Fans meet man who cleared path for 'The Bus'

August 05, 2007|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

HALFWAY - Jon Witman's career NFL rushing total sounds like a good day for Jerome "The Bus" Bettis - 37 carries for 129 yards.

But carrying the ball wasn't his job. As a blocking back, he crashed the line and wiped out defenders so Bettis, his Pittsburgh Steelers teammate, could gain yards.

While signing autographs Saturday at Valley Mall, Witman - who last played for the Steelers six years ago - said he misses the camaraderie of the team and the thrill of Sunday games, but not the rigor of training camp.

Witman was a Steeler from 1996, the year he was drafted out of Penn State, until 2001.

His presence was a thrill for fans who met him Saturday.

First in line were Kevin and Tarrah Weinus, who said they drove about two hours from St. Clair, Pa., to see Witman.


Kevin Weinus said the couple had just been to the team's training camp in Latrobe, Pa.

Wearing a Washington Redskins jersey, Billy Halbritter, 12, of Boonsboro, called his brief meeting with a former NFL player "awesome."

"I've never met one," Billy said. "I've just bought the cards off the Internet."

Rebecca Fauble of Brunswick, Md., was shopping for school supplies with her daughters, Taylor, 12, and Morgan, 7.

When she saw Witman, she hurried to buy a jersey with Steelers' quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's name on it so she could look presentable.

Witman agreed to pose for a picture with her.

"Oh, my God. I'm gonna have a stroke," she said.

Minutes later, Fauble was pressing buttons on her cell phone, trying to send the picture to her son, Brandon, 5, a Steelers enthusiast.

June and July are slow for football memorabilia and autographs, but NFL training camps started about a week ago, driving up interest, said Pete Ausiello of B&G Sports Memorabilia.

Now, it's "almost like Christmas straight through to the end of the season," said Ausiello, whose company books players for public events.

Andre Collins, who played for four NFL teams, including the Redskins, is scheduled to sign autographs today at the mall.

Last month, four Steelers scheduled to appear at Valley Mall - Anthony Smith, Ryan Clark, Larry Foote and James Harrison - didn't show up for a variety of reasons, leaving fans disappointed.

This time, Witman was there, giving autographs at no charge for whomever asked. In between, he signed his name about 300 times on merchandise for promoters who arranged his appearance.

He even was cordial to people wearing Dallas Cowboys clothing - Troy Summers of Chambersburg, Pa., and his 12-year-old son, Gary. Summers, who tries to get autographs through the mail, said he's a Penn State fan.

Chatting as he signed his name over and over, Witman, 35, of York, Pa., said he became an athletic fitness instructor when his NFL career ended and now runs a friend's mill.

He said his playing weight was 250 pounds, but he now weighs 210, thanks to less weight lifting and a smaller appetite.

If you go

What: Former Washington Redskins linebacker Andre Collins will sign autographs for $15 apiece

When: Today, 1 to 2:30 p.m.

Where: Valley Mall, Halfway

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