Sat, Dec 11, 2004 - Page 19 News List

Martin, Bettis to face off

AP , HEMPSTEAD, NEW YORK

Steelers coach Bill Cowher, left, talks with running back Jerome Bettis late in the Steeler's 24-10 win over the Browns on Nov. 14. Bettis rand for 103 yards and two TDs.

PHOTO: AP

Good friends Curtis Martin and Jerome Bettis have the opportunity to go over 13,000 career yards rushing in the same game when the New York Jets meet the Pittsburgh Steelers in a big NFL matchup on Sunday.

For Martin, it hardly matters if they reach the milestone together or that he will be playing in his hometown. But he would love to take Bettis on in the tenpin bowling lanes for the first time.

Bettis is an avid bowler, with a lifetime average of better than 200. He has a perfect game under his belt, too. Martin, whose hobbies include chess, says about his bowling prowess: "I'm all right, too."

Is there anything these men do badly?

Both have continued their climb up the NFL rushing charts this year. Bettis is fifth all-time with 12,980 yards, just six ahead of Martin's 12,974. Only four other players have topped 13,000: Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton, Barry Sanders and Eric Dickerson; the last three are in the Hall of Fame.

Bettis, a 12-year veteran, has seen his playing time diminish while taking a back seat to Duce Staley, but his contributions are far from over. While Staley was out with a hamstring injury, Bettis racked up four straight 100-yard games for Pittsburgh.

Meanwhile, Martin keeps rolling. The 10-year veteran has 1,305 yards so far, joining Sanders as the only players to start their careers with 10 straight 1,000 yard seasons. Martin is on pace to break his career high of 1,513 yards set in 2001, and his 12 touchdowns are his most since 1996, when he had 17 (14 rushing, three receiving).

Because Bettis is back to his reserve role and Martin gets more carries, it seems inevitable Martin will pass his friend for good on the career list, maybe this weekend.

"It looks like it, unless my defense can do an outstanding job," Bettis said with a chuckle. "Hopefully, I can get those guys to step up and shut him down."

Both backs admire what the other has accomplished. The 115kg Bettis knocks people over with his brute strength, earning his nickname of the Bus. The 94.5kg Martin is smaller and faster, but just as physical.

Bettis sees similarities between the two, calling Martin a 'gladiator' because he has taken so much punishment throughout the years. So whether they're bowling over linebackers or rolling some rocks, count on Curtis and Jerome to find the lane.

"In the sense he's physical and runs in between the tackles well, I think is very similar," Bettis said. "He's a durable, dependable and reliable running back, and that's what you want -- and, unfortunately, you don't find too many of them around."

Martin also heaped praise on Bettis, whom rookie Jets linebacker Jonathan Vilma called "just one of those freaks of nature, a real gifted athlete to be able to move like that at such a big width."

"What I like about him is he's a big guy, but he's light on his feet," said Martin, whose mother and about 40 friends will be at the game. "You usually don't see that combination. That's what I appreciate about his running style more so than anything else."

Jets coach Herman Edwards appreciates how Bettis handled the situation this season when Staley became the starter.

"He wasn't griping about it. He was a pro," Edwards said. "That's what you like about guys like that. When you're a guy with his status, and all of a sudden you bring another guy in, you could make some waves if you like. But he understands what's important. It's about winning."

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