The American Century Championship’s 2015 field features six NFL Hall of Famers — and two more on the verge of enshrinement in Canton. Tim Brown and Jerome Bettis will join pro football’s elite next month after long waits — but not before trying to make a name for themselves on the links.
“You definitely feel that you’re in great company,” Bettis said of playing as part of a tournament field that includes Hall of Famers in multiple sports. “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.”
Brown was elected to the Hall of Fame after being named a finalist five times. The fifth-leading receiver in NFL history played 16 of his 17 years with the Los Angeles and Oakland Raiders, and finished his career with 14,734 receiving yards and 100 touchdown catches.
“It was great, man,” Brown said last week. “You know for me, the only tough years were the two years that they didn’t put in a receiver.”
Brown first became eligible for Canton in 2010, the year San Francisco 49ers’ receiver Jerry Rice was enshrined. Prior to Cris Carter’s induction in 2013 and Andre Reed making it last year, receivers were left out for two straight years.
“With Cris and Andre and myself out there, it was tough to take,” Brown said. “Everyone was saying are guys are Hall of Famers, but they went putting anybody in.”
Brown is the 23rd Raider to be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and takes pride in being able to represent the silver and black in Canton. After playing 15 games for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2004, the star receiver signed a one-day contract to retire as a Raider.
“Raider Nation has been incredible for me over the years,” Brown said. “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.”
Bettis was also eligible for induction in 2010, and finally got the Hall of Fame call last Janaury. “The Bus” spent the last decade of his 13-year career with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and ran for 13,662 yards and 91 touchdowns before retiring in 2005.
“I sent out 300 invitations — that was the number that I said to myself that that was it,” Bettis said. “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 from Pittsburgh — I sent out invitations all over the country.”
Bettis is happy to share the honor with his family — including his mother Gladys, who is recently cancer-free after being diagnosed with breast cancer last summer. Bettis’ mother and late father, Johnnie Jr., didn’t miss one of his 192 career games with the Rams and Steelers.
“It’s going to be a special weekend obviously for us because of the journey that we’ve taken,” Bettis said. “For them to have seen my entire career … 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.”
When Bettis is enshrined in Canton, it will be the second Hall of Fame he belongs to — he has been a member of the Celebrities Bowling Hall of Fame since 2006. Bettis began bowling with as a kid with his brother John Bettis III, a lifelong Steelers fan who will present him at the ceremony.
“When I came to Pittsburgh, it was like he was in heaven — and all he asked for was the first picture of them taking of me wearing the helmet. That was something he treasured for years and years,” Bettis said. “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.”
The former Notre Dame stars don’t have a special salute planned during ACC competition. Even though their careers with the Fighting Irish didn’t overlap, they both played under coach Lou Holtz — and celebrated together with Holtz shortly after receiving the good news.
“That was a special moment because Lou Holtz was a big part of both of our success,” Bettis said. “To have an opportunity to thank him together, that was pretty neat, special moment.”
Before making it to Canton, Brown and Bettis will showcase their golf game for ACC bragging rights beginning Friday — Brown is playing in the ACC for the 13th time while Bettis is making his ninth appearance. The tournament already includes NFL Hall of Famers Marcus Allen, John Elway, Marshall Faulk, Jerry Rice, Emmitt Smith and Steve Young.
“We can’t get on the football field,” Brown said. “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. 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.”