Joyous night for Steelers' Dick LeBeau

Dick LeBeau cherished his moment at the podium. "Life is a gift. It's a joy," he said. Andrew Weber/US Presswire

CANTON, Ohio -- Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin and president Art Rooney II stood side-by-side as dozens of players behind them gradually stepped off the team's buses.

Each player carried a Terrible Towel as he entered Fawcett Stadium. Many Steelers smiled as one of their own -- a coach, a mentor, and in some ways a father figure -- was about to enter football immortality.

It was a joyous and celebratory day for Dick LeBeau. The longtime Steelers defensive coordinator and former Pro Bowl cornerback with the Detroit Lions received his Hall of Fame bust Saturday after recording 62 career interceptions and becoming one of the greatest defensive minds in football history.

"It's very special," Steelers defensive end Aaron Smith said. "He's done more for me as a person off the field than he could ever do with me on the field. It’s just an honor."

LeBeau joined an outstanding 2010 Hall of Fame class that also included Jerry Rice, Emmitt Smith, John Randle, Russ Grimm, Rickey Jackson and Floyd Little. LeBeau went in as a Lions player, but Saturday’s induction had more of a Steeler Nation feel to it.

Steelers coaching staff and players made the trip from training camp in Latrobe, Pa., to support and honor LeBeau. They proudly stood in a roped-off section to the left of the stage and waved their Terrible Towels.

LeBeau's brother, Bob, introduced him and soaked in every moment.

"Man, this really is a great day to be alive!" Dick LeBeau said.

Dick LeBeau spent most of his adult life making life hard on quarterbacks. His 62 picks are eighth all time. His invention of the zone blitz defense also led the Steelers to two Super Bowl titles, making him arguably the greatest assistant coach in NFL history.

One of the first things LeBeau did Saturday was give credit to his players, which is something he does frequently. His wisdom and youthful energy have helped him relate to players during his coaching career.

In typical LeBeau fashion, he credited many of the people who shaped his career and contributed to his success. The Steelers hung on LeBeau’s every word during his speech and were equally complimentary.

Some Pittsburgh players have been to Canton to participate in the Hall of Fame Game, but this was the first time many got to enjoy the ceremony.

"It's great to be a part of this induction," Steelers cornerback Bryant McFadden said. "It's a lot different actually getting to see this and celebrate it. For us this is very important."

LeBeau, 72, is coaching on a year-to-year basis with Pittsburgh. But his legend and contribution to football for more than 50 years were officially solidified Saturday night.

Showing his wisdom and charm, LeBeau left the crowd at Fawcett Stadium with a strong message.

"Life is for living, folks," LeBeau said. "Don't let a number be anything other than a number. Don't let somebody tell you that you're too old to do this or too old to do that. Stay in life. Life is a gift. It's a joy. Don't drop out of it."