Leon Lett never saw Don Beebe coming. Twenty years later, the moment remains in front of both men.
It's been two decades since The Play, the defining moment for Beebe and Lett from Super Bowl XXVII between the Dallas Cowboys and the Buffalo Bills. Despite a final lopsided score of 52-17 that favored the Cowboys, NFL fans will undoubtedly remember the classic moment when Beebe, the speedy receiver, caught a celebrating Leon Lett at the goal-line for a fumble that made history.
Beebe says he still cannot believe how much attention this single moment has brought to him over the years. Even in a losing effort on a play that made no difference in the outcome, Beebe's extra effort cemented his place in football history.
"I'm reminded of this play almost every day," says Beebe with a laugh. "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."
On paper, there's no reason for such a play to receive so much attention. The final 35-point differential was already established at the time that Bills quarterback Frank Reich fumbled the ball after being hit by Jim Jeffcoat of the Cowboys. Lett picked up the ball and ran for what should have been an extra score that gave the Cowboys the all-time Super Bowl point record. Instead, Beebe's extra effort gave the Bills a touchback and created The Play.
"If you watch the play, you'll see my reaction," says Beebe. "I knocked the ball out. He drives his knee into my helmet as he's falling down. I get up and fix my facemask 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 it was clear immediately after the game that a lasting impression was made on a play he describes as "textbook".
"When I first noticed that it might have been something special was right after the game," he explains. "We're in the locker room and guys were distressed and we'd just lost our third in a row. Nobody was talking and then the owner walks in.
"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."
From there, Beebe says his own podium awaited in the press room after the game and that fans, players, staff and their families were all thanking him and congratulating him for his efforts back at the hotel.
"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," says Beebe. "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."
While the play was a single moment in time, evaporated before anyone could respond with anything beyond the instincts that come from adrenaline and repetition in practice, the results brought a recognition for Beebe that still moves the 48-year-old coach, speaker and author.
"I hadn't realized this before, but I realized that playing in the NFL wasn't about me," he says. "It was about the platform that I had to impact people. I wish more players would understand this, what they really mean to the fans and kids in schools.
"I still use that platform today to impact kids and people and I gotta tell you, it's the greatest reward you can have to do that. The Leon Lett play stapled that for me."
Find out more about Don Beebe's story in his new book, Six Rings From Nowhere.