Former Steelers Fullback, ‘Bus Driver’ Dies at 52

Tim Lester

Getty Running back Tim Lester of the Pittsburgh Steelers runs into the arms of linebacker Kevin Hardy of the Jacksonville Jaguars during a 24-9 loss to the Jaguars at Jacksonville Stadium in September 1996.

Just a few weeks after the death of Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Famer Kevin Greene, another stalwart from the 1990s Steelers has died. On Tuesday, Eastern Kentucky University announced the death of former Steelers fullback Tim Lester at the age of 52.

‘The Bus Driver’ Paved the Way for Jerome Bettis

Lester was a 10th-round draft choice of the Los Angeles Rams in 1992 (No. 255 overall). He played three seasons with the Rams, and in the last two of those seasons, he blocked for Hall of Fame running back Jerome “The Bus” Bettis, who Los Angeles drafted in the first round in 1993.

Lester moved on to the Steelers in 1995, where Bettis joined him via trade a year later. The pair occupied Pittsburgh’s backfield for three years before Lester closed out his NFL career with the Dallas Cowboys in 1999, appearing in five games with one start.

But Lester is best-remembered as a member of the Steelers, and his consistently strong work as a blocker for Bettis earned him the nickname “The Bus Driver.”

During his four seasons in Pittsburgh, Lester played in 47 games with 34 starts, but had just 15 carries for 38 yards and two rushing touchdowns, which speaks to his value as a blocker. He also paved the way for Bettis to earn first-team All-Pro honors in 1996 and another Pro Bowl selection in 1997.

All told, Lester played in 93 NFL games with 53 starts, totaling 33 carries for 126 yards. He also added 47 receptions for 331 yards.

Lester played in Super Bowl XXX as a member of the Steelers, and after his NFL career came to a close, he started a nonprofit organization called Pigskin Academy, “which mentors, tutors, prepares and trains at-risk athletes to be successful on and off the field,” according to EKU’s Hall of Fame page.

Former teammates and members of the NFL community have already started tweeting out their condolences, including former Steelers teammate Brentson Buckner, who played on the defensive line in Pittsburgh between 1994 and 1996.

Lester Was Inducted Into the Kentucky Pro Football Hall of Fame

Lester played his college football for the Eastern Kentucky Colonels, where he was an All-Ohio Valley Conference (OVC) running back from 1988 to 1991. During the four seasons in which he played, the Colonels compiled a 42-8 record, won three OVC titles and advanced to the semifinals of the I-AA playoffs twice.

He was inducted into the EKU Hall of Fame in 2011 and the Kentucky Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2018.

Reports Suggest COVID-19 as the Cause of Death

No official cause of death has been announced by Lester’s family. However, a tweet from former Cincinnati Bengals offensive tackle Willie Anderson hints that the former fullback may have died due to COVID-19.

This dovetails with a report from the Milton Herald, a local newspaper in north-central Georgia, which indicates that Lester died of COVID-19 complications, citing the City of Milton.

Last September, the son of former Steelers offensive tackle Jamain Stephens Sr. died at the age of 20. A week later, the Stephens family announced that Jamain Jr. died from a blood clot to the heart after testing positive for COVID-19.

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