Dick LeBeau was more than a coach for many of his defensive players in Pittsburgh. For many of them, LeBeau was a father figure who expressed care for them that expanded well beyond the football field. Those feelings were reciprocated by LeBeau, who on August 7 will get a chance to present one of his former players into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
LeBeau, whose playing career was immortalized by the Hall of Fame in 2010, recently expressed his excitement after former Steelers safety Troy Polamalu asked him to be his presenter as part of the 2020 Hall of Fame class.
"I am very honored. I can tell you that," LeBeau said during an interview with Teresa Varley of Steelers.com. "I was so thrilled and happy for Troy when he got selected. I thought it would be unbelievably great if I was there just to see it. It was just so important to me that Troy go in, and that he got in with the first opportunity that was available to him. I had been telling everyone for five years that Troy would go in on the first chance he had because he was that great and certainly deserves it.
"Troy has a lot of people in his life. I would have understood wherever he went. I was over the moon when he did call and say he would like me to present him.
"Our players were like my sons. You saw it, you know personally how close we were as a defense. It's going to be great putting your son in there."
For 11 seasons, LeBeau and Polamalu worked in concert while helping the Steelers boast the NFL's top-ranked scoring defense on four different occasions. Pittsburgh's defense played an integral role in the Steelers winning Super Bowls XL and XLIII. In 2010, Polamalu won Defensive Player of the Year while helping Pittsburgh win its eighth AFC title.
Polamalu was in the audience when LeBeau received his Hall of Fame induction in 2010. A talented defensive back for the Lions from 1959-72, LeBeau's 62 career interceptions is tied for the 10th most in NFL history. He received his first coaching job as the Eagles' special teams coach in 1973. LeBeau then spent eight years as a defensive backs coach in Green Bay and Cincinnati, helping the Bengals advance to their first Super Bowl in 1981. He was promoted to Cincinnati's defensive coordinator in 1984. Four years later, LeBeau's innovative zone blitz scheme helped the Bengals to a second Super Bowl berth.
A London, Ohio native who played college football for legendary Ohio State coach Woody Hayes, LeBeau had two separate stints with the Steelers. A member of Bill Cowher's original coaching staff in Pittsburgh, LeBeau served as the team's defensive coordinator when the Steelers nearly upset the Cowboys in Super Bowl XXX. After returning to Cincinnati (where he spent two years at their head coach), LeBeau returned to Pittsburgh in 2004. That season, the Steelers won a franchise-record 15 regular season games while boasting the league's top-ranked scoring defense. That was also the breakout season for Polamalu, who earned the first of his eight career Pro Bowl selections.
LeBeau's defense spearheaded the Steelers' eight-game winning streak in 2005 that culminated with a win over the Seahawks in Super Bowl XL. Three years later, Pittsburgh's defense finished first in the NFL in scoring, yards allowed, passing yards allowed and rushing yards allowed. In the 2008 AFC title game, Polamalu's pick-six sealed the Steelers' 23-14 win over the Ravens. Two weeks later, Polamalu and LeBeau celebrated their second Super Bowl victory.
"As a football player, a special teams coach, a position coach, a coordinator, a head coach, nobody has done it all like he has," Polamalu said of LeBeau following Pittsburgh's Super Bowl XLIII victory. "He's done everything but own a team. He's more deserving than Vince Lombardi, if you're talking to me."
While he doesn't currently have a trophy named after him, LeBeau's place in NFL history is secure. And this summer, he will help immortalize the career of one of the NFL's all-time great defensive players.
"I can't wait for it," LeBeau said. "That is one of the neatest things about getting to be there, have the honor to be there by his side, is to see his friends and teammates. I know when I went in in 2010, the franchise took the whole team there and they all sat back in the left together. I couldn't look back there at them. I would have started crying.
"It's going to be so neat to be back in that arena and see the guys that were there when I went in, now there to support one of their own who is going in. It's going to be great. A family reunion without a doubt."