In the moments after the Steelers beat the Denver Broncos to advance to Super Bowl XL in Detroit, John Bettis and his wife, Gladys, finally got to see their son when he emerged from the stadium to board the team bus.
After hugging his mom, Jerome Bettis turned and hugged his dad, who had attended nearly every one of his son's football games since he was 14.
"Let's go home," John Bettis said to Jerome.
They were all going home, to Detroit, where Jerome grew up, to watch the youngest of their three children end his prolific National Football League career in storybook style.
Less than 10 months after watching his son bask in his finest moment, John Bettis died yesterday of an apparent heart attack while driving home after working out at a gym in West Bloomfield, Mich., a suburb of Detroit. He was 61.
Jahmal Dokes, a longtime family friend who serves as Jerome Bettis' business manager, said John Bettis was discovered slumped over the steering wheel of his SUV after he apparently pulled his car off the road.
According to WIDV-TV in Detroit, a doctor, nurse and hospital technician who discovered Mr. Bettis pulled him from the vehicle and tried to revive him using CPR. Police said Mr. Bettis had no pulse when they arrived and transported him to Huron Valley Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
John Bettis had retired last year after working 31 years as chief electrical inspector for the city of Detroit. He and his wife were living in a home on the second fairway at Detroit Golf Club their son bought them when he signed his first NFL contract with the Los Angeles Rams in 1993.
"He was leaving the gym," said Dokes, who has known the Bettis family for 25 years. "He was very active and he was enjoying his retirement."
Jerome Bettis could not be reached for comment. He was out of town when he learned of his father's death and headed immediately for Detroit.
The Bettis family released a statement asking that their privacy be respected "during this sad time."
"Just a fun-loving, caring dad and family man," Dokes said. "He always had a positive outlook on every situation. He was the man his boys, and his daughter, looked up to."
In addition to his wife and two sons, John Bettis is also survived by a daughter, Kimberly, 39.
"The other guys looked at him as the mean dad, but he was the one they called when they got in trouble or ended up in jail," his son, John, 37, said in a Feb. 3 story in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "They didn't have a dad of their own to call."
One of John Bettis' grandest moments came when his son helped the Steelers win the Super Bowl in the Bettises' hometown. He and his wife were such an integral part of Jerome Bettis' life they even attended the Super Bowl parade in Pittsburgh.
When Jerome Bettis left home to attend Notre Dame, his father told him something he never forgot. The message is included in Jerome's new book, "Driving Home."
"I took him aside and told him this: 'Son, I don't have much to give you except a name, but it's a clean name. It's never been on a police blotter, and it's never caused any trouble. See that you take care of it.' "
Published in Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on November 29, 2006