Photo courtesy of Pro Football Hall of Fame
Dick LeBeau has come a long way from the days when he and his childhood buddies tied up old boxing gloves with shoestrings to make footballs.
The London native played on Ohio States 1957 championship team. He set records as a cornerback with the Detroit Lions. Hes earned two Super Bowl rings as defensive coordinator for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Between playing and coaching, he has spent nearly 51 years in the National Football League.
Through all his success, LeBeau, 72, has never forgotten his roots, and thats why, on Aug. 7 when he is enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, he plans to spend his 10-minute speech sayingthanks to everyone—from his balled-up boxing glove days, on.
“Growing up in London, I was always the tag-along, playing with my older brother, Bob, and some of the other older guys, LeBeau said in an interview last week during a break from his work with the Steelers.I was just trying to stay alive in those games.
Its then that he realized his knack for being where the ball was, a skill that later put him among the elite for pro interceptions.
LeBeau played his first organized football in seventh and eighth grade. He credits his junior high and high school coaches for shaping his competitive nature. Among them were men synonymous with London sports in the 1950s—Jim Bowlus, Ray Chadwell, Lee Cochran, Darwin Keye and Eugene Winters. The guidance of Principal Jake Von Kanel and Superintendent J.J. Hartley also made an impact.
“I was blessed to be exposed to those types of people in my formative years, LeBeau said.
Those people set the foundation on which LeBeau later built a 14-season pro career as a member of the Detroit Lions, where exposure to greatness continued.
“Having played so many years—through the 50s, 60s and early 70s—I saw a lot of the great players of that era, LeBeau said.
Paul Warfield, an Ohio State alum who played for the Cleveland Browns and the Miami Dolphins, was the hardest receiver to read, he said. Bobby Mitchell, a wide receiver with the Browns and Washington Redskins, wreaked havoc, too.
The Baltimore Colts combination of Johnny Unitas (quarterback), Raymond Berry (end) and Lenny Moore (running back) was no picnic either, he remembers. The same went for the Green Bay Packers Bart Starr (quarterback), Max McGee (wide receiver) and Ronnie Kramer (tight end).
“They were all tremendous, LeBeau said, and most are in the Pro Hall of Fame.
As for who hit the hardest, LeBeau said hell never forget the bruising strength of Steelers fullback John Henry Johnson and Packers fullback Jimmy Taylor.
“Jim Brown, too. Even though he was big and strong, he was more of an elusive player and he could break long runs, he said. Brown was a fullback for Cleveland.
LeBeau more than held his own against these formidable foes. He started 171 consecutive games, an NFL record for cornerbacks, and his 62 career interceptions stand as the third highest tally in NFL history among pure cornerbacks.
Photo courtesy of Pro Football Hall of Fame
Messenger file photo
The Pro Football Hall of Fame is located in Canton, Ohio.
Its these stats and more that landed LeBeau the Pro Football Hall of Fame bid, one in a string of honors recently bestowed on him. He also was inducted into the Ohio State Athletic Hall of Fame and was named to the all-Lion 75th anniversary team. Additionally, London High School is naming its field house after him.
“A lot of good things have happened to me in the last three or four years, he said.
LeBeau cant wait to share the Pro Hall of Fame induction experience with the people he holds dear.
“Thats probably the biggest thing about getting this honor—that Im able to share it with family and friends, he said.
That includes Bob, the older brother who let him tag along so many years ago. LeBeau chose Bob to be his presenter, in other words, his righthand man during the enshrinement process.
“I was flabbergasted when my brother asked me to present him. What an honor! What a thrill! Bob said.
For Bob, the honor has meant taping an introduction to be played prior to LeBeaus acceptance speech. The NFL Network sent a crew to Bobs London home in June for the interview.
During the enshrinement festivities, which take place over a period of several days, Bobs duties will include helping his brother take off his suit coat and put on the gold Hall of Fame jacket at the Aug. 6 banquet. He will ride with his brother in the Hall of Fame parade on the morning of Aug. 7. That night, at the induction ceremony, Bob will help his brother remove the cover from a bust of his likeness that will be on permanent display at the Hall of Fame.
“Ive been looking forward to this all summer, Bob said.Nobody could be prouder of my brother than I am.
The NFL Network and ESPN will broadcast the Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony live at 7 p.m. on Aug. 7.
Other 2010 inductees into Pro Football Hall of Fame
• Russ Grimm—Guard, Washington Redskins 1981-1991
• Rickey Jackson—Linebacker, New Orleans Saints 1981-1993, San Francisco 49ers 1994-95
• Floyd Little—Running back, Denver Broncos 1967-1975
• John Randle—Defensive tackle, Minnesota Vikings 1990-2000, Seattle Seahawks 2001-03
• Jerry Rice—Wide receiver, San Francisco 49ers 1985-2000, Oakland Raiders 2001-04, Seattle Seahawks 2004
• Emmitt Smith—Running back, Dallas Cowboys 1990-2002, Arizona Cardinals 2003-04
Dick LeBeaus Pro Football Career
Ht./Wt: 6-1, 185 lbs.
Yrs./Team: 1959-1972 Detroit Lions
Pro Career: 14 playing seasons, 185 games… Selected by Cleveland Browns in fifth round (58th overall) in 1959 draft… Cut by Browns during rookie training camp… Signed with Lions, earned place in starting lineup final six games of rookie year… Didnt miss another game until late in 1971 season… Started 171 consecutive games, an NFL record for his position… In 1960, began to make mark by intercepting four passes, starting string of 12 straight seasons with three or more interceptions… In 1963, intercepted five passes which he returned for career-high 158 yards, including 70-yard TD return against Rams… It was one of three interceptions he returned for touchdowns in career… The following year, intercepted five passes and was voted to first of three consecutive Pro Bowls… Also earned All-NFL second-team accolades, an honor earned again in 1965, 1966, 1970… Finest season came in 1970 when he recorded NFC-leading nine interceptions for 96 yards… In all, recorded 62 picks for 762 yards… Ranked second among pure cornerbacks at retirement with 62 interceptions, third overall… Currently ranks third all-time among pure cornerbacks.
—Source: Pro Football Hall of Fame
I was fortunate to know Dick. We grew up in the same neighborhood. I remember us throwing footballs in the side yard of the post office. I remember watching him play high school football. He was so popular that they had to put up a tarp around the football field so fans wouldn’t stand in the street to watch the game. He is not only was a great player, coach and mentor, but is also a gentleman. Dick, thanks for the memories. — Jerry Peters