By BOB LABRIOLA
A lot of great things have happened during the 76-season history of the Pittsburgh Steelers, but few of those made the people who work there as happy as what happened on Tuesday.
Dick LeBeau, Coach Dad to so many of the Steelers players he has helped mold into productive professionals, was announced by the Pro Football Hall of Fame as one of two seniors nominees for induction into the Class of 2010.
"It's the job of the seniors committee to resurrect worthy candidates – players whom for whatever reason have fallen through the cracks," said Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News, a member of both the Seniors Committee and the Selection Committee. "A player who ranks third all-time among pure cornerbacks in interceptions certainly is someone who has fallen through the cracks. Thirty-seven years was a long time for Dick LeBeau to wait for this chance at enshrinement. Too long. I thought he was the most worthy and deserving candidate on this year's slate."
The other player nominated by the Seniors Committee was Floyd Little.
Steelers fans know LeBeau as the inventor of the zone-blitz, the defensive scheme he created to combat the West Coast offense when the San Francisco 49ers were using that to terrorize the rest of the NFL in the 1980s. But his career in the NFL was about much more than that.
LeBeau, 71, has been in the NFL either as a coach or player for 51 years. He still holds the NFL record for playing in 171 consecutive games as a cornerback and is tied for seventh in NFL history with 62 career interceptions. At the time of his retirement with the Detroit Lions, LeBeau was third in career interceptions. He also appeared in three Pro Bowls.
"He's a lock. And it's about time," said Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, another member of the Selection Committee. "He should have made it long ago as a player, and he's only added to his resume as a coach. Part of the problem was that there were a couple of other Detroit Lions who made the Hall of Fame, and people started asking, 'Why are all these Lions making the Hall of Fame and they never even won a championship.'"
The way the selection process for the Seniors goes like this:
The members of the Seniors Committee are provided a preliminary list of eligible nominees, a list that includes carry-over nominations from the previous year, first-time eligible candidates, and nominations from any outside source.
By way of a mail ballot the Committee members reduce the list to 15 Senior Nominee finalists. Five members of the nine-man Committee, selected on a rotating basis, are designated to attend the annual Seniors Committee meeting held in Canton, where they are charged with the responsibility of nominating two candidates from that list to be among the 17 finalists for Hall of Fame election.
Although the Senior Nominees will be presented to the full Selection Committee as two of the 17 finalists, their election to the Hall of Fame is not automatic. The Senior Nominees must receive the same minimum 80 percent of the vote as a Modern Era candidate to be elected.
"I've been advancing his cause for the last two years," said Peter King of Sports Illustrated and a member of the Selection Committee. "I feel sure I'm going to advance his cause every step of the way through the steps now to getting elected, and he deserves it."