Blue and Gold Illustrated

June-July 2022

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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8 JUNE/JULY 2022 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY PATRICK ENGEL J erome Bettis' last pre-graduation celeb- rity appearance around Notre Dame's campus this spring might be the starkest contrast to his initial plan for the final se- mester of college he deferred 29 years. One late April morning, Bettis donned a "Ghostbusters" costume with Peyton and Eli Manning as part of a scene for an upcoming "Peyton's Places" parody. The three NFL legends with a combined five Super Bowl rings drew a student crowd several rows deep as they shot the scenes on Notre Dame's campus. Eli tweeted a picture of all three in full "Ghostbusters" garb with no context except a promise to explain it later. What a wonderfully absurd chapter to add to a senior year for the ages. Bettis wrung every ounce of enjoyment out of a four-month stop in South Bend to finish the degree in business he paused in 1993 to pursue an NFL career. It is, though, decidedly not what Bet- tis envisioned when he resumed courses Jan. 10, nearly three decades after the last time he squeezed himself into a desk in a Notre Dame classroom. He did not come back to school to make up for the victory lap he never took as an Irish football player. Instead, the Hall of Fame running back and former Notre Dame star wanted to go as incognito as possible. Wishful thinking for a 50-year-old student with a widely known name who still closely resembles the 255-pound bowling ball he was on the field? Abso- lutely. But it was Bettis' goal nonetheless. His very first class blew it up. "It's so funny because when I first got here, I said to myself I'm going to stay out of the way, take classes, hopefully just blend in," Bettis said. "That was the plan. The first class I go to, I sat in the front row, nobody could see me, everybody's look- ing at the professor and I'm in the corner thinking, 'Perfect.' Hat down, I'm good. "The first professor in the first class says, 'We're going to go around, tell me your name, where you're from and a little bit about you.' I'm like, 'S---, I'm not going to get by.'" Bettis reluctantly stated his name. He revealed he played in the NFL and came back to finish his degree. Word of his presence leaked out and reached Marcus Freeman's office within hours. "The same day, Coach Freeman texts me and says, 'I heard you're on campus,'" Bettis said. "'Give me a call. Come by.' "I knew from the first day I was done." That evening, Bettis tweeted a video letting the world know he was back. Over the next four months, he became a sounding board for Freeman and Notre Dame players, a visible student body presence and a willing helping hand. Three weeks into the semester, he was riling up the basketball student section before a Jan. 31 game against Duke. He attended the Bengal Bouts. He crashed a UNDER THE DOME SENIOR YEAR FOR THE AGES Jerome Bettis finds great rewards in delayed final semester at Notre Dame Bettis returned to Notre Dame this spring to complete his degree nearly 30 years after he left school early for the NFL. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME ATHLETICS

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