NASHVILLE, Tenn. –** As a younger man, Dick LeBeau once had a pretty impressive cheeseburger streak.
He ate a cheeseburger 367 days in a row, in fact, and in Forrest Gump-like fashion, one day just decided to end it.
"I was shooting for a year, and I made it," LeBeau said with a smile. "After a few more days, I figured that was enough."
Then came a pizza streak, but it lasted barely a month. During those days, his playing days, it was tough to find a pizza at night. So he went back to cheeseburgers, and he's been eating them ever since, along with plenty of turkey sandwiches. LeBeau is on a first name basis with the folks working the counter at Jersey Mike's, Subway and Penn Station East Coast Subs.
Many around Saint Thomas Sports Park, well, they just call LeBeau "GOAT," which stands for "Greatest of All Time." The Titans defensive coordinator turns 80 on Saturday, and those around him marvel in amazement about his unyielding passion for the game, and life. LeBeau, born on September 9, 1937 in London, Ohio, is set to begin his 59th year as a player or coach. He joined the Titans in 2015, and long before that established himself as one of the greatest defensive minds the NFL has ever known.
LeBeau is still coaching with a bounce in his step. He's still making holes-in-one, and shooting low scores on the golf course. He's still playing the guitar. He still recites 'Twas the Night Before Christmas' for his players every Christmas Eve, from memory.
And he's still inspiring those around him.
"Besides everything he does coaching-wise, Dick LeBeau might be an undercover superhero,'' Titans safety Kevin Byard said. "Because I have never met somebody like him, the age he is, and I've never heard someone tell the stories he tells. He remembers everybody's name – first and last name – and a fact about them.
"The guy is amazing, really. I'm telling you, he might be saving lives at night."
LeBeau, who played 14 NFL seasons with the Detroit Lions (1959-72) before embarking on a coaching career that's still going, isn't all that interested in talking about his age. He reminds "it's just a number," and doesn't hesitate to say his mother reached 96 and his father 88, not to mention the aunts who lived well into their 90s.
"My plan is to not acknowledge it," LeBeau said of his 80th birthday. "To paraphrase a Garth Brooks song: 'I am much too old to feel this damn young. But I think his song is, "I am much too young to feel this old.' That's all I have to say about the birthday."
But those around LeBeau have plenty to say about him.
"He is an amazing man, that's all I can say about him," Titans coach Mike Mularkey said. "What an honor and a privilege to work with him. … We have our own little inside jokes that we have – lately it's been me having to ask him: 'Please don't tweet out this information.' He has no email, or no way of doing any of that, but I still kid him every day."
LeBeau said he loves being around young people, he said, because "it keeps you young."
And his friends love being around him, whether it's on the golf course, or the football field. Or listening to him play the guitar in his office during training camp.
"I have been with coach LeBeau for a period spanning three decades," Titans linebackers coach Lou Spanos said. "During the summertime my wife put a picture of my first coaching staff photo (with the Steelers), up in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. Coach LeBeau was in the first row, and I look at that picture and I look at him now and I say, 'You can't tell the difference.' He looks like the same guy, and that was back in 1995.
"I think you see how he takes care of himself and the passion he has for life, for golf, and with the football players and organization. The coaches, the staff, all around, he is just a tremendous person, and he truly enjoys life."
Titans cornerback Brice McCain has spent time with LeBeau in Pittsburgh, and Tennessee.
He feels blessed to be learning from him again.
"Everyone knows he is a bright coach, but he's just a cool guy to be around," McCain said. "He is a great guy, and when he talks, you listen. And you can tell he cares. And there is something about him that makes everybody else better."
LeBeau loves talking about his players, and golf.
While he never tells without first being prompted, LeBeau recorded another hole-in-one on the golf course this summer, just before training camp. It was his 8th. Yes, his 8th. LeBeau hit a 6-iron on a 169-yard par-3 at Perry Park Golf Resort in central Kentucky, and the ball ended up in the hole. LeBeau shot a 71 that day.
What made this round so special was LeBeau's his son, Brandon, was there to see it.
"Brandon, he has great vision, and he says, "Oh pops, that's dangerous," LeBeau recalled. "I said, "Nah, it's way in the back of the green. There were a lot of humps and bumps and I thought it just went over a hump or something. When he peeked in and saw it, it was pretty exciting stuff. He left the ball in there for me to get, and he got a cell phone picture of me holding up my golf ball for a hole in one. So it was a great family affair. … I was awful happy to see it go in when I was playing with my son."
"I am probably more impressed he can go out there and shoot his age,'' Kern said. "I'd heard stories about him and when I got to witness it first hand, I mean he pretty much hits every fairway, hits it straight, he hits most the greens and he can putt. It was quite a spectacle, and not only that you get to hear all the stories when you are out golfing with him which makes it even more fun.
"He's just a great guy. He is one of those guys you might cross paths with him at 6:30 a.m. and he has a smile on his face, and he puts one on your face. He has such a positive outlook, and is thankful for the day, to be alive, and he is going to have fun. And that definitely permeates into myself and into others, too."
Leading up to another NFL season, and another birthday, LeBeau said he's excited as ever.
These days, he doesn't worry about keeping any cheeseburger streaks.
"I kind of live by two rules,'' he said. "If I am hungry I eat, and I generally eat things that I like to eat."
He doesn't have any daily workout routine either, but watch him on the practice field and you'll see him on the move.
"I just stay active all the time,'' he said. "On the practice field, I never stay in one place. I go. And I have some sort of activity most days. … The main thing is I try not to put too much poison in my body, and that seems to be doing OK."
At 80, LeBeau's ready to kick off another decade, and another season.
"I am very excited," LeBeau said. "We have a new bunch of guys, great group of guys, and hard workers. And we're going to embark in the joint endeavor and see how far we can go. I'm looking forward to see how far we can go."
A look back at Dick LeBeau's first three years with the Titans. (Photos: Donn Jones, AP)