The Pittsburgh Steelers avoided yet another free-agent defection, signing Jerome Bettis to a four-year contract Monday that makes him the NFL’s third highest-paid running back.
Bettis’ deal is worth slightly more than $14 million and includes a signing bonus of about $4 million. The only NFL running backs making more are Dallas’ Emmitt Smith and Detroit’s Barry Sanders, paid about $4 million each last season.
“This is the team for me,” Bettis said in Pittsburgh. “I got nervous when I thought I might have to go somewhere else.”
Bettis, the league’s No. 3 rusher with 1,431 yards in his first season in Pittsburgh, is the first starter to re-sign with the Steelers in the five years of NFL free agency.
“You want to keep your best people, and they don’t come any better than Jerome Bettis,” Steeler Coach Bill Cowher said. “He’s a guy we wanted to keep.”
Until Bettis, the Steelers had lost 20 of their possible 22 free agents, re-signing only backups Fred McAfee and Jerry Olsavsky.
Pittsburgh, however, lost cornerback Willie Williams to Seattle, only two days after losing linebacker Chad Brown to the Seahawks. Pro Bowl cornerback Rod Woodson could leave next.
Williams, 26, agreed to an $8.7 million, four-year contract with Seattle, a deal that includes a $3 million signing bonus.
A day after running back Lawrence Phillips was arrested on disorderly conduct charges, new St. Louis Ram General Manager and Coach Dick Vermeil said that he doesn’t believe he can count on last year’s first-round draft pick, but added that the organization is intent on helping Phillips, but is prepared to move on without him.
“The Rams are going to line up and play with or without Lawrence Phillips, OK,” said Vermeil, also irked that Phillips hadn’t contacted the team.
Some 10,000 fans attended a rally at San Diego’s Jack Murphy Stadium to show support of the $78-million stadium expansion project. Later this week, a judge will rule on the legality of the project.
Readers voted nearly two-to-one against approving a $100-million bond to help the 49ers finance a new stadium, according to an informal poll done by the San Francisco Examiner. About 1,192 people voted yes, while 2,032 voted no.
A few days after signing quarterback Jeff George, the Oakland Raiders traded backup quarterback Billy Joe Hobert to the Buffalo Bills for an undisclosed draft choice. Hobert, 26, will compete with Todd Collins, who was Jim Kelly’s backup for the last two years, for the starting job. . . . Quarterback Heath Shuler, a former No. 1 draft choice who lost his starting job for Washington to Gus Frerotte, was to try out today with the Kansas City Chiefs. . . . The Chiefs announced they have hired San Francisco 49er assistant Mike Solari as their offensive line coach. He replaces Art Shell, who left to join Dan Reeves’ staff at Atlanta. . . . The Carolina Panthers released veteran offensive tackle Mark Dennis.
In order to shorten overtime games, the NCAA Football Rules Committee has approved a rule which will require teams to attempt two-point conversions after the second overtime, said Arizona Coach Dick Tomey, a member of the committee. . . . Defensive lineman Rory Gallman and linebacker Tim Betts have been kicked off the South Carolina team for unspecified violations of team rules.
Monica Seles and Lindsay Davenport, the two highest-ranking American players, were not on the defending champion U.S. Fed Cup team chosen by captain Martina Navratilova.
Instead, Navratilova selected Mary Joe Fernandez, Gigi Fernandez, Chanda Rubin and Kimberly Po to face the Netherlands in the first round March 1-2 at Haarlem, Netherlands.
Seles, ranked sixth in the world, was unavailable and Davenport, ranked eighth, reportedly has had personality problems with Navratilova and her former doubles partner, Mary Joe Fernandez.
Irish swimmer Michelle Smith, who won three gold medals and a bronze at the Atlanta Olympics amid rumors of steroid use, faces a possible four-year ban if she again fails to make herself available for drug testing as she did in October in Ireland, the sport’s world governing body confirmed in London. Smith’s attorney, Peter Lennon, said she missed the test because of another commitment.
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JEROME BETTIS IN 1996 C1 (Southland Edition)10 Number of 100-yard games, including five in a row.
11 Number of touchdowns.
25 His age.
35 Percentage of Steelers’ total yardage which he accounted for.
637 His rushing yardage in his final season with the Rams before coming to the Steelers.
1,431 Rushing yardage which ranked third in the NFL in 1996, second all-time for the Steelers and was a personal best.