Honesty is Bus'policy on the air

Published September 1, 2006

It's one of the intractable truths in broadcasting: The ex-coaches and players who end up as the best analysts are the ones who, once they step behind the mike or into the booth, understand that their main - perhaps only - allegiance is to the viewers.

With that in mind, NBC might have unearthed a gem in Jerome Bettis, who within months after his retirement from the Super Bowl-winning Pittsburgh Steelers already seems supremely comfortable talking publicly about the people he once worked with.

During his official debut with the network two weeks ago at the Cincinnati-Washington preseason game, Bettis more or less threw his ex-coach under the Bus, saying on air that he thinks "this is the last year" for Bill Cowher. "I talked to him after the season was over and I really think he was really a different coach, a different guy," Bettis said.

Cowher denied that Bettis had inside information, said he hadn't talked much to his former running back in months and shrugged off any questions about his future with the Steelers. Bettis was unapologetic, saying it was merely his "opinion" and one he was not going to back off from.

Odds are that was just a preview of what viewers can expect from Bettis, who retired as the No. 5 NFL career rusher and will sit alongside broadcasting luminaries Bob Costas and Cris Collinsworth as an analyst for NBC's Sunday night pregame studio show, Football Night in America. And no, he does not seem intimidated.

"It won't be difficult at all," Bettis said when he was hired by the network. "The nature of this business is to call it as you see it. If you look at my track record in Pittsburgh, I've always told the truth. Honesty is the best policy."

Here's how Bettis called it in a teleconference Thursday with Collins-worth, who appeared rather amused by his new colleague:

On the Steelers and how they will fare without him: "You've got a lot of guys that are comfortable in that (leadership) role, so (that) I don't think is going to be an issue. Maybe a bigger issue is who is going to replace the Bus, and that's what they're in the process of trying to figure out."

On the Dolphins, picked by Sports Illustrated to reach the Super Bowl: "I don't see Miami in the Super Bowl. I think they fall apart late in the season with the age and injuries. . . . I see them as a possible playoff team. . . . but with (Daunte) Culpepper and his (knee) injury, I think it's, 'Can he withstand 16 weeks?' "

On whether Cowher might be mad at him: "I don't think I'm in the doghouse. (I said) what I believe. It's a different relationship from a player-coach relationship. . . . We talked about it and he told me what he felt about it and I told him what I felt about it, so I don't think it's an issue. (Laughs.) If I was a player still, it'd be an issue."

Bettis will be on hand Thursday for NBC's first regular-season NFL broadcast in more than eight years, as the Steelers host Miami. On Sept. 10, he joins Costas, Collinsworth and Sterling Sharpe in the studio for the pregame show before Indianapolis faces the New York Giants in the battle of the Manning brothers.

Sometime in the fall, he will take time to appear in a guest spot on NBC's comedy, The Office. After such an intriguing start, it seems a safe bet that is the closest Bettis will ever get to a 9-to-5 job.