It was a tradition that began in the LeBeau family back in the 1960's, when they would gather for the Christmas holiday and Dick LeBeau would recite The Night Before Christmas. For him, it was a holiday gift to a family who gave him so much.
But as LeBeau's football travels took him away during the holiday season, he still wanted to share the story with those he was close to, those who were his family.
And so a new tradition began, with LeBeau reciting the holiday classic each year for the entire Steelers team. It's something that captivates men who make a living in a brutal game, transporting them back to their childhood and the magic of Christmas Eve. When he recites the poem from memory, players and coaches are silent, hanging on his every word and enjoying every minute of it.
"I get chills down my spine and tears come to my eyes," said assistant head coach/defensive line coach John Mitchell. "I can sit back and envision being a little kid again and hearing it for the first time. It's like the first time every time I hear it. It's new and exciting every time I hear it."
It's not often that those outside of the "family" get to hear LeBeau deliver the story with the passion and care that he does. But when he was asked to do so for Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh Foundation, he couldn't resist. The Foundation is the Hospital's fundraising arm, helping in many ways, from bringing in the best researchers and doctors, to easing the financial burden on families unable to provide health care to their children.
"Children's is absolutely thrilled to have the support of the Steelers, both with Coach LeBeau's event and what they do for us throughout the year," said Chris Gessner, President of Children's Hospital. "We really try to meet all of the needs of our patients and families, physical, emotional and spiritual and nothing really brightens the day or touches the soul of our patients like a visit from the black and gold."
Or a Visit from St. Nicholas, which was the theme of the evening at the hospital, where donors gathered to hear LeBeau read the holiday classic.
"We feel like we are special," said Gessner. "We got a special tradition shared with us. It speaks to the Steelers focus on the community. They make great efforts to support local charities like Children's."
LeBeau was introduced by linebackers James Farrior and James Harrison, who attended along with Keyaron Fox and former cornerback Deshea Townsend. As soon as he took the stage he began to captivate the crowd. He shared stories about his players, about football and about his family. He brought smiles and laughter and made those listening understand why he is so loved by his players.
And then, the moment everyone was waiting for, he recited The Night Before Christmas, with an opening he wrote. The silence in the room spoke volumes, with everyone listening intently as he animatedly delivered the poem. When he finished, the warmth he shared was returned with a standing ovation.
"It's all about the cause," said LeBeau. "There are a lot of good people who want to help our children be healthier. There couldn't be a better cause than that."
You know he meant those words, because as he stood on stage, he became emotional talking about a young woman whose story was shared earlier in the evening via a video. Jamie Moran was only 14 when diagnosed with leukemia and continues to battle a third occurrence of the disease. While hospitalized, she received the type of medicine that no doctor could deliver when Troy Polamalu walked into her room to visit. She continues the friendship with the Steelers safety, and made more friends when she met LeBeau and the players while attending the event.
"For all of these people to come and donate their time and money, and for the Steelers organization to do the same is amazing," said Moran, now 26. "It's the reason why patients can get through what they get through here and why I am so successful, because the people that care. I never thought I would be this close to the Steelers organization. I love every second."
The hospital taped LeBeau reciting the poem, and plans to share it with the children during the holiday season every year. And Moran, who received an autographed copy of the book, plans on doing the same with her family one day.
"I just got married and this will be our family book," said Moran. "I will be able to tell my kids that they signed it. It will be a keepsake for me. My dad used to read it to us as kids. Listening to Dick LeBeau took me back to that."