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The Hall calls

Look in the NFL Record and Fact Book and the only place you won't see the names of Dick LeBeau and Ken Anderson are in the roll call for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Which is at least one good thing coming out of the Bengals coaching change. With LeBeau becoming the head coach and Ken Anderson the offensive playcaller, they have their highest profile since they ended their overlooked playing career all those years ago.

Anderson? A no-brainer even if he's a quarterback who didn't win a Super Bowl. And you can put him in for only this reason: He's the only man to win back-to-back NFL passing titles in two different decades. He did it in the smashmouth seventies and the aerial eighties, so don't call him a dinker-and-dunker with that 59.3 passing percentage. Which, by the way, is eighth best all-time.

Better than Hall-of-Famers Sonny Jurgensen, Len Dawson and Roger Staubach and .1 behind future first-ballot Famer Dan Marino.

At least Anderson still has a shot at making the list of 15 finalists, which is announced in January.

LeBeau, who finished his career 28 years ago, has to go through a nine-member seniors committee. Those members are part of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and nominate a senior candidate each August. The senior candidate automatically makes the final field of 15, which is pared to at least four inductees by the entire board the day before the Super Bowl.

Anybody can nominate anyone, so consider both nominated. But knock off the cobwebs and take a long look at LeBeau.

He's the NFL's version of Dick Clark, still looking like he did while setting an NFL record of 171 straight games at cornerback during 14 seasons in the Rock-and-Roll '50s, '60s and '70s. His 62 career interceptions are the sixth most of all-time, the third most ever by a cornerback. His zone-blitz scheme designed in the microchip '80s is now at least a part of every NFL team's defense.

And he's got a legion of admirers already in the Hall of Fame. They are the receivers who matched wits with LeBeau on their routes to Canton.

"Dick LeBeau and Dick Lynch of the Giants were the two smartest defensive backs I ever faced," said Raymond Berry, high praise from the former Baltimore Colt who made pass receiving a science.

"I watched a lot of film and I think I did beat Dick LeBeau for one touchdown, but I just don't ever remember him giving up one," Berry said. "His high number of interceptions is unique because he was a great one-on-one cover guy and usually those guys don't get a lot of interceptions because they either aren't looking for the ball or can't see it. And back then, cornerbacks were out there one-on-one almost every play."

Berry had a simple answer how LeBeau succeeded.


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"Brains," he said. "He and Lynch were similar in that you could give them a bunch of moves and they never took the bait."

Every man ahead of LeBeau on the all-time interception list is in the Hall of Fame except one. There is Vikings safety Paul Krause with 81, Giants-Packers safety Emlen Tunnell with 79. There is LeBeau's former Lions teammate and fellow corner Night Train Lane with 68. And there is 49ers safety Ronnie Lott with 63.

Ironically, the only man with more interceptions than LeBeau who isn't in the Hall is the Bengals' Ken Riley. They suffer from the same syndrome. They played for solid teams, but never won a championship. And it didn't help they played in middle America, away from the lights of the coasts.

"Dick's credentials are certainly worthy of the Hall of Fame," said receiver Paul Warfield, Canton Class of '83.

"His longevity and durability add to his candidacy. He was a hard-nosed guy in the Ohio State tradition. I had a great respect for his defensive intelligence. He wouldn't try to match up with my speed or quickness.He used his knowledge of what I would do and his knowledge of the Detroit Lions defense. He understood the opposing teams so well."

But LeBeau just wasn't a finesse guy. Tommy McDonald, the Philadelphia Eagles receiver of the early '60s who was inducted with lone Bengals Hall-of-Famer Anthony Munoz back in '98, remembers LeBeau taking on guards.

"Absolutely he belongs in there," McDonald said. "I put him a class with Herb Adderley (class of '80) and Lem Barney (class of '92). If you played Dick LeBeau, you had to bring your lunch because it wasn't going to be a picnic. He was on you like a fly.

"I played against Night Train on the other side, but I watched a lot of film on LeBeau. He liked to hit. He'd meet the guard coming out. He'd lower the shoulder and he knew when to spin out so the guy wouldn't completely drill him. He was a smart defensive back."

Barney played in Detroit during LeBeau's last six seasons and had 56 interceptions. But Warfield says quarterbacks wouldn't pump passes to LeBeau while staying away from Lane early in his career and Barney later in his career.

"If you decided to pick on Dick LeBeau, you paid the penalty," Warfield said. "Those 62 interceptions show you that. He would catch the ball and make plays."

Barney himself says LeBeau should be in Canton with him.

"There are guys in there who haven't done what he did," Barney said.

No one has an answer why LeBeau isn't in the Hall. Jerry Green, who covered LeBeau's Lions for The Detroit News, has a few theories. Green, one of nine newspapermen to cover every Super Bowl, is a member of both the Hall's voting board and its senior committee. And he says he'll back LeBeau if his name comes up next August .

"He probably didn't get in the first time around because he wasn't on a team that won a championship," Green said. "Plus, he was a quiet guy. That's how he played. A guy like Lem was more spectacular. And he was a different kind of guy. A guy who wrote poetry and was intelligent. I thought he was too smart to get into coaching."

But brains is what made LeBeau. Joe Schmidt, the Lions' Hall-of-Fame linebacker who played with him and later became his head coach, saw it for years.

"You could always count on Dick not to make a mistake that would get you beat," Schmidt said. "He would help the other people in the secondary. He was a student. If he got beat, it was because he was beaten physically. The guy was always prepared."

And everyone respected him for it. Once, Warfield got a request from LeBeau's sister to autograph a picture of her brother giving Warfield a pretty good lick.

"It wasn't exactly the kind of position that receivers find flattering," Warfield said with a laugh. "Dick gave me a clean shot, but I was up in the air, about to land on my head and shoulders. I wouldn't sign a picture like that, but since it was Dick, I was glad to do it."

Which sounds like a pretty good vote.

LeBeau did his homework. Now it's time for the Pro Football Hall of Fame to do the same.

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