NASHVILLE, Tenn. —Dick LeBeau doesn't remember the exact date his unique holiday tradition – reciting 'Twas the Night Before Christmas – began. But he knows exactly why he does it each year.
It's why the Titans veteran defensive coach stood before the entire team on Thursday morning, Christmas Eve, and recited the poem for roughly 18 minutes without skipping a beat.
"I learned it from my mother, my grandmother and my aunts,'' LeBeau, 78, said. "And this is just a way of letting them know they passed the Christmas spirit on to me. … It's a family thing. And as a football team, we're a family here."
While in his 20s, while playing with the Detroit Lions in the 1960s, LeBeau memorized the poem, every last word of it. Later, after he became a coach, LeBeau began reciting the poem to his defensive players, for the first time when he was in Cincinnati. He continued the tradition when he got to Pittsburgh.
Titans interim coach Mike Mularkey was more than willing to give LeBeau the floor on Thursday morning. He'd heard LeBeau in action in the past, while the two men were together with the Steelers.
"It is passionate. It is very moving,'' Mularkey said. "I sat at the bottom (of the auditorium) because I wanted to see the look on the faces of the guys."
The Titans said LeBeau's passionate recital was captivating. LeBeau first told players about the author of the poem, before speaking about the meaning of Christmas. Then, he started the poem.
"It was so quiet, you could hear a pin drop in that room. Every word that came out of his mouth, everyone was listening,'' guard Chance Warmack said. "It meant a lot to everybody, especially this time of year. We really needed that."
"It was amazing,'' defensive lineman Sammie Hill said. "As a kid, as a child, you remember hearing it. It was nice to hear it again. To listen to him do it, I'll never forget it. The applause he got, it was amazing."
Defensive lineman Karl Klug said "the whole time he was talking, I was like "I can't believe he remembered this whole thing."
After hearing the recital, linebacker Avery Williamson said LeBeau "would be a great grandfather to have."
LeBeau takes great satisfaction in seeing the reaction of his audience.
He does it for the players, he said. But he also knows his mother, grandmother and aunts are looking down on him with a smile, and that makes it even more special.
"I'll see players I haven't seen in 15-16 years and one of the first things they'll ask me is "Are you still doing the Night Before Christmas,'' LeBeau said. "I enjoy it. It's a family thing. And that's the meaning of Christmas, and remembering the people in our past."