Tuesday, August 10, 2010

DICK LEBEAU: RE-INSTILLING PRIDE AMONG THE STEELERS FAITHFUL

Pride. This is a single word describing an emotion that I have not felt during the past six months where the Pittsburgh Steelers have been concerned. In fact, words such as disgust, and revulsion were more likely to have described my feelings towards my lifelong favorite team during this discouraging period.


ABOVE: Definition of a classy Hall-of-Famer: Dick LeBeau

I must confess, this was a very strange feeling, because I had gone through my entire life admiring the Steelers, the Rooneys, their coaches and players alike. When suddenly you begin having players acting completely out of character with what has been commonly known as the “Steeler way”, it led me to believe that the Steelers had become simply another collection of NFL juvenile delinquents.


Over the past month we’ve been regaled with stories about Big Ben kissing babies, giving away his spikes, chumming up to teammates… you get the picture. Sure, Ben’s trying hard to repair a severely damaged public image. While I preferred seeing this behavior versus the type displayed in Milledgeville, Georgia, I still, understandably, wasn’t convinced.

Enter Dick LeBeau.


When it comes to class guys in the NFL, Dick LeBeau sets the standard. When it finally came time for his long-delayed entrance into the Hall of Fame last week, I started thinking about how the Steelers might approach LeBeau’s big day. Knowing how beloved LeBeau is to the Steelers players, and how close, relatively-speaking, that Canton, Ohio is to Latrobe, I didn’t think it would be a stretch to believe that the Steelers would pack up their team on buses to attend LeBeau’s induction ceremony. When I heard later in the week that that indeed was what the Steelers were planning, I must say that my faith in the leadership of the team was again restored.


Watching the ceremonies on television, seeing Dan Rooney, his son Art, Mike Tomlin and all the Steelers players… I once again got that familiar feeling back. My team had one of its beloved best being inducted into the Hall of Fame. The entire family was there en masse to participate in the festivities. This was the Pittsburgh Steelers again at their finest.


I especially loved the anecdotal stories that Dick LeBeau related during his speech. The first one, his humorous telling of how he found out that he was in the Hall of Fame (he told a friend who had called him on the phone that he had to hang up because he was waiting to hear from the Hall). His friend said,, You idiot it’s all over the television, you’re in the Hall of Fame!!!


LeBeau’s second humorous story had to do with relating a conversation he had with Denver running back, Floyd Little. Little, a fellow inductee, wore the same number, 44, as LeBeau. LeBeau explained that he told Little that they both wore number 44, that the Steelers last won Super Bowl XLIV and that Barack Obama was the 44th President of the United States. LeBeau then went on to explain that if you add the four and four on his uniform together, you get eight. If you subtract two from eight, you get the number of Super Bowl’s that the Steelers have won.


Steelers haters in Baltimore, Cincinnati, and Cleveland had to get nauseous over this joke. But for the legions of Steelers fans who have been getting kicked in the head over the last six months of inappropriate player behavior, this comment was like a refreshing drink of ice cold water after mowing your lawn on a 95° day.


What a wise move that Mike Tomlin kept this treasure of a man on his staff when he was first given the head coaching job by the Steelers. Hopefully, the entire Canton experience will rub off on the Steelers current crop of players. Hopefully all of them will aspire to one day join Dick LeBeau there. This whole field trip also had to be a great team bonding experience that Coach Tomlin so often references.


Speaking of pride, how great was it that in this same Hall of Fame class that Pitt had not one, but two of its former players, Russ Grimm and Rickey Jackson inducted as well. So three of a class of seven had deep ties to Western Pennsylvania football. Yeah, that seems about the right percentage.


And finally, here’s an interesting thought: Had the Steelers hired Russ Grimm instead of Mike Tomlin, they could have potentially had two members of their coaching staff installed in the Hall of Fame on the same night! This has never happened before and chances are, this was the closest it will ever come to happening again.


I am truly hopeful that Ben and his teammates can get back to being the source of extreme pride that they have always represented for the Steelers nation. I know it’s going to take a long time to get over the events of the past, but for a couple hours Saturday it felt great having that old Steeler feeling back.