Part III: Dick LeBeau reflects on SB XLIII

Earlier this year, publisher Jim Wexell sat down with Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau for an extended interview about Super Bowl XLIII. Here's the third part of the three-part interview:

Dick LeBeau: Part I | Part II

You said earlier that you've watched the James Harrison touchdown over and over.

I'm not a savor of momentos. I don't have very many letters, no magazine articles or stuff like that. I'm just not that kind of a person. But I probably looked at that play for 10 minutes, and the play probably takes two minutes to unfold. I went back and looked at it again and again and again because I recognize that it's a rare play, and the background with which it unfolded, you know, with the importance of the game, that magnifies it, too. To have a play like that, I mean, you've got a 102-yard run with a linebacker, guys running all over the field making two, three blocks on the same play, and him jumping over people clutching for him, and maybe three or four different situations where would-be tacklers are literally inches from him. I had to feel a little bit like ‘What if I were on the other side of the field looking at this thing with a fingernail scratching down his jersey?' And you'd be thinking, ‘Why didn't he get him?' But it was a tremendous individual effort by James, and then a collective rally of those guys.

When he first picked it off, I knew he was in the end zone, and my only thought was, ‘We're out of this without giving up any points.' We were going to hopefully make them take a field goal there, because they had the ball and were really in favorable field position and they hit a play after that, so they were down in there. And when James picked it off, I thought, ‘Oh, man, they're not going to get anything out of this.' And then I expected him to be down very quickly. There were a lot of Cardinals in the vicinity, but pretty soon you saw that helmet. They were down in the far corner from me, certainly not the best vantage point, but I saw that helmet still bouncing around over there, and then pretty soon it broke, and I thought, ‘Hey, we've got a chance here.' And then our guys rallied and I could see some of the angles that our guys had. And then James made a couple of fantastic individual moves and jumped over a couple guys on the ground that might've tripped him up and he fell probably two inches into the end zone. It's so Hollywood-ish that if you were in the movie business you'd say, ‘Get that out of here. That could never happen. A play like that could never happen.' And yet, it did happen, and it happened at the most fortuitous time for us. I could not get myself to go on to the next series. I just kept running the play back. I can describe it to you pretty well. It was a relish. I guess you get a relish every now and then in your life.

James had complained during the week to John Madden, apparently, about the defensive game plan. Madden said during the broadcast that the game plan had James dropping too much, and that James was upset about that.

Well, that was one time we dropped him in the right spot, I would say. He actually said that repeatedly on media day, not only to Coach Madden but anybody with a microphone pretty much. I think it was James's practical joke or smokescreen, if you will. He knew that he was going to be an integral part of our rush. We had a good laugh about it. A couple people asked about James saying he didn't like the game plan, but James had talked to me that he had done that. I told him he'd been around Troy too much.

What made you have him drop there?

Actually, that was just part of an instinctive reaction on his end. We have a lot of defenses that guys drop from inside and a lot of times we try to create the environment that they can be creative themselves and they can use their eyes, their own game preparation, and James, he felt that situation and he made the play. Again, just when he got the ball, I was thinking, ‘Oh, great, they're not going to get anything out of this.' And then when he took off there's no one can teach anybody to make a run like that. I mean, that's got to come from inside. It was an absolute willful sustainment that he wasn't going down. And once he got down into the open, it's great to see how many guys rallied over there. And their guy that made the tackle was clear back over in the backside corner of the end zone for the play and James was on the other side. He must've run 200 yards, the guy that finally did hit him at the 2-yard line. It was a great play, a great football play.

Greatest football play of all time?

I think so. I really do. When you put it into the theater in which it unfolded – halftime, Super Bowl, four-yard line, to lose the lead, they're going to take the lead if they score, and a complete reversal – yeah, I think it's one of the greatest plays of all time in football. Certainly, I've never seen a better play in a Super Bowl, that's for sure.

Is this championship sweeter than the first?

Without a doubt. You hope you get one win in the Super Bowl. That's great when that happened. You know, the year after that we didn't make the playoffs, and then Coach Cowher stepped down, so we had the transitional period there and were beaten in the first playoff game the first year. You know you've got a pretty good team. Let's put it this way: When we won my first Super Bowl championship, we had gone 15-1 the year before. You knew you had a football team that if they played up to their capabilities and got a few good breaks that they were capable of winning every week. On the other hand, we were coming off two years of, one, not making the playoffs, and, two, getting beat in the first round of the playoffs, and plus we'd gone through a transitional period with a new coach. You know you've got a pretty good football team, but for the year to go the way that it went you had to enjoy that as the most special year of your coaching career. I mean, if you took a defensive coach and said, ‘Coach, describe for me the perfect season,' I would describe the year that our guys just had. Statistically they led in everything. They put up numbers that go back to 1960 when teams ran the ball 70 percent of the time. And then have that team, coupled with a fighting competitive offense, win the Super Bowl, that would be my dream season. And then you would say, ‘But it could never happen. It's 2008. There's not going to be those scenarios.' And guess what? It did happen. So for me to say that it wasn't the best year of my coaching career wouldn't do service to these guys and what they did.

What else can you say about the season?

Throughout the year, when you see where Troy goes from Point A to Point B, and how many plays that he snuffed out with his explosiveness, and how well Ryan Clark played, and how well Aaron Smith played. In years past Casey Hampton got a lot of notoriety and went to Pro Bowls; I didn't hear so much of that because, you know, he missed the training camp. Casey's unblockable in the middle of our defense. He's just a foundation for it. Guys like Deshea Townsend who battled injuries and then accepted their role on the team coming back from that injury, making key interceptions like he did down the stretch. Those are things you will never forget. Our safeties, they don't get a lot of notoriety. Troy does, but together they're head and shoulders the best safety tandem in the league. They just do it week in and week out, and that's one of the reasons our numbers are what they are. And then you've got LaMarr Woodley and Harrison. They're a dream combination and they're both going to be better. From a coaching standpoint, you can't do anything but smile about that. And then you've got Larry Foote and James Farrior in the middle. They're so smart and they just don't get fooled. People try to fool us because it's hard to go and beat us without fooling us because Aaron and Casey and Brett Keisel are so good. Then you add Lawrence Timmons running around doing stuff that he did for us. It was a dream season. Like I said, if you're a defensive coach, it'd be hard to ask for a better scenario than what happened. And all those little plays in tight games. Now we're world champions, but you know as a coach that if this doesn't happen and that doesn't happen we don't get to where we got. It makes you very appreciative of the whole situation.

(Jim Wexell's latest book "Steeler Nation: A Pittsburgh Team, An American Phenomenon" is available at Pittsburgh Sports

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