SOUTH BEND – Jerome Bettis has one more special Notre Dame Stadium moment left in him.
Perhaps the most special.
The current Notre Dame student and Pro Football Hall of Famer will walk across the graduation stage Sunday morning and receive his diploma 28 years after leaving school to pursue his NFL dream.
Bettis, 50, was back in South Bend this past semester completing his degree requirements for the Mendoza School of Business. He also fulfilled a promise to his mother.
“I promised her years ago, sitting in Coach (Lou) Holtz’s office, that I would come back and graduate,” Bettis said on the Pod of Gold podcast last month. “So, I owe that to her as well.”
After a spectacular three years in the Irish backfield – most notably with quarterback Rick Mirer and tailback Reggie Brooks – Holtz and Bettis agreed that it was time for him to head to the NFL.
After a Hall of Fame career with the Los Angeles Rams and Pittsburgh Steelers, his promise remained, as did the example Bettis wanted to set for his own children who are both in high school.
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“Having children now, I understand how important it is,” he said. “To be a college graduate, I want my children to understand how important that is.”
After leaving Notre Dame following the 1992 season, Bettis was drafted 10th overall by the Rams and won NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year after a 1,429-yard, seven touchdown season.
Bettis was traded to the Steelers in 1996 and continued to be a battering ram. His final game was Super Bowl XL (40) 10 years later where the Steelers defeated the Seattle Seahawks in Detroit, Bettis’ hometown.
He finished his career with 13,662 yards (eighth most in NFL History) and 91 rushing touchdowns (11th in NFL history).
Since returning to Notre Dame, Bettis participated in group projects, attended basketball games, and helped with the football team under first-year head coach Marcus Freeman. He experienced many activities that college students get to do. Something he was unable to do his first go-around while providing help to anyone who asked.
“If I can pay it forward and provide any kind of information that’s going to help, that’s what I want to do,” Bettis said. “This is a program I love. It’s responsible for giving me the opportunity to get to where I was able to get. So had I not played here had I not had the success here I wouldn’t be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame . “
Bettis says he will use the knowledge he learned in the classroom and apply it to his many businesses.
Bettis was only a couple of short credits when he declared for the draft in 1993. He now closes that chapter of his life in 2022.
“I am so excited,” Bettis explained. “It’s a culmination of years and years of wanting to get it done. Having started something and being able to now complete that task is a big point of emphasis for me.”