Here's hoping Sunday helps push LeBeau into Canton
By Don Banks, SI.com
TAMPA -- Here's my wish for Super Bowl week: After Sunday's game, Dick LeBeau's candidacy for enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame will finally reach a tipping point. Seriously, what does a guy in the nation's No. 1 spectator sport have to do to be recognized as one of game's greats? I can't think of a bigger injustice in the NFL today than not having already honored the Steelers universally respected defensive coordinator for his 50-year NFL career (1959-2009) as a star defensive back and innovative coach.
LeBeau is 71, but like Dick Clark, he's a beloved ageless wonder that defies nature. During his 14-year NFL playing career in Detroit, LeBeau was one of the game's best defensive backs, retiring with a whopping 71 turnovers (62 interceptions and nine fumble recoveries). But it's in coaching that LeBeau has truly made his mark on the game, working with some of the best defenses in the league in the last three decades and helping develop the zone blitz scheme that is so widely used throughout the NFL.
This is LeBeau's fifth trip to a Super Bowl as an assistant coach. There can't be many guys who have topped that. He was on the staffs of both Forrest Gregg and Sam Wyche in Cincinnati when the Bengals lost to San Francisco in 1981 and 1988, respectively, and this is his third visit to the NFL's grandest stage with Pittsburgh. The Steelers have routinely finished among the league's top 10 defenses in LeBeau's two stints in Pittsburgh, and the only downside to his coaching resume are those three fruitless years he spent as Cincinnati's head coach from 2000-2002, where he went 12-33 with some of the worst Bengals teams ever (which is really saying something).
Talk to people in the NFL and the vast majority revere LeBeau for his blend of intelligence, innovation and humanity. His players love him, his coaching peers all respect him, and how many can match his five-decade-long vantage point when it comes to NFL history? Here's hoping Sunday's outcome pushes the LeBeau for Canton movement over the top. Which is roughly the position from which he's conducted his NFL work from 1959 on.
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