If you can't pass the Bettis family's three-for-10 test, don't bother trying to get on The Bus.
Jerome Bettis, the Pittsburgh Steeler running back who's coming home to Detroit for his first Super Bowl, has devised a system for distributing his 15 tickets to the game. Only the family members and friends who attended at least three of his games for each of the last 10 seasons are eligible. Everyone else need not apply.
Already on the list are his parents, John and Gladys; his brother, John Jr.; and his sister, Kimberly.
"I've got three kids too, and I'm not sure what we're going to do about them," John Jr. said.
Drawing such a hard line is difficult for the Bettises, among the NFL's most agreeable, accommodating families. Likewise, because Jerome's parents and siblings are happy to talk to reporters, Super Bowl week could be the busiest of their lives. To relieve some of the pressure on his parents, Bettis hired a New York public-relations firm to field their interview requests.
"I think it's a testament to my parents," his brother said. "We're an open bunch. What you see is what you get. A lot of people don't believe it until they meet us. It's like, 'Wow, you guys are nice.' It's not an act.
"We don't know any other way. We don't know the mean side."
John Jr. was given the week off from his job as a loan officer because the media crush was consuming so much of his time. He has appeared on three Detroit morning shows, and has lost count of the number of radio and newspaper reporters he has talked to.
"Everyone's coming up to me," he said. "I'm getting calls, the local paper sent a photographer out. So, as I'm selling loans and talking to clients, the young lady's taking pictures of me. Everyone's looking around thinking, 'What the heck's going on?' "
Today, John Jr. will take a reporter on a tour of the family's old neighborhood on the city's west side. It will be his fourth such tour in a week. As in the first three interviews, he will take a reporter to the family's former home, now a decrepit hull that hasn't been lived in since the Bettises sold it in 1993, the year Jerome turned pro.
"The guy we sold it to never did anything to it, and there was a fire," John Jr. said. "So the house is looking real bad. The neighborhood looks bad as well.
"You can still see the faded pink walls in my sister's room. And the room that Jerome and I had is completely buried; they took the drywall off the walls."
Before the Steelers made it to Super Bowl XL, John Jr., 37, hadn't been back to the house in years. In fact, he seldom was contacted by reporters about his famous brother, four years his junior. The family "flew under the radar," he said, traveling to most of the Steelers' games -- the parents go to all of them -- and meeting with Jerome beforehand, then flying home.
But his parents got a bit of TV airtime during the playoff game at Cincinnati, and a bit more in the divisional victory at Indianapolis. By the AFC championship game at Denver, John Jr. said, "it was just another level."
"We were walking around Invesco [Field in Denver]," John Jr. said, "and people were coming up and saying to my parents, 'How you doing, Mr. Bettis? How you doing, Mama Bus?' Someone said that they're the most popular sports parents on Earth."
Shortly before kickoff, CNN called John Jr. and asked whether his mom would be willing to wear a microphone during the championship game. She agreed. Then, after the Steelers won, ESPN called and asked whether the parents could come on the morning show "Cold Pizza."
"My parents said they could come Wednesday but not Tuesday," John Jr. said. "And they said, 'What about tonight?' So I took them to the airport, and they took an 11:30 flight to New York from Denver."
So far, none of the Bettises seem to be wearing thin on patience.
"We're enjoying it," John Jr. said. "It's 13 years in the making. Yes, we're tired. Yes, we're doing a lot. But it only lasts for a short time, so enjoy the ride."
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Next stop: Canton?
Jerome Bettis, who has played 10 of his 13 seasons in Pittsburgh, is fifth on the NFL's all-time rushing list and has eight 1,000-yard seasons:
Career rushing leaders:
*--* PLAYER YARDS SEASONS EMMITT SMITH 18,355 15 WALTER PAYTON 16,726 13 BARRY SANDERS 15,269 10 CURTIS MARTIN 14,101 11 JEROME BETTIS 13,662 13
Most seasons with 1,000 yards rushing:
*--* 11 EMMITT SMITH, 1991-2001 10 WALTER PAYTON, 1976-81, 1983-86 BARRY SANDERS, 1989-98 CURTIS MARTIN, 1995-97, 1998-2004 8 JEROME BETTIS, 1993-94, 1996-2001 FRANCO HARRIS, 1972, 1974-79, 1983 TONY DORSETT, 1977-81, 1983-85 THURMAN THOMAS, 1989-96