The Bus is all warmed up for Super Bowl XL in Detroit--255-lb. Pittsburgh Steelers running back Jerome (the Bus) Bettis, that is, who is headed back to his hometown to play the Seattle Seahawks on Feb. 5. Bettis, 33, who is chasing the first NFL title of his stellar 13-year career, spoke with TIME's Sean Gregory about retirement, bowling and the fumble that nearly killed a man.
AN EX-TEAMMATE ONCE SAID OF YOU, "NFL RUNNING BACKS ARE USUALLY FAST, LIKE A CHEETAH. HE'S MORE OF AN ELEPHANT." AGREE? I would probably go with the terminology of cars--whereas most running backs are Ferraris or Porsches, I'm a Ford F-150 pickup. I'm consistent and crank up every time you put the key in. But I'm not going to win too many races. I'm durable but not the sexiest vehicle to drive.
YOU WERE READY TO RETIRE AFTER LAST SEASON, BUT QUARTERBACK BEN ROETHLISBERGER PERSUADED YOU TO STICK AROUND. HOW DID HE DO THAT? Well, during the AFC championship game last year, we were on the sideline together, watching the clock dwindle away, knowing we had lost a beautiful opportunity to go to the Super Bowl. With tears in our eyes and snot coming down and everything, he asked me to come back and promised he would get me to the Super Bowl. And I believed him.
SO ARE YOU RETIRING AFTER THE SUPER BOWL? I don't know yet. I'm going to take some time after the season is over and think about it. I would have to say at least 60/40 that this is my last year.
MOST PEOPLE MIGHT NOT KNOW THAT WITH 13,662 CAREER YARDS, YOU ARE FIFTH ON THE ALL-TIME RUSHING LIST. DO YOU FEEL OVERLOOKED? Yeah, I'm definitely underrated simply because I'm not flashy. I don't give you the 40-, 50-, 60-yd. run. I'm 4 yds. and a cloud of dust. Unfortunately, you don't make the highlight reels doing that. But you make the box scores.
YOUR HOMETOWN IS STRUGGLING. YET HERE COMES THE SUPER BOWL, WITH ALL ITS GLITZ, BEING PLAYED AT A STADIUM NAMED AFTER FORD, WHICH JUST CUT 30,000 JOBS. ANY MIXED FEELINGS ABOUT THAT AWKWARD TIMING? It's disappointing that Detroit is going through what it has to go through. You never want that to happen, especially at a time when you want to showcase the city. So it's difficult to handle. But it's home, and I'll always love home.
HOW DO YOU MAINTAIN THAT, ER, PHYSIQUE OF YOURS? Well, let me say this. They don't call me the Bus because I turn down a lot of, ah, food opportunities. But I'm on a diet right now. I mean, it's not the Atkins diet or anything like that. It's watching the portions, maybe.
IS IT TRUE THAT, WHILE GROWING UP ON THE MEAN STREETS OF DETROIT, THE BIG, BRUISING BUS ACTUALLY SPENT HIS FREE TIME BOWLING WITH HIS FAMILY? I bowled until high school--I even had a 300 game. My mother and father, they were very clever in the way they managed our time away from school. And so their way to keep an eye on us was to take us bowling. The weekends were consumed with bowling events, and so I didn't have time to get in too much trouble. It was a pretty clever trick.