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On This Day: Steelers Trade for RB Jerome Bettis

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Steelers RB Jerome Bettis

On April 20, 1996 — 26 years ago to this date — the Pittsburgh Steelers made one of the most significant trades in their draft history in acquiring running back Jerome Bettis.

The Steelers traded their second-round pick in the 1996 NFL Draft and their fourth-round pick in the 1997 NFL Draft to the St. Louis Rams for Bettis and the Rams’ third-round pick in 1996.

Bettis, then 24, had been the Rams’ first-round pick in 1993 out of Notre Dame, and had immediate success. Bettis was named the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 1993 after rushing for 1,429 yards and scoring seven touchdowns.

His production slowed slightly in 1994, but still put up another 1,000-yard season. In 1995, the Rams moved to St. Louis and installed a new passing offense, which limited Bettis to 637 yards.

The Rams wanted to move Bettis to fullback, but offered him the option of seeking a trade, and Bettis chose the deal with the Steelers over one that would have sent him to the Houston Oilers instead.

Bettis had an immediate rebirth in Pittsburgh. He rushed for 1,431 yards and scored 11 touchdowns in 1996, his first of six consecutive 1,000-yard seasons with the Steelers. Bettis was named the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year that season and was a first-team All-Pro.

Bettis finished his career in 2005 with 13,662 yards, at that time fifth in NFL history and still the eighth-most ever. After Bettis’ final regular season, the Steelers won Super Bowl XL in his hometown of Detroit, Michigan, with Bettis retiring on stage as a champion. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2015.

RELATED: What’s your favorite Jerome Bettis memory?
While Bettis’ resurgence in Pittsburgh made the Rams’ end of the deal look poor in hindsight, they were did get two key pieces of what became a future championship team in tight end Ernie Conwell and tackle Ryan Tucker out of the draft picks they got for Bettis.

After a misstep with head coach Rich Brooks, who forced Bettis out, the Rams had success under a similar passing scheme run by Dick Vermeil, called the Greatest Show on Turf, with the much smaller Marshall Faulk playing the star running back role in St. Louis’ Super Bowl XXXIV-winning team in 1999.

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