LeBeau, the former Detroit Lions cornerback with 62 career interceptions, and former Denver Broncos running back Floyd Little, were nominated by the Seniors Committee today. They'll be joined by 15 other candidates the week of this season's Super Bowl.
LeBeau and Little emerged from a list of 90 Seniors candidates. The list was whittled to 17 yesterday and to the final two this morning.
LeBeau will need approval from 80 percent of the 44 Hall of Fame voters on Feb. 6, the day before the Super Bowl in South Florida, to join the mandatory 4-7 man class that will be inducted at the next Hall of Fame game in the summer of 2010.
"In my humble opinion, Dick LeBeau is a Hall of Famer," said Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin. "He has legitimate numbers that speak to a Hall of Fame caliber career as a player. And he's quite frankly a defensive innovator and trailblazer as a coach. You couple all of that into one human being, not only the fact he's an awesome person, he's a Hall of Fame guy in my opinion."
LeBeau was brought before the Pittsburgh media to answer questions. Here's the transcript:
DL: I haven't seen you guys since the playoffs. Who we playing? San Diego?
Q: Dick, what does it mean to be a Seniors nominee for the Hall of Fame?
DL: Well, Seniors is certainly the kind of category I belong in. Um, it's very humbling. I'm not sure it's hit me completely. Coach Mike just announced it on the field. He called everybody together and I must confess that was the last thing I thought I was going to hear. It's a great honor to get this far, no matter what the final outcome is. I'm humbled by it. I grew up in a pretty small town. You don't expect to have a day like this, so it was a pretty good day.
Q: Your players have lobbied for this. What does that mean to you?
DL: Well, it would be hard to thank everybody that needs to be thanked for even being considered for such an honor, but certainly the Steelers organization for allowing me to continue to coach, and Coach Tomlin. We really didn't know each other that well and I'm grateful that he let me continue to coach for and with him. But, in all seriousness, it's our defensive players that've kept my name, whether it's wearing my jersey or just playing like the devil, and I could never thank them enough. I'm very blessed. I said that before. This day would never come if it wasn't for them, so I'm grateful to them.
Q: Is this something you thought about often?
DL: I try not to think about it. I mean, let's be honest, you don't walk around thinking about even being considered for the Hall of Fame. It's a great honor to be this far and I'm going to try not to think about it too much, but you can't help but think about it some. But I'm grateful, grateful to the committee and for all those that have even suggested my name. Whatever the outcome, it's a tremendous honor and I'm grateful.
Q: Did you ever think you'd coach this long? And was there any point where you thought that you were close to retiring?
DL: Well I did never think I didn't want to coach, but I had to be realistic in the fact I might be getting to such an age where nobody wanted me to coach. All coaches, they go through ups and downs, and my last down I was 65 so I didn't know if there was going to be an opportunity for any more ups. Fortunately my friend Tom Donahoe gave me a job with Buffalo, and Coach Gregg Williams, and they let me continue to work. We were second in the league that year in defense and at the end of that year I had several opportunities. But I never thought to myself, ‘Geez, I don't want to coach anymore.' But I thought, ‘You may not be coaching any longer.'
Q: Can you push humility aside and evaluate yourself as a player?
DL: As a player, I was kind of like I am as a coach. I played in 172 straight games and I'm proud of that. Some of those days I didn't really feel like playing football. I never missed a day of practice as a player and I've never missed a day of work as a coach. If I've done anything that's noteworthy, it's that. I've gotten in the harness and tried to pull my share of the load. That's the way I played. I would do what I asked our players to do. I chased the ball, and if I could catch up with the guy that had it I would try to get him on the ground. But that's the kind of player I was. I played on some good defenses.
Q: You haven't mentioned the number 62 (interceptions).
DL: Well, I could get the ball. I could get the ball.
Q: Some of your players said today that you're not just a coach to them, you're more like a father figure. How does that make you feel?
DL: Well, that makes you feel like you did something right somewhere along the line. I'm always grateful to them when they use those words because they could very easily say I'm a grandfather figure to them. I've got an unusual group of guys – we have an unusual group of guys in Pittsburgh, both sides of the ball. They just play. They don't really look at the situation, they just play. I'm proud of them. There's no question that they kept my name current with what they've done. They've gotten all of us, myself included, two championship rings and you can never thank them enough. This is just one more honor, and truthfully if they're not playing the way they're playing it doesn't happen. I'm grateful to them. I'm grateful to the committee and all my friends that've helped me through the years. It's a great day. It really is. It's humbling, but I'm not going to turn it back in.
Q: Is it overdue?
DL: Oh, no, I don't think so. I don't think a day like this would ever be overdue. You just thank your lucky stars that it ever happened.
Q: Do you think you'll get a sign on Route 71 South on the way to Cincinnati?
DL: I doubt it. You know what the pigeons would do to it if they did.
Q: Where did you get your work ethic?
DL: My mom and my dad. My mom was a farm girl. You know they work pretty hard. My dad, as far as I know, never missed a day of work. He didn't retire until he was 73, so I've still got a ways to go yet to equal him.
Q: Any advice for people on how to stay young?
DL: Just worry about the deep post getting in there on you, which I have to do. That'll keep you young.
Q: Why did Cleveland cut you in your rookie year?
DL: There's a great story there. Paul Brown is an Ohio guy and he had some friends in my hometown (London, Ohio) and they had a men's stag night at the golf course and they asked him if he would speak there. He acquiesced, and during his speech – it was kind of a question and answer thing, several years after I had finished playing – one of my friends stood up and said, ‘Paul, you've got a great coaching record and you're supposed to be a master of personnel, and yet you let Dick LeBeau go and he played 14 years in the NFL and when he finished he was third in all-time interceptions. How could you let him go?' Paul didn't blink an eye and said, ‘Oh, I cut a lot better players than LeBeau.' So, that's how I got cut by Cleveland.
Q: Still paying Cleveland back, aren't you?
DL: You know, there were only 12 teams then and there were only 30 guys on a roster. There were only five defensive backs per team, so that was around 60 DBs working. So it wasn't unusual for pretty good players to seek employment somewhere else a few times before they finally found a place that they could play. I was lucky enough to find a place.
Q: Are you more proud of what you've done as a player or as a coach?
DL: Oh, again, I'm proud of my longevity record and, more than that, that I haven't missed any days of work. I'm proud of that. I'm not so sure I did anything to be boasting about, but I'm proud of that, and proud that I've not had too many debts over my life or too many lawsuits out against me and certainly no problem with the cops. That's enough for any man to hope for I think.
Q: The photo you took with the players in your jersey that was taken at Canton a couple of years ago, is that hanging on a wall somewhere?
DL: I have more than one of them. I have them hanging on a couple walls. It's my favorite picture of all-time.