“One of the things I really go out of my way to do now is make someone else smile,” Betts said.
“I take a deep breath when I sit down in front of my locker and say to myself ‘Who am I going to make smile? Who am I going to make laugh?'”
He is good at it too regardless of the company. It’s hard not to chuckle when Betts describes his homecoming of sorts with a cliched response before checking himself as he realises that such cliches rarely apply to him.
“It was like going back to school … I didn’t really go to school, but it was like going back in a sense,” Betts joked.
Betts sits alongside Hawthorn champion Cyril Rioli as the best small forward of his generation, having taken his game to another level in his first four seasons at the Crows, kicking at least 50 goals a season between 2014 and 2017.
Statistics don’t tell the story, however. It’s the way Betts plays the game that makes him so adored.
The respect he has among his opponents is total, best exemplified when Richmond youngster Sydney Stack acknowledged the brilliance of his hero after Betts kicked a goal on him in round 13 last season.
“That was a good moment, wasn’t it,” Betts said. “I was surprised how much attention it got though. It just showed it was a game, a game of footy.”
But when the season finished with Betts having kicked 600 goals in 316 games – and for the fourth time kicking the goal of the year – many wondered whether the end had arrived.
The same thought had occurred to Betts midway through last season after he was dropped.
“I thought the game has gone past me but then I thought I have still got a lot to give. I am just down in confidence,” Betts recalled.
“A lot of things come into your head, you start to doubt yourself.”
He wasn’t the only one doubting whether he had good football left in him. External observers were also wondering as the Blues began to sniff around. Many still believe the jury is out.
But not Betts or those close to him.
“People say, ‘You are getting older and you are getting on’ but I don’t think that is the fact. I think that I still have a lot to give to this footy club,” Betts said.
So does Blues coach David Teague, who coached Betts at the Crows and kept in touch, reaching out to him as a friend in the past couple of seasons when the champion wasn’t loving footy as much as he once did.
Teague’s assessment of what Betts could provide in 2020 was positive. His pre-season form has only confirmed that assessment.
“I still think Eddie has a lot of good football in him,” Teague said.
The coach also understood that Betts is a character, with great character, a family man from a strong culture who has overcome much bigger hurdles than the ones ahead of him this season.
“He is a beautiful person and I hope some of our younger guys learn that you can make it to be the best and still be a really good person,” Teague said.
Proving the doubters wrong, however, is not a source of motivation for Betts.
“I don’t want to read too much into it. There were a lot of people having doubts, asking why are they recruiting Eddie? He is past his best. He is done. These days [you] should look for youth,” Betts said.
“I don’t really let that stuff get to me. All I want to do is come and make this team get better.”
One of the most resilient people in the game, Betts knows how to block out the noise and focus on what is right in front of him.
“People can bag me as much as they want but as long as I am playing the footy the team wants me to play and I am smiling … every time you see me playing my best footy I have got a big grin on my face and that is because I love the game so much and I enjoy playing it and I play my best footy when I am happy,” Betts said.
Once Betts decided he could offer more the question for him was whether he could recapture the form in Adelaide – which had been a hard place to play football in 2018 and 2019 – or whether he should make a move.
“The main thing I had to consider was whether I could get that joy back,” Betts said.
Eventually he decided to move back to Victoria but he is keen to put on the record that he still has great friends in Adelaide and at the Crows and his love for the people of Adelaide remains undiminished.
“I guess it was the right time for myself and my family,” Betts said.
On the Blues’ training camp on the Sunshine Coast this week the veteran’s infectious laugh bounced off the walls in the foyer of the team’s hotel
On the track his skill and daring created energy.
“This pre-season it has all been about working hard and enjoying it and getting to know your teammates and just smiling,” Betts said.
And he can sense the joy returning as the prospect of playing against Richmond in round one becomes real.
“I do have that same love. Once we start playing I can recapture that. It is just so much fun,” Betts said.
“I will play as long as I can until my body and form tells me I can’t play anymore or my son tells me ‘it’s done dad you have got to give it up’.”
Peter Ryan is a sports reporter with The Age covering AFL, horse racing and other sports.