Dick LeBeau: Why Paul Warfield was toughest for me to defend
Dick LeBeau spent 14 years as a defensive back with the Detroit Lions where he was so accomplished that he produced a franchise-record 62 career interceptions and was named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Nevertheless, his greatest impact might have come on the sidelines.
Following his retirement as a player, LeBeau went on to a 45-year career as an NFL coach, where he won two Super Bowls and was acknowledged as one of the game's greatest and most innovative defensive coordinators before retiring this year.
To consider him an expert on the history of the game is stating the obvious. Dick LeBeau knows how to evaluate players like Nike knows how to sell shoes. And what he knows is that there's one underappreciated wide receiver he opposed -- someone rarely mentioned today amid the glut of inflated receiving numbers -- who was the toughest for him to defend.
"Paul Warfield," he said on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast. "Warfield was the only guy that I didn't have a clue on. He was a glider."
Now, let's make something clear: Paul Warfield isn't exactly obscure. He's a Hall-of-Fame receiver who starred for Cleveland and Miami, won NFL championships with both, was named to eight Pro Bowls and seven All-Pro teams and was elected to the Hall in 1983, his first year of eligibility.
But he was a very different challenge for LeBeau than, say, the Cowboys' "Bullet" Bob Hayes or the Colts' Raymond Berry. Both are Hall of Famers, too, with Hayes a burner who could stretch any field and Berry a reliable pass catcher who was the best sideline receiver in pro football history.
"Bob Hayes had won the gold medal in the Olympics," LeBeau said, recalling Hayes' victory in the 100-meter dash in the 1964 Olympics, where he also anchored the gold-medal winning and record-setting 4 X 100m relay . "So he was the fastest man on the planet.
"When he ran … actually, they don't have it now because there's artificial turf … but, playing on dirt, the clods of dirt just flew up behind him like a rooster tail on a hydroplane racer. So all you had to do was watch for the dirt and get the hell outta there.
"So Hayes was not as hard to defend. You had to give him some room, but you weren't going to run with him. He'd let you know when he was gone.
"(But) Paul was a glider. If you took your eyes off him for a second he was five yards away from where he was the last time you saw him."
Then, of course, there was Berry, who wasn't fast but was meticulous with his preparation and who ran precise pass routes. Gifted with sure hands, Berry seldom dropped a pass, fumbled just once in his entire career and was John Unitas' favorite target.
"Raymond Berry never missed anything," said LeBeau, "and he had Unitas' accuracy going for him to get the ball to him. Charley Taylor was a great receiver. Bobby Mitchell was a great receiver. You hate to start naming them."
But LeBeau can, one reason the Pro Football Hall of Fame chose him to participate on a panel that earlier this year picked the Hall's 100th anniversary team.
"I've seen all these guys," he said, laughing. "That's why they put me on the committee to pick the best players in the history of the game. Because I've seen every one of them … back to Bronco Nagurski."