CANTON, Ohio -- Dick LeBeau always thought the greatest day in his life was when President Obama singled him out by name when the Steelers visited the White House in 2008. But, on a night that belonged to him on pro football's grandest stage, LeBeau said that moment has been bumped from the top of his list.
Surrounded by the players who adore him and the coaches who say they have been honored to work with him, LeBeau was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame Saturday night, not only as a larcenous cornerback with the Detroit Lions but also as an assistant coach, defensive coordinator and head coach for 38 years in the National Football League.
"With all due respect, Mr. President, this whole business is a little bit bigger, I can tell you that," said LeBeau, who has spent the past seven of his 52 NFL seasons as the Steelers' defensive coordinator.
Standing on a makeshift stage in Fawcett Stadium in the state where it all began, LeBeau, 72, became the 21st member of the Steelers organization to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. LeBeau had a supporting cast unlike any of the great Steelers who preceded him for enshrinement.
He was joined on the stage by fellow Hall of Famers Joe Greene, Franco Harris, Lynn Swann, Rod Woodson and owner Dan Rooney; and in the crowd by the entire Steelers team, which made the 2 1/2 hour bus ride from Latrobe to watch its defensive coordinator -- the person the players affectionately call "Coach Dad" -- be enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
"They're here tonight and I got to tell you, that's about the highest compliment I've ever been paid in my life," LeBeau said.
Then, noting that Rooney had flown from Ireland where he is the U.S. Ambassador to Ireland to attend the ceremony, LeBeau added, "I'm completely humbled by that."
The players arrived at Fawcett Stadium at 6:30 p.m., most wearing white and black golf shirts, some such as James Harrison, James Farrior and Larry Foote wearing a white Lions 44 jersey (LeBeau's old number), and sat to the right of the giant outdoor stage where LeBeau was presented.
When LeBeau was introduced by his older brother, Bob, all the players, coaches and front-office personnel stood and began waving Terrible Towels, paying homage to the 72-year-old coach with the same adoring salutation they usually receive from the Steelers Nation.
"I wouldn't want to be here without you men -- offense, defense and special teams," LeBeau said, turning to the corner of the stands where the players and coaches were seated. "They are the reason President Obama knew who I was."
LeBeau's enshrinement brings him full circle in the state where he was born and raised. He grew up in London, near Columbus, and attended Ohio State, where he played on the Buckeyes' national championship team in 1957.
In 14 seasons with the Detroit Lions, he had 62 career interceptions, third all time in league history, and played in 171 consecutive games, still an NFL record for cornerbacks.
"I was known as a guy who would come to work every day and work hard every play," LeBeau said. "I learned that from London, Ohio; honesty and hard work, that's about all they value there. It sure has stood me in good stead."
They came from far and wide to see LeBeau and former Steelers assistant coach Russ Grimm, who played at Pitt and Southmoreland High School, be enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
Arizona Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt chartered a private plane and flew across the country after practice with assistant coaches Kevin Spencer, Matt Raich and Mike Miller to surprise Grimm, who did not know they were coming to the enshrinement ceremony. Whisenhunt was the offensive coordinator and LeBeau the defensive coordinator when the Steelers won Super Bowl XL in Detroit.
Former Steelers players Alan Faneca, Joey Porter and Clark Haggans -- all reunited with the Cardinals -- chartered another plane from Flagstaff, Ariz., to attend the ceremony. They even sat with their former teammates in the stands.
LeBeau's enshrinement also is being claimed by the Cincinnati Bengals, for whom he was a head coach and assistant for 18 seasons -- six more than the Steelers. None of the Bengals in the Hall of Fame -- owner Paul Brown, tackle Anthony Munoz or wide receiver Charlie Joiner -- were with the organization as long as LeBeau.
Grimm played 11 seasons with the Redskins as a member of the famed "Hogs" offensive line, winning 101 of the 140 regular-season games in which he played. He was selected to four Pro Bowls, played in five NFC championship games and was selected to the NFL's All-Decade team of the 1980s.
Not bad for a player who was a quarterback at Southmoreland High School and went to Pitt as a linebacker, later converting to guard in a move he initially resisted.
"I'm proud to say I'm from a small town in Western Pennsylvania," said Grimm, who grew up in Scottdale, Westmoreland County. "That's right -- How yunz doing? It's a special part of the country. They filled the stadiums on Friday nights, Saturday afternoons and Sunday. You created the excitement I wanted to be a part of."
Grimm played on the same Pitt team as linebacker Rickey Jackson, who played in the shadow of Hugh Green with the Panthers but went on to play 15 NFL seasons, including 13 with the New Orleans Saints. Jackson also was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame Saturday night -- the third person with Western Pennsylvania ties to be enshrined on a warm, festive night at Fawcett Stadium.
"When I went there on a recruiting trip, we had Tony Dorsett showing us around, so that made us all go back there," Jackson said during his acceptance speech. "We went back there and had a good time together."
Jackson was part of a Saints linebacker unit that was known as the "Dome Patrol," a group that led the Saints to four playoff appearances in seven years. He recorded 128 sacks -- third most in NFL history at the time of his retirement.
Jackson played his final two seasons with the 49ers, helping them win their fifth Super Bowl championship. One of his teammates was wide receiver Jerry Rice, who joined him for induction after a 20-year career in which he holds just about every significant receiving record in NFL history.
Joining them for enshrinement were former Dallas Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith, former Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle John Randle and Denver Broncos running back Floyd Little.
Ron Schwane/Associated Press
Former Saints and Pitt linebacker Rickey Jackson unveils a bust of himself with Saints owner Tom Benson during Jackson's enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame Saturday in Canton, Ohio.
Gerry Dulac can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . First Published August 8, 2010 4:00 AM