1-30-02, 9:25 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
NEW ORLEANS _ When he heard the man he calls "The Train," had passed, Bengals head coach Dick LeBeau took a blow.
But he had enough sweet memories of Dick "Night Train," Lane, his Hall-of-Fame teammate, to sing the first few words of an old Dinah Washington jazz tune.
"What a difference a day makes," LeBeau crooned Wednesday from Cincinnati.
What a difference Lane made. Not only had LeBeau lost his friend and fellow cornerback on the Detroit Lions of the early 1960s Tuesday night when he died of a heart attack at age 73.
But LeBeau also lost a guy he looked upon as one of the first national sports figures.
"He was larger than life. He carried a charisma and magnetism that I would compare to a Michael Jordan now," LeBeau said. "It never ceased to amaze me the number of people he knew no matter where he went. Entertainers. Politicians. People in the movies. He was truly a national icon."
Lane was also one of the great cornerbacks of all time, ending his career with not only a record 68 interceptions, but also a legacy as one
of the hardest hitters who ever lived.
"He was a guy about 6-2 and over 200 pounds and he played like that," LeBeau said. "He played in an era in which they didn't pass very much. If he played now with the way they throw, he probably would have doubled that record."
LeBeau spent his first six seasons with an aging Lane in the Lions secondary, eventually taking over for him in his own brilliant career that ended with 62 interceptions.
"Nobody threw to his side," LeBeau said. "So they ended up throwing to me and that helped my career. If I didn't catch them, I wouldn't have been around very long."
Lane and Washington, the jazz legend, were married and LeBeau remembers she booked shows near where the Lions played. Once she was scheduled to fly out of Chicago about the same time as the Lions and Lane got permission for her to ride on the team bus to the airport.
"I remember cruising across the north side of Chicago getting sung to by Dinah Washington," LeBeau said. "He was a unique individual and a very lovable character."