 to 1. AJ, 200 to 1 to win the tournament. And Hines playing for the first time this year, is put by the Harrah’s and Harvey’s Race and Sports Book at 50 to 1.
So I’ll start it off with a question. Let me start off with AJ. AJ, you’re playing for the eighth time this year. And you created a phenomenon last year when that video of you tackling that one fan who was begging for a taste of the NFL went viral and ended up all over the place and made a bunch of top ten lists. Can you recount for us exactly how that came about?
AJ HAWK: Yeah. I think it made some not top ten lists too, I’m sure. But I think it’s the 7th hole there, like a big fraternity party. There’s always a bunch of young guys partying on that hole right in the tee box. They just seemed to be chanting stuff all day. You could hear them throughout the course. And for some reason, they asked me to tackle the one buddy.
And I didn’t think I was going to do it at first. My brother who I was my caddie just said, why not, man? Give it a shot. You might as well try. So I just kind of walked over they all were pumping me up. Kind of got in the moment. I made sure multiple times, I asked the kid if he really wanted me to tackle him. It all kind of came together.
The tackle felt pretty good, to tell you the truth. I was pretty happy I didn’t rip my pants. That was my biggest worry going into that. And I gave the guy a big hug and high‑fived his buddies on the sideline and went about the day.
And of course, after I finished my round, I kind of realized that the video got around and I was more worried about the NBC people and the people with American Century being upset with me and thinking that I did something wrong to disgrace the tournament.
But it was all in good fun, and the guy really wanted to, wanted me to hit him. And I didn’t hit him too hard, so it was fun. I look forward to seeing if those guys are back there this year.
THE MODERATOR: We can go to the first question.
Q Question for Jerome. The Hall induction obviously is a month away. And just wondering first if you decided who is going to introduce you and how the speech is coming along. And also how is your mom doing? How special is that weekend going to be for the two of you in particular?
JEROME BETTIS: It’s going to be a special weekend obviously for us because of the journey that we’ve taken. My mother and father, they never missed a game that I played in the NFL. So for them to have seen my entire career, and now my father is no longer with us, and for my mother to be able to kind of continue the journey and see it come to an end in Canton, Ohio with the Pro Football Hall of Fame, it’s just an incredible moment that we’ll have the ability to share and kind of reminisce on.
So I’m excited about that for her as much as I am for myself. And the fact that she is 100 percent cancer‑free right now, and so we are super, super happy about that as well. And so we’re just looking for a great weekend.
And my brother will be introducing me into the Hall of Fame.
Q Have you thought ‑‑ I’m sure you have. How much have you thought about what you’re going to say? And I’m sure quite a bit of it will be about your mom. When did she get the all clear? I know back in January when you got the news, she wasn’t able to make it to Phoenix. But what was that news like?
JEROME BETTIS: The all clear news or ‑‑
Q Yeah, both.
JEROME BETTIS: I just got that information. We just got that maybe two weeks ago, three weeks ago, that she was all clear. She had her last ‑‑ they took the port out and everything and told her that she was cancer‑free, so that was a blessing in and of itself.
But going back to February when I was announced as going in, it was a bittersweet moment because my mom wanted to be there but couldn’t travel. She was going through chemo treatment, and so she was very weak. So that was the disappointing part in all that.
All the times she had been at every big moment that I’d ever had, and the biggest moment of my life, she was not able to be there she had a battle of her own, it was bittersweet.
But we got on the phone and we talked about it. And I mean, by the end of the conversation, we were both crying. It was just a great moment.
Q You played in an era where the running game was the focal point of the offense. Do you view yourself as maybe the last big back to make the Hall of Fame?
JEROME BETTIS: You know, it’s a different game now. But I will say this. When you look at the championship caliber football teams, they all have a pretty big physical running back. And that’s the one thing that I look at. If you want to win a championship in the NFL, you still have to run the football. And the teams that run the football well, they’re the teams that play for a championship every year.
So I don’t think it’s the end of an era in terms of big running backs. I think Marshawn Lynch is not the biggest of the running backs, but he’s a big back. And so I think there will still be a place for big running backs. If they’ve got the skill set, then they’ll still have a place for them in the NFL.
I will tell you this. As much as teams want to throw the football, when you get down to the playoff time, you have to have the ability to run the football. And I think that was witnessed when you look at all these teams that went to the playoffs and the teams that ultimately played in the Super Bowl.
Q Thank you, Jerome. I appreciate it. Hines, what is your viewpoint? Just Jerome making, of all things, the big back. What’s your viewpoint on him making it? And also what memory of Jerome, what memory of his career stands out to you?
HINES WARD: I’m very honored to have played with a guy like Jerome. Just a professional both on and off the field. Having the opportunity, Jerome was ‑‑ he ran up my back a couple times throughout my career. But you know, I had a big smile on my face every time he did. It was just great.
We have a lot of memories. Over my years, he was a great mentor, a big brother to me kind of. Took me under his wing as a rookie and showed me the ropes what it takes to play professional football in the NFL. You can joke around, when he stepped on the field, he was always about business.
And then also being role models in our community as far as giving back, opening ourselves to the media, he taught me all those things. So a lot of success that I had over my career is a testament of him and what he’s taught some guys like myself, Joey Porter, James Farrior, James Harrison, all those guys. We all learned from Jerome.
So it was a great way for us, kind of a send‑off for him to be able to win that Super Bowl inDetroitand knowing that that was going to be his last game. And that’s where it started, so for him to get elected into the Hall of Fame, I feel like I’m a part of that journey as well because I was on the other end helping him get as many yards as he possibly could while I was playing with the Steelers.
So I got my invitation, so I’m front row. My whole family. Mama Bettis has kind of been my second mom. She’s always opened up her home, like we’re her own kids. So I’m excited for the whole weekend. I think it’s going to be a great weekend, not only for the Jerome, but for Steeler Nation.
Q Okay. My question is for Jerome. First of all, congratulations on making the Hall of Fame. I was just wondering if you and Tim have any special Notre Dame salute planned out for the weekend.
JEROME BETTIS: No, we haven’t. We haven’t done that. But the one thing that we did do was right after we both got the call, we all met up, all the guys who got in, and we met backstage at the event, and we both got a chance to call Coach Holtz together and that was a special moment because Lou Holtz was a big part of both of our success. And so to have an opportunity to thank him together, that was pretty neat, a pretty special moment. So that was the one thing that we were able to do together.
As to August, we haven’t even thought about that. It’s been such a whirlwind trying to get everything together, coordinate all your teammates and your friends and your family. And then, not to mention the speech. So it’s been a lot to think of. We haven’t gone there yet.
Q That’s great. This question also for Jerome and for AJ. Just like to get your thoughts on the tournament itself. When you play the 17th hole, is it more difficult than any of the other par 3s on the course or is it just more fun?
AJ HAWK: Sure, I can answer that. Yeah, I’d say it’s more fun for sure. There’s definitely a little more nerves involved on that one.
And a couple years ago, I was playing golf with Coach Urban Meyer last week, and he reminded me when I played with him at the American Century Championship on the 17th, people were yelling at us, Go Michigan, or whatever, just going againstOhioState. And I topped my shot about seven feet in front of me, right in front of all those people on the beach. And it was a tough moment for me.
And so he patted me on the back like a dad would do, and I got lucky and got up there and hit a nice second shot and got out of there with a bogey. So that was an embarrassing moment for sure, but it was something that reminded me of last week. But, overall it’s a very fun hole.
JEROME BETTIS: Yeah, it’s one of those holes that whenever I talk to somebody, a fan or anybody who’s watching the tournament, the first question I get is, hey, at the American Century Championship, how is the 17th hole? I see it on television. I want to know, how do you feel when you get up there?
And to be quite honest, when you get up there, you always say to yourself, I’m not nervous. I’m not nervous. But it never fails, as soon as you get over that ball, all the nerves kind of come to a boil and it becomes a tough shot.
It’s not the longest shot in the world. We’ve all hit 160‑yard shots before, but that just becomes that much more difficult. So I can imagine what it’s like on the pro tour for some of those holes, because that 17th is pretty neat.
And, Hines, you’re a rookie to this American Century Championship, so I’m going to tell you, good luck on 17.
Q This question is for Jerome. First off, congratulations on your Hall of Fame induction. Jerome, can you take me through the trade that brought you toPittsburghand what was going through your head at the time? And looking back at it, do you view it as a blessing in disguise?
JEROME BETTIS: Oh, it’s not in disguise. It’s a 100 percent blessing. It was a situation, I was there inSt. Louis, and the coach, Rich Brooks, he decided he wanted to go in a different direction in terms of running back. So he wanted I guess a smaller guy, a faster guy, a home run hitter so to speak. And so he gave me permission to seek a trade.
And as me and my agent went out there, we saw that there was two teams that wanted me. It was Houston Oilers, now Tennessee Titans, and the second team was the Pittsburgh Steelers. And I had a choice to choose between the two. And as I looked at those teams, the one thing that struck me was that the Steelers had just come off losing a Super Bowl to the Dallas Cowboys, and I felt that, hey, t they’re still a championship caliber football team, and that’s where I wanted to go.
We pulled the trigger, came toPittsburgh, and it was the best decision I could have ever made because not only was the team phenomenal, but the fans were incredible and the ownership was ‑‑ they treated us like family. And that was a special part of being associated with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Q AJ, if the guy is at the 7th hole again this year and asks you to tackle him, are you going to do it again or are you going to hold back this year?
AJ HAWK: I have no problem doing it again. But I was talking about it with my brother who’s been my caddie every year I’ve played in this. I don’t think ‑‑ I got to find a way ‑‑ we got to find a way to make it better.
Last year, like I said, it was one of those things that all kind of came together and everything worked out great. And I feel like it’s hard to duplicate that. So if those guys are there and they have a better idea, they’ve really been brainstorming, I’m very open to anything that they have that is legal and fun and nobody gets hurt. Yeah, I’m very open to it.
Q And another question is, so you’re now with the Bengals. What are your feelings on getting back into your home state there and playing?
AJ HAWK: It’s been great being back inOhio. I spent nine seasons inGreen Bay. Nothing but great things to say and great memories there and was able to win a Super Bowl. And I love everybody there, from the front office down to all the fans. So it was a very special time for myself and my family.
And I knew once I realized I wasn’t going to be inGreen Bayanymore, I definitely wanted to try to find a way to get back toCincinnati. I grew up about 45 minutes away from there and currently live inColumbus, about two hours from the stadium. And they’re the first team I talked to and they’re my number one choice. Tried to find a way to make it happen, and we did.
Just finished up our off season program and everything is going great. Definitely a different atmosphere. A great atmosphere. A lot of great talent. Coaches have been awesome. So I’ve just been in the playbook, trying to learn the new playbook. After being on the same team for nine straight years, it’s like being a rookie again. It’s been exciting, though.
Q Hines, as a first‑year player up here at the ACC, how much are you looking forward to this? And what kind of condition is your golf game coming up here?
HINES WARD: Good question. I’ve always watched the American Century Championship on television. And it’s the closest thing that you can get to playing sports as far as, for me, not playing football anymore, but having the camaraderie of the locker room atmosphere where you’re joking with the guys, you’re laughing, but at the same time, you’re still out there trying to compete without getting hurt. So actually look forward to it.
I wish that I would have got started in golf a long time ago when Jerome told me to get a set of clubs my rookie year. But about the past three years, I’ve kind of worked on my golf game as far as trying to get down to where I’m able to compete. Jerome used to spank me about 30 strokes a hole. Now he’s beating me about maybe 15 or 20. But we’re still working on my game.
Heard a lot of great things about the tournament. And I was always a little shy having people around me, watching me while I hit the golf ball, but I kind of like the crowd noise. You know, you play in front of 80,000 people every weekend and then get to the golf course and everyone has to be quiet.
You can ask Jerome, I heckle him a little bit while we’re playing because I just don’t like the quietness and the concentration. I over think the golf shot too much.
I’m kind of looking forward to it. I really don’t know how I’m going to fair off in the tournament. Jerome is kind of scaring me about certain holes and stuff like that. He keeps telling me, just think bogey ball. You play bogey ball, you’ll be somewhere there. Don’t try to go for it every time.
I’m just going to go out there and give it my best try have fun, enjoy the experience, the process, being that I’m a rookie at it. So I’m sure the fans are going to heckle me at some point, especiallyBaltimorefans. They don’t particularly like me too well.
But I’m ecstatic about the tournament. It’s an honor to play in it and hopefully I go out there and not mess it up too bad.
THE MODERATOR: Tim Brown is not with us at the moment. We’re still trying him. Our next question.
Q Hines, congratulations on making the tournament this year. It should be a lot of fun, as you were saying. Look forward to seeing you there. And, Jerome, congratulations on making the Hall of Fame. I know August, that weekend will be special for you.But I have two quick questions for AJ Hawk. AJ, last year I got a picture of you wearing a pair of lavender pants. Are you going to bring them back this year?
AJ HAWK: I don’t think so. My first couple years I played in this, I really was ‑‑ I don’t know. That’s the thing. I don’t play golf as much as a lot of these guys, but this is really the only time of year I wear pants when I play golf, so I really kind of went for it a few times and got all kind of weird pants. So this year, I think I’m going to tone it down a bit and have some normal color pants, I think.
Q Now, back when Corbel had the long drive competition, didn’t you win that one year?
AJ HAWK: Yeah. I won it a couple times.
Q That’s what I thought. And final question for you, AJ, is the six years you’ve played in the event, you’ve never been above zero. You’ve always had a negative score. Do you think the odds makers were kind in giving you the 200 to 1?
AJ HAWK: What’s the worst odds? 500?
Q I don’t know.
THE MODERATOR: They put Barkley at 5000 to 1.
AJ HAWK: Oh, okay. As long as they put me above him, the odds makers, I don’t know. Odds makers might be sleeping on my golf game a bit. I’m coming in this year fresh. Tried to approach it many different ways. Tried to play more golf than I usually would just to get ready for the American Century Championship because I love the event so much.
This year I’m coming in fresh. My golf game is going to be very fresh. So I’m excited to get out there, get in that nice thin air and try to bomb some drives hopefully make some birdies at some point.
Q Good luck to you. Look forward to seeing you. And, Hines, one thing also about the course, just be careful on the hole at the lake that has the alligator in it.
HINES WARD: I appreciate the heads up.
Q Hey, guys, thanks for taking my call. Congratulations, Jerome, for the Hall of Fame induction. Quick question for all three guys. Jerome, I see that you’re 50 to 1, and what’s not certainly 1,000 to 1, which, AJ, I believe those are the highest odds. During this event, how important is it to play well? If you go out and play poorly, throw up maybe a 95 or 100, will you go back to your hotel room and mope? Or is the play the thing? Is participation the most important thing?
JEROME BETTIS: Well, I mean, you want to have a good showing. The one thing you have to remember, all the players that are playing in this tournament have reached a certain level of success. And so you got to remember, guys are competitive. This is the top one percent in terms of sporting athletes in the world.
So you can imagine how competitive every guy out there is. Every guy wants to win. Make no mistake about it. But obviously, we know our limitations in terms of our golf game, but we still want to play well.
If I go out there and drop a 95 or 100, you better believe I’m going to be pissed off. I’m not going to want to talk to anybody for a while because you got to always remember, the other players, they look at the sheet too. They see what’s going on, so they’re going to give you some ribbing and bang on you. Oh, yeah, golf game, not that good.
And so you are going to be affected by it. You want to go out there and perform well because you’re playing for yourself, but you’re also competing against all the other guys because crawling in the back of your head, you got two, three guys that you’re saying, I’m gonna beat these guys.
You know, you think your game is better than theirs, so you’re always watching a couple guys’ scores saying, I’m better than this guy. I’m gonna beat him. So we all do that in our heads. So to go in, drop 95 or 100, I promise you there’s going to be some unhappy guys at the end of the day.
Q AJ, I heard you just compare your game to Charles Barkley. Are you going to try to have a little side wager maybe with Chuck?
AJ HAWK: I’m hoping to beat his score. I know he’s come in either last or close to last for every time he plays. But what Jerome was saying, speaking from experience, I’ve shot a 95 out there. And it’s terrible. It’ll ruin your night real quick, man.
You want to compete, and if you guys could talk to my brother who caddies for me out there and see how hard a lot of times I’m grinding over these bogey putts. They’re like five‑foot bogey putts, are huge for a guy like me. And people think, oh, it’s not a big deal. You’re in the bottom third of the guys on the score sheet anyway, but it doesn’t matter. You still want to play well.
You’re still completing against yourself. You want to do well. So you want to make those bogeys so there’s no damage done because a double bogey hurts you out here. And so I’m just grinding and sweating. I’m exhausted at the end of my 18 holes because although I’m not competing to win that thing, in my mind I am. So yes, you definitely want to play well.
Q Lastly, Hines, I participated in one of these conference calls earlier in the summer with Trent Dilfer and Charles, and they both had interesting responses to this question. So I’d like to ask it of you. I know you’re aware of ‑‑ I’m not going to call it a movement, but a lot of moms, a lot of concerned parents out there sort of worried about the head injury aspect of the game of football and worried about putting their kids in it. A, are you worried about the future of the contact game because of that situation? And B, do you know of anything specifically that the NFL is doing to try to address the situation?
HINES WARD: I know one thing. You try to gain knowledge about concussions. I think now NFL players are more prepped about protocol, what’s expected, how to go about handling concussions, whereas, back in the day, they just hold up one, two, three fingers and you just look left, look right, and go back to the game.
Now I think it’s a serious issue and the League is doing the best they possibly can to take more of a stance about giving the players the information about concussions so they can go about it the right way.
As far as parents letting their kids play, you know, if my son walked around with a football all day and that was his passion, who am I to tell him no, he can’t play? But at the same time, I think I’m more educated about concussion where if I do see he gets a little ding, I would probably advise him to sit out a little bit.
Concussions are going to happen in football. When you have two grown men colliding with each other, unfortunately your brain is going to shake. It happens all over the country. But if you have more knowledge about the situation, about concussions, you can go about it the right way.
So I’m not one of those parents. If my son wanted to play, I’m all for it. But I want him to have that passion. I would never try to force my son to play something that he didn’t want to do because I’ve done it my whole life. So I’m not one of those parents that forces my kid to do something he doesn’t want to do.
Q Quick follow‑up, Hines. I know there’s been a lot of adjustments made in technique as far as tackling and blocking and whatnot. Do you know if there’s any improvements going on with the actual helmet?
HINES WARD: With so many different helmets, they’re trying to add extra padding in, do a lot of different tests. You see guys trying on a lot of different helmets and whatnot. I guess it’s just a comfort feeling. I really can’t say one helmet is better than the other. I just know there’s a lot of protocol as far as ‑‑ I was the one of the players that played and never wore a mouthpiece.
After doing research about it, a mouthpiece actually would help you from concussion because you have something to bite down on. But my whole career, I played without a mouthpiece because I couldn’t breathe while I was playing.
They’re making helmets every year to try to use better technology, to better help equip the guys to take on the hard hits and whatnot. But I think some of the major issues with the new helmets I think is when guys fall back and hit the back of their heads on the ground. That’s a common thing even throughout Pee Wee league. I think a lot of concussions happen like that.
You’re starting to see a lot of research with helmets where you’re starting to get extra padding in the back of the helmet as well as the front. So kudos to the League. They’re doing the best they possibly can to go out and improve our game. They’re making the rules, changing the rules to make our game safe, safer, so guys can go out there and play the game to the utmost ability without getting a concussion.
THE MODERATOR: I’m told now that Tim Brown is with us. Tim, you there?
TIM BROWN: Yeah, I been here, man. You guys wouldn’t open my mic up.
THE MODERATOR: We got you now. Tim also going into the Hall, as we all know. The author of the new inspirational book, “The Making of a Man.” And Tim is also playing in the Gene Upshaw Memorial Golf Classic early next week, and then he’ll be with us at Tahoe where he is 50 to 1. Go ahead to the next question.
Q Tim, can you tell us a little bit about playing in the Gene Upshaw Memorial Golf Classic next week and what that means for you?
TIM BROWN: Well, it means a lot to me. I was the player rep for the Raiders from my second year in the League 1989 up until I retired from the League. And I was on the executive committee from ’93 to 2006, two years after retired. I spent a lot of time with Gene. We had a great relationship. Played a lot, a lot of golf together. Some cheating golf, I would say. But that’s Gene Upshaw. If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying. But it was a fantastic relationship, man. And whatever I can do to honor him at this point is what I’m going to do.
Q Then moving on to Tahoe, a question for you, why do you think the quarterbacks do so well in this tournament and not the wide receivers and running backs? Is there something there?
TIM BROWN: You’re saying that with Jerome Bettis on the line? Wow, that’s pretty bold of you.
You know, my theory has always been, when you look at the history of quarterbacks, and maybe that’s changing today, but in the past, quarterbacks never lift weights. They use those little bands and do that kind of stuff while everybody else has to get onto that bench and build those big ol’ muscles, man. And golf and big muscles don’t all the time go together.
I think from that standpoint, it’s a lot harder game for the running backs and all the big guys to pick up, but these quarterbacks, they drop back, throw a pass, every once in a while they get touched. Now you can’t even touch them in the league.
So I think it just has to do with the fact that lifting weights, man, you build those big muscles and they just become a problem when you get on the golf course.
Q Hi, guys. Congratulations. This is for any of you. Story I’ve been working on, never miss this golf tournament. I couldn’t help but notice that 15 out of 93 of you are Hall of Famers. So first question, I’m wondering if you guys feel like you’re in good company right now. And the other thing is more technical. When you consider the intensity of your sport, how do you account for the crossover into the golf? There seems to be an attraction there, and why this tournament more than any other tournament? Let’s admit it, golf isn’t football. So you know, how do you feel about that?
TIM BROWN: Yeah, well, this tournament is the only one of its kind as far as athletes go. There are a lot of other tournaments around. Even Marshall Faulk has a two‑ three‑day tournament, but it’s nothing likeLake Tahoe. This is an opportunity for us to come out and compete.
I heard Jerome earlier talking about looking at the scoreboard and saying, I’m gonna beat that guy. And sometimes that’s what you do.
There’s an unofficial low black, low African American athlete place that guys always talk about that’s very unofficial, obviously, but it’s just one of those things that this is an opportunity for us to compete.
We can’t get on the football field. We can’t throw a baseball or shoot the hoop anymore, but we can certainly get on the golf course and compete and make this thing happen. So I think from that standpoint, when this is only big event in the country like this, you try and do your best to get out there and make it happen.
Q Is there anything you do to cross‑train for golf?
TIM BROWN: Well, you know, you try and do a lot of walking, but I’m inTexas, so if I walk and try and play golf, I’d die. 99 degrees down here and with the humidity. I’m actually on the course right now trying to get some rounds in. So all you can do is get out and swing the club and try and be in the best golf shape you can be in and hitting the ball the way you want to hit it and go there and let everything take care of itself.
Q Jerome, congratulations. And particularly, heartwarming story about your parents. I have to tell you, go Steelers. I’ve with been with them since ’72 and named my cat Franco Harris just to illustrate that. Where did you get your nickname? Who came up with that?
JEROME BETTIS: There was somebody in the student body, on the student body newspaper at Notre Dame when I was there, and they kind of started calling me that. They wrote an article saying something about how I looked like a bus or something like that and I was taking guys for a ride, and it just kind of stuck.
So the student body would chant nobody stops the bus when I was playing at Notre Dame. And then when I came toPittsburgh,Pittsburgh,Western PAis a huge Notre Dame following, and the name resurged and it was one of those that stuck. I was a blue collar guy andPittsburgh, a blue collar town. And they loved the name and it kind of just stuck with me. And I’ve been going with it ever since. I don’t have a problem with it.
Q Great. So do you all feel like you’re in good company, being in such a big group of Hall of Famers playing golf in this tournament?
JEROME BETTIS: Absolutely. You definitely feel that you’re in great company. And the one reason, more so than the Hall of Famers, is that you feel you’re in good company because you have respect for all of the guys that are there, because you know what it took for them to have success in whatever field they’re in.
So you’re playing with some basketball players or hockey players, and you still have that respect for them because you understand how hard it was for them to be successful in their particular sport. So it’s not just the Hall of Famers. You’re comfortable with all the guys because it’s a fraternity and a brotherhood that we have because of what we do and what we’ve done.
And so we all get together and we like to have fun, but also, we like to compete. And like I said earlier, this is probably the most competitive bunch of guys that you have ever seen because in order to reach the level of success that these guys have reached, you’ve got to be uber competitive. So these guys are so competitive. It makes for a great time. Everybody is having fun, but at the end of the day, everybody wants to hit that golf ball and do a great job.
Q Hi, guys. First of all, Jerome, congratulations. My first question is for you. So what does it mean to you to have your brother presenting you at your Hall of Fame induction?
JEROME BETTIS: It means so much. Let me give you a story. My brother, growing up as a kid, we didn’t really play football as kids growing up. We were bowlers. So we would watch football one or two times a year. Usually it was Thanksgiving time of the year or late in the season.
So I became a Dallas Cowboys fan and my brother became a Pittsburgh Steelers fan. So he was a diehard Steeler fan as a kid growing up, and I hated the Pittsburgh Steelers. And it was one of those things that whenever the Steelers played the Cowboys, they always beat the Cowboys. So that made it even worse.
So when I came toPittsburgh, it was like he was in Heaven, and all he asked for was the first picture of them taking of me wearing the helmet. And that was something he treasured for years and years. And so it’s been a very, very big treat for him to watch me play for the Steelers. And so for him to introduce me, I thought it was appropriate.
Q And who else did you invite to the ceremony other than your immediate family?
JEROME BETTIS: Oh, my God. I sent out hundreds of invitations. I sent out 300 invitations. That was the number that I said to myself that that was it. So I sent out 300 invitations. I sent them to teammates from all the teams that I played on, from the Rams, teammates from Notre Dame, teammates from my high school, obviously teammates fromPittsburgh. So I sent them all over the place. The majority obviously definitely to teammates. But I sent them to a little bit of everyone you could imagine that are close to me. So I sent out invitations all over the country.
Q And my last question is for Hines. How excited are you for Jerome getting into the Hall of Fame?
HINES WARD: Oh, man, I’m ecstatic for Jerome. I’ve always said he was a Hall of Famers. It’s great to see him finally get in. He epitomizes what football is all about. Great in the community, hard worker on the football field. I don’t know too many players that have their own bus while they’re playing. I thought that was kinda cool, a bus to pull up with his parents getting off it. I don’t even know, Jerome, do you still have at that bus?
JEROME BETTIS: No, no, no, we got rid of it.
HINES WARD: That thing would’ve been parked in my backyard. I just feel good. Coming to the League and trying to make a name for myself, it’s hard to make a name for yourself when you’re running the ball 50 times a game as a wide receiver. So the best way I could possibly make a name for myself is to block my tail off to try to help Jerome get into the end zone.
I did all the dirty work for him. He ran up my back a couple times. We had our laughs about it. To finally see him get in, I mean, for what he’s meant to me over my career, teaching me how to be a professional athlete and what it took to be a professional athlete, I feel like him getting into the Hall of Fame, I’m a part of that. I was a part of his journey as well.
So not only are we great teammates but we’re good friends. We still communicate, play golf all the time. We know each other’s kids, families. Mama Bettis is good to me. So it’s going to be a special day. I got front row tickets. I’m going to be right there cheering him on. It’s going to be a special day for not only for Jerome’s family, but for all his teammates and for Steeler Nation.
Q Congratulations and good luck in the tournament.
HINES WARD: Appreciate it.
THE MODERATOR: We have five questions left. So if you are okay, we’ll get those done and let you go.
Q Jerome, you have already touched on this, but just kind of touch on your game and the tournament and being there so many times. You’re ninth time, just your golf game and the tournament and just going back and playing again.
JEROME BETTIS: Was that to me? Jerome?
Q Yeah. That was to Jerome, sorry.
JEROME BETTIS: Oh, I’m sorry. This tournament, American Century Championship, Tim spoke to it earlier. It’s like no other tournament that you play in. This is one of the only opportunities as a retired player that we have to really be in a competitive environment.
We all watch golf on television and we see how the tournaments are run. And NBC does an incredible job of coming in here and running this tournament just like a professional tour tournament. So the players feel so much ‑‑ they love it so much because it gives us a feeling as if we’re playing on the professional tour and that we’re professionals and we’re not retired now.
So for us, it’s a special tournament, and guys line up to play in this tournament. There’s a waiting list to get in this tournament because it’s that special of a golf tournament. And guys want to go out there and play their best. I’m like all the other guys. I’m trying to get prepared. I’m trying to play.
Today is my wedding anniversary, and I’m on the phone talking to you about golf. That tells you how committed I am to the tournament, but also how committed all of us to the tournament and how much we want to play well. So it’s a great tournament. American Century, they do a great job sponsoring the tournament and making it a reality for us, so we’re thankful for them as well.
Q Thank you, guys. Happy anniversary.
JEROME BETTIS: Thank you.
Q Thanks you guys for being on here today. Hines, I have a question for you about your playing career, and then I have a question that I want to put out to everybody, but in particular to Jerome.But Hines, you played quarterback part of your way through your college career. Then you changed to another position and obviously played something else in the NFL. How hard was that for you to change from quarterback to a position like wide receiver, and how hard was it for you to give up playing quarterback? I’m asking that because of what Terrelle Pryor is trying to do in Cleveland.
HINES WARD: It’s very hard. When you’re touching the ball every snap on the offensive side, it’s very hard to give that up.
My whole dream growing up as a child, I wanted to be a quarterback and play at the highest level possible. So when I was being recruited, a lot of colleges were recruiting me as a wide receiver, a running back, defensive back. Lou Holtz wanted me to play safety, strong safety. And I’ve always just wanted to touch the football.
When I went to theUniversityofGeorgia, Eric Zeier was our quarterback. Here’s a guy who’s six feet tall,190 pounds, broke all the records in the SCC. And then Charlie Ward who had success down atFloridaState, and when these guys are given the opportunity to go to the next level at NFL, there was a lot of questions to see if those guys can play at that level.
So for me, a dream of mine was to always going to the NFL, do whatever it took. So I made the change because I’m like, man, Eric Zeier doesn’t get a chance to go to the NFL. Charlie Ward, a lot of them are saying he’s a, what, fourth, fifth round pick, Heisman Trophy winner. I’m like, geez.
So I just thought the natural position for me would be wide receiver. So playing all the different positions I kind of think helped me learn the game, to be able to play at a high level playing in the NFL, because playing quarterback, I kinda knew what the running backs had to do, I knew pass protection, I knew all the hot reads and whatnot.
It’s just the fundamentals of playing wide receiver, that was new to me. So I had to basically learn all of that while I was in the NFL, but I always knew the game. I knew tendencies. I know schemes. I knew coverage. I understood all those things. So by playing those different positions enabled me to kind of anticipate holes, to kind of beat man to man and use different guys, use them on web [phonetic] routes and stuff like that sort of enabled me to play faster at a high level. So I’m thankful of playing all the positions.
But playing, it’s kind of hard to tell a kid to give up on your dreams. You take a guy like Terrelle Pryor who had the ball in his hands since he was in high school and now having to make a transition and doing it at the NFL level, that’s a tough task for anyone to do. For me, I did it at the collegiate level. But now you’ve got a grown man who gets paid a lot of money at that position.
So now Terrelle Pryor, not to say he can’t do it because gifted as an athlete with his size and speed, but there’s a lot of little things that I’m sure Tim can attest to that you have to know how to get open against man‑to‑man coverages.
Q Thanks very much, Hines. And then this is sort of for everybody. Love to hear from all you guys about this. Jerome, you mentioned earlier how the big running back has not become obsolete in this league, that running is still valuable. I’m curious if you think, and also you guys, if you think the same thing, is the game, is the running game, the way it’s being used to this point, will a back that’s playing ever break the all‑time record? Well, anyone ever surpass Emmitt Smith the way Adrian Peterson says that he thinks he will?
JEROME BETTIS: I think when you look at the longevity of running backs, I think Adrian Peterson probably in my lifetime is the only one that will have this opportunity.
But the one thing that you have to understand is the NFL is cyclical. So teams kind of watch and see what the championship teams are doing, and they gear themselves up toward those championship teams.
So yes, there’s been an emphasis the last five or seven years of passing the football, but as teams go, if they don’t see the success, then they tend to go towards what is winning. And so yes, right now you have an age of great quarterbacks. But as these quarterbacks start retiring and as you’re not able to replenish the league with the same type of quarterback, then you’re going to see the running game become a more prominent part of the game.
So I don’t believe that his record is unbreakable. But I think right now, the only person in the NFL I think that even has a chance would be Adrian Peterson with his gift. Him losing a year last year I think really hurts his chances, but if anybody, he still has a great chance. He keeps himself conditioned very, very well. So I just think it’s going to be difficult.
Once the league I think changes, the running game is going to be a bigger part, there will be a chance then.
THE MODERATOR: Tim? Tim you still with us?
TIM BROWN: Yes.
THE MODERATOR: Can you answer that question?
TIM BROWN: What’s the question?
Q Tim, thanks for joining and congratulations on making the Hall of Fame. I know how long the wait was. The question was: Do you think that in the way that the running game is used now, the style the NFL is being played, will anyone ever break Emmitt Smith’s career rushing record?
TIM BROWN: I think Jerome hit it on the head. The fact Adrian Peterson is [indiscernible]. I too believe that NFL is a very cyclical league. And what goes around comes back around. And there’s no way I believe that guys are going to be able to [indiscernible] four to five times a game. And I think careers are going to get shorter and shorter and shorter [indiscernible] chance to do that.
I don’t see [indiscernible] coming up right now for sure. With the way the game is going, you look at the league and you look at how they’re throwing the ball, who’s running the ball 30 times a game now? I don’t know if we can name one team that’s doing it. You may have [indiscernible] things like that going on, so you know, I thinkMinnesotais one of the only teams in the league. ObviouslySeattleis throwing the ball, but that’s really concentrating on making sure they’re like 70/30 running the ball right now.
THE MODERATOR: AJ?
AJ HAWK: Yeah. Obviously these guys, I mean, I agree with them. I’ve gotten to play againstAdriantwice a year for the last eight years basically, so I’ve seen firsthand how great he is.
I think it’s a longevity thing as well. It’s tough. You have to be a great running back for a lot of years. Guys like Jerome and Emmitt Smith and those guys, there are very few guys like that. So to play at a high level as a running back, with how physical it is and how beat up you get, it’s tough to do. No record’s unbreakable, but I think that one could stand for a long time.
THE MODERATOR: Hines?
HINES WARD: AJ, like he said, it’s rare that you’re going to see guys playing with longevity like Jerome and those guys put in, the double‑digit years, having success year in and year out, what they put their bodies through for that period of time is very difficult.
But now, with our league kind of changing, becoming more of a passing game, you’re not going to get the attempts that these guys were given while they were playing.
Adrian Peterson probably the closest guy to breaking the record, but even that, you know, you look atMinnesotaand the first game plan, they try to stop Adrian Peterson. If you even if you put eight, nine guys in the box, he’s still ramping up100 yardsthat’s the special running back that he is. But to do it for 12, 13, 14 years when everybody is targeting you, it’s going to be a difficult task for him to be able to maintain for that extended period of time playing running back in the NFL to have success that long.
Q Hines, this question is for you. I wanted to ask you to put on your collegiate analyst hat for a second and assess your alma mater’s upcoming season. With Notre Dame and Georgia scheduled to play twice for the next five years, do you already have some kind of side bet in mind you’d like to make with Jerome?
HINES WARD: Jerome and I, I was hoping for that match‑up but Alabama had the opportunity to play Notre Dame in Miami, and Jerome and I were discussing that, but Georgia lost to Alabama in the championship game so Alabama went on ahead and got the nod and kind of beat Notre Dame pretty bad. Jerome and I, we always go back and forth, back and forth.
As far as Georgia, I think it’s all about recruiting. And what disappoints me sometimes isUniversityofGeorgiais losing some of their top talent in state to other schools. We’re losing guys to go doAlabama. And you look atGeorgiaguys going toAuburn, having success there. So that kind of frustrates you being a hometown guy, being from the state ofGeorgia, how we’re losing all this top talent in our own state.
So more than anything, I think we can keep the talent in state,Georgiahas a great chance. They’ve always reloaded at the running back position. Every year seems like we have a stud at the running back position. The quarterback play, it always comes down to quarterback play in college. You got to have one that you can depend on and not shuffling guys around. WhenGeorgiafinds that one, I think they’ll have a successful year.
Q Thank you.
HINES WARD: No problem.
Q Almost last but not least, right? Thank you, everybody. Happy anniversary to Jerome.
JEROME BETTIS: Thank you.
Q We’ve been having some heavy rain and thunder showers here inSouth Lake Tahoe. Everything is nice and green and waiting for you. Next week is going to be awesome, sunny, warm, clear. So bring your sunscreen.I have a question for everybody. For AJ, Tim, and Jerome, do you ever get a chance to get out and enjoySouth Lake Tahoeand what is your favorite thing to do? And, Hines, have you ever visited our area?
AJ HAWK: I love everything about Lake Tahoe. My buddy that I played with, he’s fromNorthern California, Spencer Havner actually brought his ‑‑ he has a little houseboat he brought, parked on the 17th, right out there on the hole for ‑‑ right off the tee box for three days a couple years ago. So we got to go out on the boat and kind of see everything with him. He actually slept there over night and took in the whole experience.
So he’s actually joining us this year, but he’s staying in the hotel. So I think just getting out in the lake and being ‑‑ I’ve swam in the lake a few times, and my brother does as well. It just feels great. Everything about it. Such a different world. I’m fromOhio, so being out there is just amazing. I look forward to it every year.
TIM BROWN: I bring my family every year. So for me, it’s [indiscernible] family vacation. So yeah, I’ve gone [indiscernible], done that whole deal with the Sea‑Doos. We hike up the trials. [Indiscernible] really enjoyLake Tahoe, and we look forward to this every year. My kids and my wife and everybody.
I’ve done ‑‑ I don’t know how many years I’ve played in this tournament. Back when they were [indiscernible]. So this has been a trip for us that we’ve been able to really enjoySouth Lake Tahoeand have great family time up here.
JEROME BETTIS: I have not taken advantage of all the things in Tahoe. I think partly because I was so obsessed with wanting to do well that, now, I understand I’ve got to open up and see more. And last year I kind of started that. My caddie is local there. He’s from the Tahoe area. So I went over, had dinner at his house this year. They’re planning a big barbecue cookout, so I’m looking forward to getting out and seeing more of Tahoe, that area, and doing more. So I’m trying to evolve and get there. Hopefully next year I’ll bring my family and give them an opportunity to see it as well, and I will have all the way evolved once that happens.
TIM BROWN: Jerome, you know the wives are talking, brother, so you may as well plan on it.
JEROME BETTIS: I know.
Q Hines, have you been to Lake Tahoe before?
HINES WARD: No, I haven’t, but I’ve heard a lot of great things about it, especially it’s American Century Championship. I played in a lot of tournaments, but it’s like a best‑ball shambles. I never played my own ball throughout a whole tournament. And you had to wear pants and everything like that. So looking forward to it. Like Jerome said, it’s the closest thing to a PGA Tour Tournament, and something I’m looking forward to.
I’ve just gotten into snowboarding and skiing. I’ve heard that you guys have great skiing out there. So maybe during the off season next year, I’ll get a chance to come out and test the slopes a little bit and have fun. So I’m looking forward to my first time there and definitely maybe taking another trip in the off season when it’s snow season.
THE MODERATOR: Last two questions.
Q Thanks, gentlemen, for your time. I’ve got a few questions for our inductees and one for Hines. Tim and Jerome, I think every kid growing up fantasized, whoever played football, about winning the Super Bowl. I won the Super Bowl when I was 12 years old onLindon Avenue, side line catch, right at the curb. I was dodging Volkswagens, not busses though.So, seriously when you guys were kids, did entering the Hall, induction, ever enter your mind? Like perhaps putting on a Super Bowl ring or being an MVP or even during your career, was induction to the Hall, did it ever even across your mind?
JEROME BETTIS: I’ll start, Tim. You got time? You in between holes? You can go ahead.
TIM BROWN: No, you go. You’re good.
JEROME BETTIS: I want to make sure Tim gets that practice in. Here’s my thought on it is, growing up as a kid, that was the last thing, that was the furthest thing from my mind. Football was something I thought was far off in the distance. I didn’t even think that I could have a career until college. Once I got to college, I thought maybe I could play football for a living. And then once a got in the NFL, the last thing I was thinking about was Hall of Fame.
I was thinking about winning the championship and having a great season then you get elected to a Pro Bowl and you think, wow, that’s a big thing. So the Hall of Fame was something that you don’t even think about.
Late in my career, when the reporters started asking me about it, only then did I even consider and think about it and say, well, maybe I do have a chance because it’s such rarified air that you don’t even consider yourself having a chance to get there in. You just want to go out and play well that next game. You don’t even think about the Hall of Fame.
THE MODERATOR: Tim?
TIM BROWN: I think for me, growing up here inDallasduring the time when the Cowboys were winning a lot of championships [indiscernible] and all that kind of stuff, but I had never even dreamt about playing in the NFL. I went to Notre Dame for one reason, and that was to get an education.
My junior year, I had a great year. We were out inCalifornia. USC, beat them in the last seconds of the game. I had an incredible game. At the end of that game, the late great Jim Murray, writer for LA Times, said: Are you going to be my front runner for the Heisman next year?
I remember because back in those days Notre Dame would always end atCaliforniatoFlorida. Our families would always be out because of the holiday, Thanksgiving. And my brother was up there. I remember going up to him and saying, hey, man, this guy [indiscernible] Heisman. Do you think somebody may want me to play in the NFL even if I don’t win the Heisman?
And we just cracked up laughing because we thought that idea was so funny. But over the next couple months, obviously, a lot of polls started to come out that I was going to be the first or second receiver taken in the draft if I stayed healthy and had a pretty good year my senior year.
So things change. Now you realize you have an opportunity to make a living playing a game. And it was sort of overwhelming, but I came into the league, had a great year my rookie year, went to the Pro Bowl. After that I tore my knee up my second year, so now I’m relegated to just playing third down.
Al Davis told me I was going to be the best third down punt returner to ever play the game. He did not want me to play on first and second down anymore. So ’91, ’92, that’s what I did. I only played third down and returning punts. And someone got hurt. Mervyn Fernandez got hurt, and that’s the only reason I ended up starting. And I had a great game and the rest is what they call history.
No, I don’t think that’s something you can put on the radar. You just try to go out and play this game. But being in the Hall, all those kind of things, that’s being arrogant if you say, oh, I’m going to be in the Hall of Fame. I think that’s being arrogant.
Q Agreed. Jerome secretly might have been thinking about that Pro Bowling Association Hall of Fame. Still not too late for that, Jerome.
JEROME BETTIS: I am in the Pro Bowling Hall of Fame already. That was the first Hall of Fame I went into.
Q Outstanding. My last question is for Hines. Hines, I don’t know if everybody knows about your foundation, Helping Hands Foundation for kids. And you do some great work. I know that it seems like a lot of your football endeavors really drove your generosity. Now that you’re not in the spotlight so much with football, how are your foundations doing? And have you ever considered maybe using golf instead of football for the foundation, to start driving your foundations again?
HINES WARD: Yeah, that’s something that I discussed with some of my board members as far as getting into golf. Golfing is really big inKorea. I know with the whole biracial thing going on inKorea, a lot ofUSmilitary servicemen going over toKorea, having children, and heading back to the States. Unfortunately these kids are left behind that are biracial. And the way society treats these biracial kids, that’s the reason why kind of the foundation got started.
I can speak from experience as far as being teased, my mom being an outcast in the community because she married someone outside of her race, and that’s really how the Helping Hands Foundation started.
So now, we wanted to make it cool to be a mixed race, and that was kind of what my foundation was established on. So I had a opportunity to go back toKoreaa lot of different times while I was playing and I and invited some of the kids intoPittsburgh, spent the weekend with them. Brought them out on the field. The fans gave them a round of applause. And it was kind of cool to be different. That’s something that I wanted to really preach to the kids.
Now, since I’ve really gotten into golf and golf players that are actually of mixed race, that’s the next step that I want to do, to be able to go back toKoreaand do some golf tournaments there to raise money for biracial kids. Hopefully get that started, I’m able to invite some of these guys that are playing in the American Century Tournament to come over and be a guest of mine over in Korea for a golf tournament.
THE MODERATOR: Last question.
Q This one is for Tim. Tim, how great does it feel to get the Hall of Fame call after waiting for so many years? And also, what does it mean to represent Silver and Black in Canton?
TIM BROWN: It was great, man. You know, for me, the only tough years were the two years that they didn’t put in a receiver. You know, Jerry went in 2010. ’11, ’12, they didn’t put a receiver in. So with Chris and Andre and myself out there, it was tough to take. Everyone was saying are guys are Hall of Famers, but they went putting anybody in. So those two years were very difficult.
But when Chris went in, I was happy. And obviously when Andre went in last year, I was ecstatic for him.
It was great, man. And doing this for the Silver and Black is very special for me. Raider Nation has been incredible for me over the years. The relationship I’ve had with them has been amazing. I’m looking forward to the big party we have in December when I go up and get my ring. That should be really something. It’s going to be great, man.
But when you think about all the great players that played for the Raiders, all the Famers they have already, to add your name to the list is really amazing.
Q Thanks. Appreciate it.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks everyone for joining. The event is next week on NBC, NBC Sports Network and Golf Channel. Please contact Phil or me for any further information that you may need. Our info is on the alert, and we’ll see everyone next week.
Thanks again, Jerome, AJ, Tim, Hines. We’ll see you in Lake Tahoe.