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Bettis to return to Pittsburgh

PITTSBURGH (Feb. 26, 2005) -- The Pittsburgh Steelers aren't ready to park the Bus just yet.

Jerome Bettis, who weighed retiring after the Steelers lost in the AFC Championship Game last month, agreed to another pay cut and will play for at least one more season.

This is the second consecutive season the NFL's No. 5 career rusher has accepted a substantial pay cut to stay in Pittsburgh.

After the Steelers signed Duce Staley a year ago, Bettis agreed to cut his salary by $2.7 million to remain in Pittsburgh as a backup. Bettis went on to enjoy a comeback season as the Steelers went 16-2, gaining at least 100 yards in all but one of seven starts while making the Pro Bowl for the sixth time after rushing for 941 yards.

"We're elated the deal worked out," Lamont Smith, one of Bettis' agents, said. "We anticipate the Steelers will make another run at the Super Bowl and that is Jerome's motivation to come back, to play in the Super Bowl."

There's additional incentive, too, for a player who has played in three losing AFC championship games in Pittsburgh -- the Super Bowl will be played next February in Detroit, Bettis' hometown.

Bettis, who recently turned 33, was traded to Pittsburgh in April 1996 after falling out of favor in St. Louis despite two 1,000-yard seasons in three years there. His power running style and fitting nickname -- the Bus -- quickly made him a fan favorite in Pittsburgh, which has traditionally prized a strong running game.

The 255-pound Bettis gained at least 1,000 yards in each of his first six Steelers seasons -- 1,665 as they reached the AFC championship game in the 1997 season before losing to Denver. He didn't finish below 1,000 yards until injuries limited him to 666 yards in 2002, when Tommy Maddox beat out Kordell Stewart at quarterback and the Steelers made a brief transition to a pass-heavy offense.

Bettis began each of the last two seasons as a backup, to Amos Zereoue in 2003 and Staley in 2004, only to win back his starting job each time. Though he gained 811 yards in 2003, he enjoyed a career resurgence last season to boost his career yardage to 13,295.

Bettis might have missed a ninth 1,000-yard season in 13 years only because he sat out a meaningless Jan. 2 game at Buffalo with a sore ankle.

Bettis' streak of 100-yard starts ended with a 41-27 loss to New England in the AFC championship game. Two days later, wide receiver Hines Ward broke into tears when he talked about Bettis possibly retiring without playing in the Super Bowl.

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