The 1996 Draft: Thank You Lawrence Phillips
As I had stated before, Brooks and the St. Louis Front Office saw no use in keeping Bettis around for the 1996 season. Moreover, they had fallen in love with a psychopathic yet talented RB from Nebraska named Lawrence Phillips. In college, Phillips had assaulted his then-girlfriend and most teams really shied away from his other legal issues leading up to the Draft.
But as they always say: “Not every team needs to like a prospect for him to get drafted, just one.” Sadly for the Rams, that idea rang true when they saw Bettis as expendable and took a gamble by selecting Lawrence Phillips.
Small Price to Pay for a Future Hall of Famer
Coming off of their successful A.F.C. Championship winning season of 1995, the Steelers still had holes to fill. And as I discussed earlier, one of the big ones was the hole left at the Power Back spot.
The Rams of course were shopping Bettis at the time, and Pittsburgh’s then-G.M. (Director of Football Operations) Tom Donahoe inquired to see what the Rams’ asking price was. Luckily for the Steelers, the price tag was akin to something on sale at K-Mart.
How the Hell St. Louis settled on what they wanted from the Steelers in exchange for Bettis I will never fully understand, but this trade has to rank in the Top 5 of the most lopsided deals in N.F.L. history. Here is a breakdown:
St. Louis’ 1996 3rd Round Pick
Pittsburgh’s 1996 2nd Round Pick
Pittsburgh’s 1997 4th Round Pick
I know, I’m shaking my head too. To this day I’ll never know how those in St. Louis thought this was a fair or legitimate deal. Donahoe and the rest of Pittsburgh’s Front Office should be in jail for stealing from the Rams. But hey, it was St. Louis that traded Bettis, and it is their own fault that they put their faith and trust in Lawrence Phillips. In my opinion, the relationship between Bettis and Brooks/Front Office must have been really ugly for St. Louis to move him for the aforementioned price. There is no fathomable way that St. Louis would have let him go for that kind of compensation under any sort of scenario. Period.
Those of us in “Steeler Nation” know what happened with Bettis in the 10 years following the trade, so I’ll keep this section relatively brief by giving a short statistical breakdown of Bettis’ career in Pittsburgh just to illustrate how awesome he indeed was:
Bettis in Pittsburgh (1996-2005)
10,571 Yards Rushing
80 Total TD’s (78 Rush, 2 Receiving)
4x Pro Bowl Selection (’96, ’97, ’01, ’04)
Super Bowl XL Champion
Not only did Bettis have a great career in Pittsburgh, he got a measure of revenge against the Rams in 1996 as well. Bettis rushed for 129 yards and TD’s against St. Louis when the teams met at Three Rivers Stadium that very season.
While Jerome’s role may have been more limited in his twilight years (except for his awesome 2004 campaign with 941 yards rushing and 13 TD’s), Bettis was a consummate Pro and is now likely on his way to the Hall of Fame.
Lawrence Phillips/Rams Woes:
632 and 633 Rushing Yards by Phillips in ’96 and ’97
Phillips cut before ’97 season ended
Rams record 1996-1998: 15-33
Phillips was out of the N.F.L. by 2000, and even though he had a decent career in Canada, he is widely considered one of the biggest “Draft Busts” in N.F.L. history. Too add further salt in the Rams’ wounds, Phillips’ bad behavior continued long after after his career was over.
In 2005, Phillips tried to run over a group of teenagers with his car. The dude was hell-bent on getting revenge on them after a pickup basketball game. This of course was at a time where Lawrence was also wanted by the San Diego County Police Department for domestic abuse. Phillips was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2008 and finally sentenced to 31 total in 2009 after being convicted on the domestic abuse counts.
Had St. Louis not gotten Marshall Faulk in another draft day trade in 1999, the trade of Bettis really could have destroyed their franchise. Nevertheless, dumping Bettis kept the Rams in N.F.L. purgatory for another 3 year period while the Steelers hit the jackpot with Jerome.
Well I certainly hoped that you the readers enjoyed my article. It’s always nice to take a look back and see how fortunate the Steelers have been over the last two decades because they have had some intelligent people in their Front Office that have taken sane yet tactical steps to improve the franchise.
Now it’s time to root on our boys in the Black & Gold on Christmas Eve. Just remember, without the Rams stupidity/generosity, the Steelers would not be where they are today. So take some time to appreciate what a momentous move that the acquisition of Bettis actually was. I hope you all have a safe and happy holiday season, and Go Steelers!
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