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Old 02-04-2010, 04:01 AM   #1
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Default Steelers' LeBeau is on cusp of immortality

A good read about LeBeau

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — True story: Dick LeBeau once ate at least one cheeseburger for 367 consecutive days simply because he likes them.

Just as indicative — and less of an indictment — of youth is the record 171 consecutive games LeBeau played in as a cornerback for the Detroit Lions from 1959-72.

The latter streak, among other accomplishments, should help LeBeau, 72, finally gain entry into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The Steelers' defensive coordinator is a finalist for football immortality, and if he gets voted into the Hall of Fame on Saturday, only one question will remain: What took so long?

LeBeau is third among NFL cornerbacks in career interceptions (62). He also earned a reputation as a sure tackler after the Lions essentially stumbled upon a bag of gold when they signed LeBeau in 1959.

"Oh my, was he tough," said North Huntingdon resident Bill Priatko, who roomed with LeBeau at Browns training camp in 1959 and remains close friends with him. "He'd come up as a cornerback and hit you."

LeBeau proved to be as durable as he was tough.

He didn't miss a practice or a game in the NFL until the 13th game of his 13th season, when a knee injury finally sidelined him.

That is the accomplishment LeBeau treasures most from his playing career. It is also one reason why former Browns owner Paul Brown, a legendary figure, told people that one of the biggest mistakes he ever made in football was cutting LeBeau.

What may be just as puzzling is why LeBeau isn't in the Hall of Fame, and a prevailing theory is related to what could be called the unofficial Steelers rule.

Voters have been hesitant to put too many players from the same team in the Hall, which explains why some Steelers from the 1970s haven't been inducted.

In LeBeau's case, he played in the same secondary as Dick "Night Train" Lane and Lem Barney, who are both in the Hall of Fame.

"If he didn't play with those guys," former Steelers great Rod Woodson said, "he'd be in by now."

Added Hall of Fame voter Rick Gosselin of The Dallas Morning News: "He's a classic case of why there's a senior committee."

The Hall of Fame senior committee gives voters a chance to address any oversights made with players such as LeBeau.

Gosselin will state LeBeau's case to voters Saturday, marking the first time LeBeau has made it this far in the selection process.

Not that it will be the first time someone has argued on his behalf.

So many people have decried LeBeau's omission from the Hall of Fame that it has become the NFL's cause celebre.

During his Hall of Fame induction speech last August, Woodson used his platform to push for LeBeau's induction. A year earlier, Steelers defensive players wore replicas of LeBeau's No. 44 Lions jersey to the Hall of Fame game in Canton, Ohio.

Then there is the gesture that left LeBeau "dumbfounded" in 2005.

Prior to the Steelers' regular-season finale against Detroit, he walked into the home locker room at Heinz Field and saw his No. 44 jersey hanging outside the locker of every defensive player.

"I had never heard of anything like that in the National Football League," LeBeau said. "It's so humbling. It makes you feel like you must have done something right somewhere along the line."

Players say they are fiercely devoted to LeBeau because he genuinely cares about them.

They play so hard for him, Woodson said, because disappointing LeBeau would be like doing the same to their father.

That explains why LeBeau rarely has to raise his voice to get his point across.

Outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley said he has heard LeBeau yell "one or two times" since the Steelers drafted him in 2007.

"You will never find anybody that speaks ill of Dick LeBeau," Woodson said. "I think he's loved by all of his ex-players."

The loyalty LeBeau inspires in his players is surpassed only by what he has accomplished as a coach. LeBeau's defenses have perennially been among the best in the NFL, and LeBeau is credited for creating the zone blitz.

"He deserves to be in the Hall of Fame not because of the things he's done as an assistant coach," said former Steelers running back Dick Hoak, who played against and coached with LeBeau. "That helps, but he should be in the Hall of Fame just for what he did as a player. He deserves to be in the Hall of Fame just for that."

The Steelers have won a pair of Super Bowls with LeBeau as their defensive coordinator. They might have a third ring if his innovation had not been so widely copied.

In 1995, Dallas defensive coordinator Dave Campo studied all of the film he could get of LeBeau's defense during a period in which the Cowboys struggled.

He used what he gleaned from those tapes in the Cowboys' 27-17 win over the Steelers in the 1995 Super Bowl.

"The two balls that Larry Brown (intercepted) that won the game for us were zone blitzes — his stuff," Campo said. "We hadn't shown it much, and it was just confusing for the quarterback. That was a credit to (LeBeau)."

Technically, voters can only consider LeBeau's Hall of Fame candidacy based on his credentials as a player.

But given the human element in the selection process, it's hard to imagine a body of work that spans 11 presidential administrations not counting for something.

"I'm really proud just to have gotten this far and to be nominated," said LeBeau, who is in his 52nd consecutive NFL season as a player or coach. "I'm hoping things work out."

LeBeau will have a plane waiting to take him from Pittsburgh to South Florida if he gets the long-awaited call Saturday.

The speech that would follow his election is something many have waited so long to hear.

"I get choked up talking about it," Priatko said. "I really do."

When asked if LeBeau will get emotional should he step onto a stage at the Broward County Convention Center and into immortality, Priatko said: "He probably won't admit it, but I know he will."

The case for induction

Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is one of 17 finalists this year for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. A Veterans Committee nominee, LeBeau needs 80 percent of the vote from the 44-person selection committee Saturday. A maximum of five modern-day and two Veterans Committee candidates can make the Hall of Fame in a given year. LeBeau has been nominated as a player, and here are his credentials:

» Intercepted 62 passes during a 14-year career (1959-72) as a cornerback for the Detroit Lions.

» Ranked third on the NFL list for career interceptions when he retired and is now tied for seventh in that category.

» Was second in career interceptions for a cornerback when he retired and is now third among players who spent their entire career at cornerback on the NFL's all-time interception list.

» Started 171 consecutive games, which is still an NFL record for a cornerback.

» In 1970, at age 33, he led the NFC with nine interceptions.

» Had 12 consecutive seasons with at least three interceptions.

» Named to the All-NFL second team four times and was a three-time Pro Bowl selection.

What are they saying ...

Those close to Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau weigh in on him and his being a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame:

"It's a tremendous honor playing for Coach LeBeau. He treats everybody the same. It's not like you're playing for a coach. He really treats you like family. Everybody's hoping that he gets that call." — Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison.

"As a player, he belongs. And as a contributor, he's the godfather with that zone (blitz) he had in Cincinnati back in the day. I just thing the right thing to do is to put him in as a player first of all. But look beyond that, the combination of 50 years in the NFL and what people like that mean to this league, they're valuable." — Former Steelers defensive back Rod Woodson, a Pro Football Hall of Famer who played four seasons for LeBeau.

"Down deep, he knows he should be there. But he's not going to make a big fuss over it if he doesn't get there. I know it means a lot to him, and he should be there. He's contributed a lot to the NFL, and there's no reason he shouldn't enjoy the fruits at the end here." — Pittsburgh native and Pro Football Hall of Famer Joe Schmidt, a teammate and later a coach of LeBeau's in Detroit.

“I would tell Dick how he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. He would smile and chuckle and say ‘Billy, who’s to say who should be there and who shouldn’t be?’ He said ‘I never worry about things I can’t control.’ He’s always been humble that way and he really means that. He would shrug it off and say how grateful he is to be around the game.” — Bill Priatko, who roomed with LeBeau at Browns training camp in 1959.

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Old 02-04-2010, 04:46 AM   #2
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Default Re: Steelers' LeBeau is on cusp of immortality

As a player he should romp in.

As a contributor to the NFL he should be held in the upper echelon of contributors to the game. IMO

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Old 02-04-2010, 05:17 AM   #3
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Default Re: Steelers' LeBeau is on cusp of immortality

I really hope he gets in this year. Nobody deserves it more imho.
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Old 02-04-2010, 09:09 AM   #4
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Default Re: Steelers' LeBeau is on cusp of immortality

Terrific read. I knew LeBeau had a great career, but some of those numbers are staggering. Top off his playing career with those couple Superbowl rings and scratch your head for a few minutes. Doesn't make sense.

And by the way... 171 consecutive starts at corner? No wonder he makes a great fit as d-coordinator. Talk about toughness.
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Old 02-04-2010, 09:31 AM   #5
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Default Re: Steelers' LeBeau is on cusp of immortality

Do the right thing and enshrine the mna in canton....
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Old 02-04-2010, 09:48 AM   #6
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Default Re: Steelers' LeBeau is on cusp of immortality

His credentials are staggering----I just can't imagine him not getting in this year
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