Don Beebe doesn’t go through the agonizing wait of his former Buffalo Bills teammate Andre Reed every year at Super Bowl time, waiting to find out if he’ll be voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But a remarkable play that Beebe made 20 years ago in Super Bowl XXVII is recalled almost as much as any championship highlight of Jerry Rice, John Stallworth or Lynn Swann.
The Bills were trailing the Dallas Cowboys, 52-17, in the fourth quarter when Dallas’ Leon Lett recovered a fumble and headed toward the end zone, but started celebrating with the ball before crossing the goal line. Beebe streaked down the field and knocked the ball from Lett’s hands, causing it to roll through the end zone and be ruled a touchback. The play had little bearing on the outcome of the game, but a large impact on the way Beebe is remembered for his never-quit attitude.
Beebe and Lett will be reunited today on CBS, during Phil Simms’ “All-Iron Team” show (1 p.m., Ch. 4). Beebe said in a phone interview this past week that during that game, he had no idea the play would be so memorable.
“When you’re getting beat 52-17 in the Super Bowl or any game, you’re not in a very good mood,” he said. “When I ran down and made that play, the last thing I thought about was good things that might come from the play. I just thought that was what I was supposed to do.”
Beebe does appreciate, though, how unlikely it was for the play to unfold as it did. For one thing, he said, instant replay had been discontinued that season — it would return to the NFL in 1999. He thought the play could have been called a touchdown if it was reviewable.
“I’m thinking to myself, 52-17, 59-17, who cares?,” Beebe said. “Give ’em a touchdown! Why would they make that call?”
And, Beebe said, there were a couple of defensive teammates running near Lett who never saw Beebe coming. “All they had to do was see me and divert me one step and I never” would have made the play. “But how they didn’t see me — it’s crazy. … You could call it faith-based or lining up with the stars or however you want to look at it. This play happened for a reason.”
Beebe said the play has given both him and Lett “such a great platform to speak to kids. And I firmly believe, God has used that play in so many different ways to impact people.”
Beebe works as a high school football coach for Aurora (Ill.) Christian School, outside of Chicago. His brother, David, is the team’s defensive coordinator and Don’s son, Chad, was a wide receiver who will play at Northern Illinois in the fall.
Aurora Christian has won two straight Class 3A state titles in Illinois. The team has won 12 of its last 13 playoff games.
“I’ve been coaching — this is going on my 10th year and my son has been on the team the last two years,” Beebe said. “It was neat that, me and him, we never had to walk off the football field as losers. In his junior and senior year, he never had to cry.”
Beebe last year wrote a book about his unlikely NFL career, called “Six Rings From Nowhere.” (The book is available through DonBeebe.com.) Beebe walked into an NFL pro day at Chadron State College, the tiny NAIA school in Nebraska where he played. He impressed the scouts with his blazing speed, was invited to the NFL combine and ended up being the Bills’ first selection in the 1989 draft.
The “six rings” of the book’ title refers to Beebe’s jewelry collection: four AFC conference championship rings acquired with the Bills, one NFC ring with the Green Bay Packers, and the ultimate — a Super Bowl ring he earned with the Packers after the 1996 season.
Beebe also partnered with a company called Big Talk Media to make a documentary about “The Play.” Lett spent some time in the Chicago area last fall, taping segments with Beebe for the program.
The two former players “went back to my mom and dad’s living room and interviewed” his parents, Beebe said. “It was really some great footage. We’re actually going to go back to the Rose Bowl and do a re-enactment of the play. Not live, obviously, and not running — we’re just going to walk through it.”
The documentary is expected to be finished by spring. Beebe said discussions are in the works with various TV outlets.
“It’s my version and” Lett’s version of things, Beebe said. “We’re coming from two completely different perspectives. He’s telling kids that he made a mistake, but do things the right way and you can live with the result. And I’m telling kids that, yeah, do it the right way and you can live with the result, win or lose — and I lost. Leon made the mistake and I didn’t. I think it’s really going to impact so many people.”