The NFL's oldest coach will turn 70 Sunday and all he wants is a victory against the Cleveland Browns.
The Steelers' defensive players intend to oblige Dick LeBeau, but they have much more planned for him. They offered to tell me their secrets this week but said they would have to kill me if they did. I said I could live with the suspense until Sunday.
No matter what the players do for LeBeau, it's sure to make him cry.
Do you realize how lucky the man is? You know him as the Steelers' highly regarded, highly successful defensive coordinator. Those in pro football know him as maybe the most respected, admired, even loved figure in the game.
"A great coach, but a better man," Steelers defensive end Aaron Smith called LeBeau. "He's the type of guy you wish was in your family. You'd trade some relatives for him, that's for sure."
That's why two years ago, in an amazing tribute organized by linebacker Joey Porter and defensive end Kimo von Oelhoffen, 27 Steelers paid $300 each for a retro No. 44 LeBeau jersey from his playing days with the Detroit Lions and wore it to the Steelers' game against the Lions. LeBeau cried.
That's why several Steelers dug out those jerseys and wore them to the Hall of Fame game in August to send a message to the Hall voters that LeBeau, who had 62 interceptions as a cornerback, belongs.
You should see the players beaming in those jerseys as they surround LeBeau in a picture that's on the wall next to the training room at the team's South Side headquarters. Nose tackle Casey Hampton didn't smile so much when they told him he made his first Pro Bowl. LeBeau looks like he wants to, well, cry.
And that's why there will be a few speeches and some sort of presentation -- probably by defensive captain James Farrior -- to LeBeau at the defensive meeting tomorrow night or Sunday morning. If the Steelers beat the Browns, it's easy to imagine new coach Mike Tomlin taking a moment from celebrating his first NFL victory to lead a chorus of "Happy Birthday" in the locker room.
"I've been comfortable with coach LeBeau since day one," said Tomlin, who, at 35, is half LeBeau's age. "I knew all about his reputation as a football coach and he still has exceeded my expectations. He's just awesome. He's the ultimate been-there, done-that guy. He's such a security blanket for me and this football team."
No current NFL coach has been around the league longer than LeBeau. "He told us the other day he had spent five years of his life in training camps," Smith said. "Do you think that man has seen some football?"
"To be totally honest, it's flattering that someone still wants me around at this stage," LeBeau said.
There's no indication that Tomlin and the Steelers will be getting rid of LeBeau soon or that he has any retirement plans. It's not that he looks 50 and still has the energy and enthusiasm of a man 30. It's not even that he wants to outlast Penn State's Joe Paterno, although he laughs and says, "Joe is one of the few people around who makes me feel young."
It's just that ...
Let Smith explain.
"He just loves being around football players and watching them play."
The Steelers' success hasn't hurt. LeBeau's defenses almost always are top shelf. The team had a blip last season, finishing 8-8, but won the Super Bowl the year before and went 15-1 the year before that.
"What isn't there to like about coming to work with this bunch?" LeBeau asked. "If I'm a good coach, it's because these guys are good players."
That's as close as LeBeau comes to reflecting on his career, even on the occasion of a milestone birthday. There's too much work to do figuring out a way to harass Browns quarterback Charlie Frye, to stop running back Jamal Lewis, to control tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. now that Porter isn't around to talk him off his game.
"The confidence he provides us is incredible," linebacker Larry Foote said. "We know we'll be prepared.
"You go around the league and hear other guys griping about their coaches. We don't have that problem here. You never hear that about coach LeBeau. We have so much less to worry about because of him.
"We know that, all things being equal, he's going to outcoach the other team's offensive coordinator."
That kind of respect, this sort of admiration -- "The way he treats people is amazing ... he's just a smooth cat," Smith said -- is the best present LeBeau will receive.
Happy birthday, coach! Everyone you know hopes you have many more.
Ron Cook can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .