While most NFL fans are aware of Leon Lett’s Thanksgiving Day blunder, his Super Bowl blunder mishap is arguably the bigger mess-up, as it took place on the biggest stage of them all. The only difference was that this blunder didn’t cost his team the game, like it would on Thanksgiving.
Leon Lett’s showboating gone wrong was one of the most shocking things witnessed at a football game. In 1992, the Buffalo Bills and the Dallas Cowboys faced off on a Super Bowl Sunday that would make history, for some comedic reasons.
So yes, the Cowboys crushed the Bills 52-17, but believe it or not they could have broken a Super Bowl record, if not for Leon Lett. It was in the fourth quarter that Lett made history with his silly showboating. The Dallas defense caused a fumble, one of FIVE that game, which Lett picked up near the 45 yard line. He then began running toward the end zone, and was inches away from scoring. Right before he scored though, he celebrated a little too early, and didn’t notice receiver Don Beebe creeping up behind him, looking to make a play.
Don Beebe was a receiver for the Buffalo Bills for the majority of his NFL career, also enjoying stints on the Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots throughout the years. A good chunk of his fame however came via this one play from this game. Still fighting for a win, Beebe wasn’t about to give up on the play, even though the score wasn’t pretty.
In a flash, Beebe came up behind Lett, right as he was celebrating the touchdown he thought he was about to record. Beebe slapped the ball just as Lett, in almost perfect fashion, handed it to him by sticking it out to the right in celebratory fashion.
Fans went crazy as the scene unveiled right before their eyes, not believing what had just occurred. Now, nearly 20 years later, the scene seems even funnier when watching it back.
When interviewed by SBnation, Beebe would say, “I’m reminded of this play almost every day,” while laughing, “I’m not kidding you or exaggerating. At this time of year, it’s a half dozen times per day around Super Bowl time. It blows my mind.”
What would become known as “The Play” wasn’t by any means a record-breaking play, nor did it win anything for the Bills, but somehow it’s remained a major part of football history. Perhaps the importance of this play lies in the quick reaction of Beebe, something he remembers clearly. “If you watch the play, you’ll see my reaction,” he says, “I knocked the ball out. He drives his knee into my helmet as he’s falling down. I get up and fix my face-mask, and I’m still upset that we’re getting our tails whipped. No way did I ever think that was special. I was just doing my job.”
Beebe says neither he, nor his teammates, realized the importance of the play until after the game was over. The screaming fans weren’t enough to override the horrible feeling of getting their butts kicked, and losing the Super Bowl for the third time in a row.
As he sat in the locker room going over what had just occurred, Beebe was surprised by the remarks of Bills founder and owner, Ralph Wilson. Wilson approached Beebe, who was expecting to get a mouthful, and gave him something else instead—a compliment.
Speaking to interviewers, Beebe remembered the event in detail, “Ralph Wilson is an unassuming guy, the complete opposite of a Jerry Jones, and he walks past other guys and came right up to me. He didn’t call me ‘number 82’ or ‘Don’, but instead he called me ‘son.’ He said, ‘Son, you showed what the Buffalo Bills are all about today. I’m extremely proud of you. I just want to say thanks.’ I was overwhelmed.”
The owner wasn’t the only one to pay Beebe compliments regarding his memorable play, as Beebe began receiving hoards of fan mail thanking him for his unwavering spirit, and fight for the Buffalo Bills. By the time he got back home, he had to pick up boxes of letters, daily. “When it really started to mean something to me was getting back to 1 Bills Drive in Orchard Park, New York, I was getting big boxes of fan mail every single day and I had to go and pick them up. They were coming from coaches and teachers and parents who were just pouring their hearts in these letters — some of these were just overwhelming. I kept about 30 to 50 that were emotional”, he remembers.
Over the years one thing has become very clear—NFL fans care about winning, but also about unity, loyalty, and a tireless fighting spirit.