Jerome Bettis probably wasn't the best player to ever wear a Steelers' uniform, but he may have been the most honest, and his new autobiography doesn't pull any punches.
In "The Bus: My Life in and Out of a Helmet," written with Gene Wojciechowski, Bettis relates his career with the Steelers in blunt terms.
He is particularly frank when it comes to his former coach, Bill Cowher. Bettis writes that he and Cowher had disagreements over the years, and that he was especially miffed in 2003 when he wasn't give a fair chance at winning the starting halfback job that went to Amos Zereoue.
Bettis writes: "I showed up at camp thinking it was going to be an open competition, but in reality, the choice had already been made. ... When Coach made the decision, he said it was based on a gut feeling. A gut feeling? I had something to prove. But it's hard to prove something if you're not given a fair shake."
Bettis, however, writes that most disagreements were "few and far between. I didn't always agree with his decisions or methods, but I never doubted his ability as a coach or as a leader."
A representative for Octagon, an agency in McLean, Va., that represents Cowher, said the former Steelers coach had no comment on the book. Bettis did not return phone calls Tuesday seeking comment about his accusations.
In the book, Bettis does admit he pulled off his own version of the Statue of Liberty play prior to the 2000 season. In 1999, Bettis damaged the cartilage in his knee during the season. The knee was not close to 100 percent, but he played through the injury.
When training camp started in 2000, his knee ached. Because he feared he would be cut if he came into camp with an injury, he had to "figure out a way I could get off my feet, get some rest, and do it without losing my job."
During a short-yardage situation in training camp, Bettis took some contact and "bang, went down in a heap. I sort of yelled out, grabbed my knee, and waited for the training staff. Man, did I do a nice job of acting."
Bettis said he wasn't faking the injury, just faking when he got it. "Otherwise, the Steelers would have had their reason to cut me and my salary."
Bettis had the cartilage cleaned up and went on to rush for 1,341 yards and eight touchdowns in 2000.
Cornerback Deshea Townsend, who has been with the Steelers since 1998, doesn't remember Bettis being injured that camp, but he understands why Bettis would concoct such a ruse.
"You get to a certain point, it could go through the mind of a player. I could see that," Townsend said yesterday. "Everybody can be caught by the Grim Reaper. Nobody is invincible to him."
Bettis also is critical of the Steelers for their handling of former quarterback Kordell Stewart. Of Stewart's failures, he writes "Part of the blame has to go to Coach Cowher. I'm not sure he ever knew what to do with Kordell."
Steelers guard Alan Faneca thinks there is some merit to Bettis' thoughts concerning Stewart.
"Mismanaged? I definitely don't think they gave him (Stewart) the firepower," Faneca said yesterday. "They really didn't help him out a lot at the receiver position, I would definitely say that. We drafted Troy (Edwards in the first round in 1999), but that definitely didn't work out the best for everybody. I think it could be termed that way a little bit."
Bettis also writes about the "magic" age of 30, when the Steelers seem to begin phasing out players. Faneca believes there is some truth to Bettis' statement.
"I think it's definitely a regard for the organization that they keep youth and try not to get locked down on guys that are in their twilight years," Faneca said.
But Townsend thinks it's just a matter of the constant need all NFL teams have of bringing in younger talent.
"The older you get, they're going to try to find younger guys to step in and play," Townsend said. "I don't know if they phase you out; it's just how their system is. They always have younger guys under you ready to play.
Bettis also believes the 2002 season -- when the team finished 10-5-1, and lost in the second round of the playoffs to the Tennessee Titans -- could have turned out better had the team not emphasized the passing game.
He writes: "I'll go to my grave believing that our reliance on a passing attack rather than a consistent running game is what hurt us the most that season. When you can't run the ball ... you can't control the clock and the tempo of the game. You become one dimensional, predictable."
Neither Townsend nor Faneca had a chance to review the book yesterday. Faneca says he probably won't read it, but only because "I won't have to read it. It will be read to me" by media members seeking reaction.
"I will do my part to support Jerome and buy the book and read it," Townsend said.
"The Bus" (Doubleday, $23.95) also includes anecdotes from Bettis' childhood in Detroit and his career at Notre Dame. The book goes on sale Sept. 4.