Legendary Super Bowl blunder also a blessing for Leon Lett, Don Beebe
BY RICK ARMSTRONG Sun-Times Media July 10, 2012 10:34PM
Don Beebe hits the ground after causing Leon Lett’s embarrassing fumble during Super Bowl XXVII between the Buffalo Bills and Dallas Cowboys in January 1993. | Getty Images
Updated: August 12, 2012 6:44AM
Leon Lett was a half-step from what he thought would be Super Bowl glory when Don Beebe’s ultimate hustle play stripped him of the ball and turned it into infamy.
Twenty years later, the two principals of the Super Bowl XXVII play that ESPN fans once voted the No. 1 sports blunder in history were reunited Tuesday in Aurora to talk about The Play, one that became a defining moment in each man’s career.
‘‘I can’t even explain the feeling that I had as I scooped up the ball and I’m running with nobody in front of me,’’ Lett said.
The Dallas Cowboys had the game well in hand on
Jan. 31, 1993, in the Rose Bowl, leading 52-17 when lineman Jim Jeffcoat stripped the ball from Buffalo Bills quarterback Frank Reich. The 6-7, 295-pound Lett picked it up on his own 36-yard line and had an escort to the end zone, 64 yards away.
‘‘I was thinking, ‘I’m gonna score a TD in the Super Bowl, and it was like an out-of-body experience,’’ remembered Lett, who spoke with members of Beebe’s defending Class 3A state-champion Aurora Christian team.
Later in the day, the two got together at nearby Total Living Network studios to discuss The Play for a documentary being produced by Jim Gibson, whose Big Talk Media LLC also will promote a book about Beebe’s life, Six Rings from Nowhere, written by (Aurora) Beacon News columnist Denise Crosby.
‘‘Our entire sideline had already started celebrating [with the big lead]. I wasn’t in football mode,’’ Lett admitted. ‘‘I was in celebratory mode. I still get grief from teammates because it kept us from setting the record for most points scored in a Super Bowl.’’
The 5-11, 185-pound Beebe streaked down the sideline and blew past defensive tackle Jimmie Jones, thwarting Lett’s premature celebration.
Beebe was lauded for never giving up.
Lett? The next Thanksgiving, he had another gaffe, ill-advisedly trying to recover a blocked Miami Dolphins field-goal attempt that gave the Dolphins possession at the Dallas 1, allowing them to kick a shorter field goal for the win.
Three violations of the NFL’s substance-abuse policy later cost Lett 28 games in suspensions, marring a career that included three Super Bowl wins and two Pro Bowl appearances.
‘‘[Coming] full circle has been a process for me,’’ Lett said. ‘‘Those issues you’re speaking of were five-second decisions that cost me a lot of pain and heartache. I messed up. . . . For me, getting over it was just manning up to it. I finally looked at myself and said, ‘Hey, you can overcome this. You’re making too many excuses.’ ’’
After returning to school and getting his degree from UNLV, he has moved into coaching as a Cowboys assistant and has established a foundation that supports and helps fund a school for disadvantaged youth in Las Vegas.
‘‘The flak he took after the play is undeniably ridiculous,’’ said Beebe, who stresses to his players to ‘‘always try on a play and you can live with yourself. We’ve all lived [Lett’s] path, too. We all make mistakes. It’s what you do with it.’’
Beebe said The Play was part of a divine plan for both players.
“I’m a firm believer God knew what was gonna come from it,’’ he said. ‘‘People outside the faith might think, ‘No, he’s lost his wig,’ but I’m telling you, there is no logical explanation.’’