Bettis Says He Faked Injury to Keep Steelers From Cutting Him

PITTSBURGH (AP) - Jerome Bettis, the No. 5 rusher in NFL history, claims in a new book that he faked a knee injury during training camp in 2000 so the Pittsburgh Steelers wouldn't cut him and install Richard Huntley as the starter.

Bettis was worried offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride favored Huntley over him and the Steelers were ready to let Bettis go, partly so they wouldn't have to give him a new contract. Huntley had just signed a $4 million, three-year contract.

"Man, did I do a nice job of acting," Bettis wrote in the book, "The Bus: My Life in and Out of a Helmet." "The thing is, I wasn't faking that I had an injury. I was just faking that the injury happened on that short-yardage play. I had to fool the coaches and the team's medical department into thinking the injury had occurred on that play. Otherwise, the Steelers would have had their reason to cut me and my salary."

Teams cannot cut an injured player during camp unless they reach an injury settlement with him.

"I effectively negated any funny business they were trying to pull on me," Bettis wrote in the book. "I took the pressure off a head coach (Bill Cowher) who was probably trying to get rid of me."

Bettis' recollection may be more anecdotal than fast-based.

While Bettis was held out early in that 2000 camp because of a hip injury, his knee injury - the one Bettis said he faked - was not revealed until later in camp. Huntley had a hamstring injury at the time and played in only one preseason game, gaining 13 yards.

Bettis didn't disclose how a player who was so injured that he missed all but a few days of camp could beat Bettis out of a job and force the Steelers to release him.

An MRI test by the Steelers during that camp revealed Bettis, who had undergone knee surgery the year before, had blood swelling behind his kneecap as a result of a hit during practice.

Bettis did not write in the book, co-written with Gene Wojciechowski, how a fresh injury that supposedly didn't occur could cause such test results. He did write that he showed up to camp with a knee problem that had occurred the season before.

Bettis, who had worked out extensively during the offseason before that camp, said at the time he was very relieved the injury wasn't worse.

"I was worried about it initially. The MRI showed a bone bruise," Bettis said. "That's when the blood came in. That was refreshing for me because whenever you're dealing with a knee and swelling, you always assume the worst. I assumed the worst, but it tuned out not to be the case."

Bettis would go on to rush for 1,341 yards that season and later signed a $30 million contract with the Steelers. Huntley gained only 217 yards and was cut after that season, hooking on with Carolina in 2001.

Bettis also wrote that the Steelers were never sold on Kordell Stewart as their quarterback - despite giving him a $27 million, five-year contract before they moved into Heinz Field in 2001 - and did everything possible to hand the job to Tommy Maddox.

In the book, Bettis said Stewart had become too rich for them as he entered the last year of his contract in 2002 and they wanted him out.

"Anybody who tells you money isn't a factor in personnel decisions doesn't know the NFL," Bettis wrote. "I can't prove it, but in my heart I really believe that Kordell was set up for failure that season."

Bettis was incorrect in writing that Stewart's contract was up that season; the deal ran through 2003.

Stewart had led the Steelers to a 13-3 record the season before and was chosen as the team MVP but played poorly in the playoffs, and that sub-par play and a visible lack of confidence carried into the 2002 season.

With Stewart at quarterback, the Steelers lost their first two games to New England (30-14) and Oakland (30-17) and were on the verge of losing a third, to Cleveland, when Cowher inserted Maddox late in the second half with Pittsburgh down 13-6. Maddox rallied the Steelers to a 16-13 overtime victory and would go on to start the rest of that season and in 2003, except for several games when he was hurt.

Stewart played so poorly at the start of 2002 that some teammates felt the team's season would be lost if he remained the starter. After Stewart was benched, there was no visible sentiment on that team that he should be reinstated.

Bettis also wrote that the Steelers became too reliant on the pass with Maddox, one reason they didn't go further in the 2002 playoffs; that he had an undisclosed appendectomy before the 1999 season; and that he became incensed when Steelers fans booed him early in the 2004 season for replacing Duce Staley in goal-line situations.