A Jerome Bettis jersey was the first Rams jersey I ever owned.
After the Rams drafted Bettis with the 10th overall selection in the first round of the 1993 NFL Draft, I called the Foot Locker nearest to where I grew up in north Dallas to make sure they'd be able to get one. A week later, I had my first Rams jersey courtesy of the Bus.
Jerome Bettis' time with the Rams was much more short-lived than the jersey I still have in a bottom drawer chez moi. After two years in Los Angeles, Bettis moved with the franchise for the 1995 season, the first in St. Louis. After a statistically disappointing season in then head coach Rich Brooks' pass-heavy offense, Bettis was asked whether he preferred to move to fullback or seek a trade. Opting for the latter, the Rams picked up two draft picks from the Pittsburgh Steelers for Bettis.
The Rams received the Steelers' 1996 NFL Draft second round pick, the 59th overall, which they used to draft TE Ernie Conwell as well as their 1997 NFL Draft fourth round pick. The Rams packaged that pick with a pair of sixth-rounders in a deal to move up nine slots to take OT Ryan Tucker. Both Tucker and Conwell would feature for the Rams in the following years before finishing their careers elsewhere.
Bettis, on the other hand, spent an illustrious decade in Pittsburgh gaining more than 10,000 yards with the Steelers, more than 75 touchdowns while helping them make the playoffs six times in those 10 years including a Super Bowl championship in his final year.
What's really interesting, in retrospect, is considering the path Bettis' trade sent the Rams on as regards the running back position.
With Bettis moved to Pittsburgh through the 1996 NFL Draft, the Rams selected RB Lawrence Philips. Suffice to say, it didn't work. The Rams rode Philiips for two years before going to the ultimate running back by committee in 1998 with five different backs taking up 40 attempts or more: Robert Holcombe, June Henley, Jerald Moore, Amp Lee and Greg Hill.
The desperation to find something at the position led the Rams to trade for Marshall Faulk in 1999. Faulk's career placed him in the Hall of Fame in 2011 and helped activate the Greatest Show on Turf. Faulk's career denouement led to the Rams selection of Steven Jackson in the 2004 NFL Draft.
Though Bettis was ranked fifth on the all-time rushing yards list at the time of his retirement, he's currently sitting at sixth with 13,662 yards. Faulk sits at 10th with 12,279 yards while AxJax is 16th with 11,388 yards. That's a hell of a run the Rams have been on at running back (insert your Todd Gurley take here, as he was drafted at the same point in the first round, 10th, that Bettis was).
Tonight, on the precipice of the 2015 NFL season, Jerome Bettis will be inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame. His career certainly won't be remembered for his time with the Rams primarily, but the legacy his departure left resonates even today.