Football Hero Tackles Asthma

Jerome Bettis, the new Sunday Night Football in America commentator, talks about asthma, fitness, and staying healthy.

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD

You won your first Super Bowl ring with the Pittsburgh Steelers last year. Was it tough to retire, or great to leave the game on the highest of notes?
After playing for 13 years and winning in my hometown, it was easy to walk away. I have no regrets. My career dreams were fulfilled.

You are one of 20 million Americans who have asthma. Did you need to take special precautions before playing football?
Yes, I took a nebulizer treatment before every game and worked closely with my doctors and team physicians to come up with a healthy game plan. Plus, I take my meds daily.

You had a serious asthma attack on the field once, didn't you?
In 1997 I had such a terrible attack I almost died. I was playing in Jacksonville, Fla., it was late in the game, and the weather was really humid, which is bad for asthma. My lungs tightened and I had to be rescued -- I was given a nebulizer treatment on the sidelines. Back then my asthma was uncontrolled, I didn't take it seriously. I did from that point on.

What advice can you give to others dealing with the challenge of asthma, to keep them physically active?
Get educated. Work closely with your doctors to determine how in control your asthma is. The results will help you create your own game plan to keep you active.

Has your diet changed since retirement?
I'm a big guy. I like to eat. I have to eat less now. That's it.

What foods do you go for most, and what do you try to avoid?
My downfall is oatmeal raisin cookies. I stay away from shellfish because I'm allergic to it.

How about your training regimen? Have you taken up any new sports?
I just retired in February! I haven't had time to take up new sports! But I do train regularly to maintain my health.

You endured one of the most physically punishing careers on the planet. Do you have ongoing aches and pains from your career?
Every day. But the key is staying active, loose, and limber.

Do you have favorite techniques for pain management?
Stretching. You have to stretch. I played for 13 years because I'm flexible, I'm limber. Also, massage therapy is great.

How did you get your nickname, "The Bus"?
At Notre Dame whenever I scored I always dragged a few players with me into the end zone, so they used to chant it in the stands. It disappeared when I played for the Rams, but when I was traded to the Steelers, the broadcaster Myron Cope dug it up, and the nickname was reborn.

Tell us about the Jerome Bettis Bus Stops Here Foundation and its "Cyber Bus" program.
It's my charitable foundation. When I came to Pittsburgh the city gave me so much, and I wanted to give back. Its mission is to help underprivileged kids, to give them the same opportunities I had. We give out scholarships, offer mentorships and college prep classes, and the "Cyber Bus" program teaches computer literacy to kids who don't have access to computers.

Are you excited about your new gig as a commentator for NBC's Sunday Night Football in America?
Oh, yeah! We're covering the season's kickoff, and it's the Steelers vs. the Miami Dolphins, so I get to be there as [my former team] raises the championship banners.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years? How about 20?
Still positively influencing young people and working on asthma education. Twenty years? More of the same.

As a former running back, who seems fierce out on the field this season?
Willie Parker of the Pittsburgh Steelers, definitely.

And how do the Steelers look this season? Think they'll go all the way again in 2007 without you?
No question about that. No question at all.