Three Pro Football Hall Of Fame Inductees Have Pittsburgh Ties

Dick LeBeau, Russ Grimm and Rickey Jackson will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall Of Fame Saturday.

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On National Stage, Dick LeBeau, Rickey Jackson, and Russ Grimm Enter Hall

With great fanfare, Steelers Defensive Coordinator Dick LeBeau and former Pitt greats Rickey Jackson and Russ Grimm entered the Hall of Fame on Saturday. Unlike Jerry Rice and Emmitt Smith who both reached the Hall on their first tries, LeBeau, Jackson, and Grimm had to wait several years.

LeBeau was inducted as a player, although the argument could be made that he deserved to make it as a coach. It’s clear that he’s extremely proud of his coaching career as he was of his years as a player:

“I am being inducted as a player and believe me that makes me most proud,” LeBeau said. "I did that for 14 years, but for the last 38 years I have been a football coach.

“They are here,” he added, pointing to the Steelers, who he helped win two Super Bowls in the last five seasons. "That’s just about the highest compliment ever paid to me in my life.

“Ambassador [Dan] Rooney is here. I am truly humbled by that. They let this football team come out of training camp … think about that, it’s like having another road game.

“I wouldn’t want to be here without you: offense, defense and special teams.”

Jackson’s always had his supporters, and today he joined them in thinking he belonged:

“I think I deserve to be up here,” Jackson said. “Football always has been my life. I see that in these guys up here [onstage], how they carried themselves. They set the standard.”

Meanwhile, Russ Grimm sounded as if he was just happy to be there:

“It’s a privilege to play in the NFL,” said Grimm, now the assistant head coach of the Arizona Cardinals. "It’s been a privilege to coach in the NFL. It’s an honor to be selected here in Canton.

“Growing up, I dreamed of playing college football. In college, I dreamed of playing pro football. When I was in the NFL I dreamed of winning Super Bowls.

“But I never dreamed I would be standing here today.”

All three are now officially members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame – and deservedly so.

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Rickey Jackson's Trail Of Pain Leads To Hall

Rickey Jackson lived a celebrity life during his career, but things took a turn for the worse when he retired.

For starters, he got divorced in 1996 and was unable to revive his career the following season:

Norma Williams Jackson, who was married to Jackson for 13 years and bore three of his nine children, was a hometown sweetheart in Pahokee, Fla., and opened her heart to Jackson and home to all of his children when the couple lived in Destrehan during his time with the Saints.

After the couple divorced in 1996, she watched as Jackson left his final association with the Saints as a sometimes assistant coach under Mike Ditka, after a failed attempt to come out of retirement and resume his playing career under Ditka in 1997. That was one year after Jackson had been feted in the Superdome in a ceremony in which his Saints’ number 57 was affixed to the stadium wall.

Also in 2006, his mother died following a stroke.

But that wasn’t all. Jackson had to deal with major child support issues as well:

During the time Jackson was dealing with his mother’s illness, he was also dealing with a legal issue regarding unpaid child support of reportedly more than $150,000 for the youngest of his nine kids, Tyler.

Jackson has since gotten back on track, resolving the child support issues, establishing his own foundation, and running a successful business. Add Hall of Famer to that list of accomplishments.

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Russ Grimm's Hard Transition To Center Almost Led To Leaving Pitt

When most think of Russ Grimm, it’s as an offensive lineman or a coach. But many forget that there was a time when he played on the other side of the ball.

His switch to the offensive line was anything but easy:

He played quarterback and linebacker in high school, and was a linebacker in his first two years of college ball at Pitt.

“I wanted to play linebacker all the way,” Grimm said. “You were in the middle of everything. It’s not that you were playing one defensive end, and the ball-carrier was running the other way. You had the chance to make all the plays.”

After Grimm’s sophomore year at Pitt, head coach Jackie Sherrill asked how he felt about playing center.

Grimm responded this fashion. “I told him I’d never been in a three-point stance in my life, and that I was going to stay at linebacker. He informed me he wasn’t asking me, he was telling me they were moving me. So I considered transferring.”

Grimm talked to West Virginia assistant coach Joe Pendry about playing linebacker, but Pendry was soon hired to coach at Pittsburgh, so Grimm stayed.

His transition to center was rough.

“It was a rude awakening,” Grimm said. “In spring ball, I’m still learning how to snap the ball and playing against Dave Logan, who went on to play nose tackle in the NFL. It took me a while to get adjusted, but I was stuck. All the other options were eliminated, so I had no other choice but to try to play the position.”

Despite his ho-hum attitude, Grimm won the starting center job after bulking up from 240 to 255 pounds. He started for the next two seasons on Pitt teams that were 22-2, earning honorable mention All-American honors and playing in some college all-star games.

With Jeff Bostic, the Redskins were already set at center. So Grimm moved to left guard and the rest is history.

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Rickey Jackson's Late Switch Was The Beginning Of A Hall Of Fame Career

It’s only fitting that Jackson and Grimm enter the Hall together. Like Grimm, Jackson was a part of those special 1979 and 1980 Pittsburgh Panthers football teams. Like Grimm, he was an All-American at Pitt and was drafted in 1981. And like Grimm, he went onto a stellar pro career.

Jackson never made any secret as to why he went to Pitt, but many probably don’t know that he almost didn’t come to the school:

Rickey chose to become a member of the Hurricanes. "I was recruited by all of the Florida schools. I signed a letter of intent with Miami. I could have went anywhere. When I signed with Miami, they weren’t winning anything. I changed my mind.

I chose Pitt because they were the national champions with Tony Dorsett and they went undefeated. They were on TV all the time. They were winning. Dorsett won the Heisman Trophy." Pittsburgh won the national championship in 1976.

Despite being an All-American talent, Jackson was often playing in the shadows of fellow defensive end at Pitt, Hugh Green – a Heisman Trophy candidate. Still, plenty of fans recognized Jackson’s immense talent. He racked up nearly 300 tackles during his career and led the team with 137 in 1980.

While Jackson didn’t enjoy the same team success in the NFL that Grimm did, no one can argue that he was a feared presence and made his teams better. He was a three-time AP First Team All-Pro and helped lead the perennially awful Saints to respectability. In his final seven seasons with the team, Jackson’s teams never finished below .500 – something it did regularly in the past. Jackson realized his ultimate goal when he later won a Super Bowl with the San Francisco 49ers in 1995.

He finished his NFL career as the Saints all-time leader in sacks with 123 with the team and his total of 128 sacks ranked third all-time in the NFL at the time of his retirement.

Jackson may be more well known across the country as a member of the Saints, but to Western Pennsylvania, he’ll always be a Panther.

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Russ Grimm - A True Pittsburgher

Born in Scottdale, a suburb of Pittsburgh, Grimm is a true western Pennsylvanian. He attended nearby Southmoreland High School before heading down the road to attend college at The University of Pittsburgh.

Grimm became one of the best at his position in both college and the pros. An All-American at Pitt, he was also a three-time AP First Team All-Pro in the NFL with the Washington Redskins. Despite the individual honors, Grimm would be perhaps most pleased with being known as a winner. He was a key part of an astounding four Super Bowl winning teams during his career, and while he didn’t win a National Championship at Pitt, he was a member of two of the most successful teams in school history. In 1979 and 1980, the Panthers went 22-2, barely missing out on titles in each season.

After college, Grimm went on to an 11-year NFL career as one of the best offensive linemen of the 1980s. Upon retiring in 1991, Grimm became a coach with the Redskins until 2000. His amazing career came full-circle when he returned to the place where it all began – Pittsburgh. From 2000 – 2006, Grimm served as a coach with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Following Bill Cowher’s retirement, it was believed that Grimm would take over as head coach as reported in a Pittsburgh newspaper. However, confusion struck when Mike Tomlin was named as coach and Grimm headed with fellow Steeler coach, Ken Whisenhunt, out to the Arizona Cardinals to serve on his staff. Through it all, Grimm has remained a winner.

In his first season with the Cardinals, he helped mold an offensive line that protected one of the league’s most lethal passing games that included QB Kurt Warner and former Pitt product, Larry Fitzgerald. He helped that team reach the Super Bowl, where they lost to, you guessed it – Pittsburgh.

It’s easy to believe that ill feelings may exist between Grimm and the Steelers, but one thing is certain – he’s a Pittsburgher.

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LeBeau Reflects On Durability Record

LeBeau reflects on his record of durability as a cornerback in a profile in the Trib:

LeBeau had more interceptions than all but two players in NFL history when he retired in 1972. He still holds the NFL record for consecutive starts by a cornerback (171), and that is the accomplishment of which he is most proud when it comes to his playing days.

“I think it’s a reflection of the character of the individual,” said LeBeau, who signed with the Lions in 1959 after the Browns cut him. “I think everyone can identify with the fact that of all those games there had to be several where you didn’t feel much like playing football. I’m just proud that I could go out there and play and that it was important for me to be on the field. Do what you can do to the best of your ability on a daily basis. I think that is what life is all about.”

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Three Pro Football Hall Of Fame Inductees Have Pittsburgh Ties

Three players with Pittsburgh ties - Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, former Pitt offensive lineman Russ Grimm, and former Pitt defensive end Rickey Jackson - will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall Of Fame in Canton this weekend (along with Jerry Rice, Emmitt Smith, Floyd Little and John Randle). Behind the Steel Curtain has a nice tribute to LeBeau:

One of the most durable players ever to play in the NFL, LeBeau still holds the league record of playing in 171 consecutive games at cornerback. His career spanned from 1959 to 1972. He also recovered 9 fumbles, returning them for 53 yards and a touchdown. LeBeau went to the Pro Bowl three straight seasons, 1965-67 ....

He is a fierce competitor. Credited with inventing the "Fire Zone" or "Zone Blitz" defense, LeBeau systematically deploys unpredictable pass rushes and pass coverages, using the 3-4 defense. Defensive linemen may drop back into short pass coverage zones to compensate for the pass rush coming from other positions. The concept is intended to confuse the opposition's quarterback. Many times the pressure feels like a blitz, but is actually not, since not more than four defenders rush the quarterback. The illusion of a blitz creates pressure and certainly creates confusion in the blocking scheme.

The Columbus Dispatch also has a fine profile:

"It hasn't settled in, really," LeBeau said. "I can hardly believe it. It's naturally one of the greatest things that has ever happened to me in my life. How can you express the gratitude you have for an award like this?"

LeBeau was elected to the hall as a player, not a coach, although his career on the sideline, particularly as the creator of the zone-blitz defense, certainly helped his cause.

Rick Gosselin, The Dallas Morning News' NFL writer who made the case for LeBeau in front of the Hall of Fame seniors committee, described LeBeau's coaching career as the "elephant in the room" during the discussions.

But Gosselin and others believe firmly that LeBeau's success as a player made him worthy of the hall long ago.

We'll have updates on Grimm and Jackson during the day on Friday.

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