The Pittsburgh Steelers win because of the way they play defense and in effect, because of the way they listen to Defensive Coordinator Dick LeBeau, the creator of the zone blitz package that -- when run correctly -- nullifies Bill Walsh's vaunted West Coast Offense. LeBeau, who has been in the NFL for over five decades, looks better at 73 than most of his players look at 23. Wait. Let's back up a bit to put this in perspective.
LeBeau was signed by the Detroit Lions three years before Barack Obama was born. He played pro football when Eisenhower was president and a young Irish Catholic named Jack Kennedy was making some noise nationally. In popular culture, Ben-Hur was the best picture and Bobby Darin was carving up the charts with his hit "Mack the Knife". Rock Hudson was recently divorced and the life of the party in Hollywood though it would be a couple decades before it was revealed that he had quite another life. Heck, Cuba still looked like Vegas, the first man in space was still on the ground, Martin Luther King Jr. hadn't yet marched in Selma and Americans probably thought the Viet Cong was a Chinese work-up of a thirty foot ape climbing the Empire State Building. In 1959, when LeBeau first wore the uniform, the best quarterback in football was Johnny Unitas, gas cost 30 cents a gallon and the floppy disk was still a decade away.
A little over a year after current Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin was born, LeBeau started his coaching career, accepting the position of Special Teams Coach for the Philadelphia Eagles. By this time The Beatles had come and gone and Jim Croce had a summer hit with "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown" while The Sting won an Oscar for best picture. It was a time when Tricky Dick was sweating Watergate and a quarterback on fourth down could still throw it out the back of the end zone for a touchback. O.J. Simpson was the top American sports icon, being the first running back to rush for 2,000 yards and sudden death overtime was still a few years away. But, fueled by the recent NFL-AFL merger, the game had turned the corner and accelerated toward the year round media giant it is today so that every win and loss had became a national observation.
Finally, in 1984, around the time when the Apple Macintosh Computer came out, Prince was singing about "When Doves Cry" and Bill Walsh was on his way to his second Super Bowl victory with the San Francisco 49'ers, Dick LeBeau become the Defensive Coordinator for the Cincinnati Bengals, a job he would hold for multiple teams over the majority of the next twenty-six years.
The NFL is a notoriously tough work place, especially for coaches. Contracts are nullified, coaches vilified and winning quickly, is the Almighty Jesus of the sport. So, how is it a guy who won the National Championship at Ohio State the same year Sputnik was launched has been able to hold out this long?
Well, it's actually pretty simple: LeBeau is just damn good at his job. So, good luck Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. You'll need it and if you don't believe me ask Joe Montana, Dan Fouts or Jim Kelly. No, wait, ask Barry Sanders or Dan Marino. You know what? I got it: ask Peyton Manning. Maybe Tom Brady. Better yet, just ask Mark Sanchez. He's the most recent victim of Dick LeBeau who has beaten them all and keeps on beating them at the age of 73.
Follow Colin Barnicle on Twitter: www.twitter.com/colinbarnicle