The capacity crowd at Tom Benson Stadium -- most of them clad in some version of black-and-gold -- roared as Bettis made his way down the red carpet, his enshrinement serving as the final destination for a player who embodied the blue-collar mentality of the city and the franchise he helped lead to a fifth Super Bowl title in 2006.
The adulation surrounding Bettis' induction proved fitting on a night so many saw their lengthy waits to join football's most exclusive club come to an end.
Only linebacker Junior Seau was elected in his first year on the ballot. For the rest, Saturday night was a mixture of relief, joy and wonder.
Defensive end Charles Haley cracked jokes between heartfelt disclosures of his battle with depression. Minnesota Vikings center Mick Tingelhoff didn't say a word, instead letting Hall of Fame teammate Fran Tarkenton speak for him shortly after Tingelhoff's bust was unveiled.
"He's waited 37 years to get to the Hall of Fame," Tarkenton said as thousands rose to their feet in appreciation.
Kansas City guard Will Shields spoke with the same thoughtfulness that made him one of the best linemen of his generation during a standout career with the Chiefs.
Contributors Bill Polian and Ron Wolf paid tribute to the icons who paved the way for their success. Wide receiver Tim Brown led chants of "Rai-ders! Rai-ders!" in a joyous moment more than a decade after the last of his 1,094 receptions.
Haley, the only player in NFL history with five Super Bowl rings, gave a rousing, freewheeling speech that included a good-natured jabs at everyone from former San Francisco owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr. to Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. DeBartolo called the decision to trade Haley to Dallas in 1992 his biggest mistake during his tenure.
Haley didn't disagree, though he also made sure to pay emotional tribute to the men who signed his paychecks. That included a touching nod to Jones, who organized a bone marrow drive when Haley's daughter Brianna was diagnosed with leukemia.
While Haley retired after the 1999 season with 100½ sacks and a fistful of championships. Yet he spent the better part of a decade watching former teammates get the call while his phone remained silent.
He blamed it partly on his own struggle with his inner demons. Haley said he was a "22-year-old man with a 16-year-old inside of me screaming for help and I would not ask for it" when he arrived in the NFL in 1986.
Even as he helped the 49ers win a pair of Super Bowls before earning three more with Dallas, Haley couldn't seem to shake the idea that something was wrong, something he couldn't quite articulate.
"My life spiraled out of control for years, for years," Haley said. "But today, guys, I am getting back into the locker room, to my teammates and tell them guys the mistakes that I've made and that the only way you can grow is that you've got to ask for help."
Wolf, who hired Mike Holmgren and traded for Brett Favre shortly after taking over in 1991, led off by praising the core that restored the Packers to legitimacy after two decades of mediocrity.
"There was always a threat to players of other teams that if they didn't shape up, they would be traded to Green Bay," Wolf said. "We worked hard to eliminate that stigma."
Green Bay won its first Super Bowl in nearly 30 years in 1997 when Favre guided the Packers by New England. Wolf, who spent 23 years working for the Raiders, called owner Al Davis a "remarkable teacher" who gave him a chance to grow from a scout scouring for prospects into one of the most respected team builders of his generation.
Polian praised Hall of Fame coach Marv Levy for helping him resurrect the Bills after Polian took over as general manager in 1984. The two men put together the foundation of a team that made four straight Super Bowl appearances behind Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas and Andre Reed, all of whom Polian joined in the Hall. Polian finally won a championship with Indianapolis and Peyton Manning, though Polian couldn't help but wonder how a "kid from the Bronx" ended up in Canton.
There was no wondering for Bettis, who wasn't shy about his desire to follow in the footsteps of other Steeler greats who guided the team to greatness.
Many of them were on hand to watch Bettis join them, including Franco Harris, Joe Greene, Mel Blount and Lynn Swann. Several of Bettis' former teammates, including quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and wide receiver Hines Ward, watched from in front of the stage as the Hall's doors finally opened for the player known simply as "The Bus."