April may seem like an odd time to talk about Christmas. But in a recent Friday Night Five Questions piece readers were asked what they would ask former Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau if given the opportunity.
Some wanted to know more about LeBeau’s annual performance of “Twas The Night Before Christmas” for Steelers coaches, players and staffers. I never had the privilege of seeing it in person, but it has consistently come up when interviewing players and coaches for the book that George Von Benko and I are writing with LeBeau about the 2008 Steelers defense.
One thing that still stands out to them is that LeBeau did anything but just recite the timeless poem. He performed it — and still does on occasion — bringing Christmas to life in his own, inimitable way.
“He sets the scene with a whole page that he memorized and wrote to set the scene for the poem,” former Steelers defensive end Aaron Smith recalled. “It’s crazy, you’ve got the alphas of the alphas and you’re in a meeting with a bunch of alpha males that play professional football, which is a violent game, and this is the night before a game.
“That mindset is there and you get this guy who stands up there and starts this poem the night before a game but he’s so animated and so into it. He’s in full-on character. If you look around the room, you’ve got nothing but alpha males and they’re like little kids, the look in their eyes. You feel like you’re a kid in kindergarten watching some guy perform a scene in front of you and you’re just captivated by it.”
Indeed for players and coaches whose Steelers careers coincided with LeBeau’s time in Pittsburgh, his “Twas The Night Before Christmas” performances became a part of holiday traditions they cherished.
“You would think guys who had been here six, seven years would get tired of it,” said Steelers assistant head coach John Mitchell, who will retire shortly after the NFL draft after spending nearly three decades with the organization. “But when December came, every day they would come in and tease Dick, ‘Hey, get your act together. We’re looking forward to The Night Before Christmas.’ ”