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On this date 20 years ago: Don Beebe refused to quit

By Tim Graham

NEW ORLEANS -- Twenty years ago today, Don Beebe became a symbol for showing pride in defeat.

The Dallas Cowboys were rag-dolling the Buffalo Bills, 52-17, in Super Bowl XXVII at the Rose Bowl. Bills quarterback Frank Reich fumbled. Leon Lett scooped the ball and trampled up the right sideline for what should have been an easy touchdown.

But Beebe didn't give up. He sprinted from behind, and when Lett decided to showboat around the 5-yard line, slowing down and extending the ball in his big right mitt, Beebe chopped it out.

Referee Dick Hantak's crew ruled the ball came out of Lett's hand before crossing the goal line. The ball bounced out of the end zone, giving Buffalo possession at the 20-yard line.

SB Nation writer Matt Conner asked Beebe about a moment recalled among the most famous plays in Super Bowl history.

"If you watch the play, you'll see my reaction," Beebe said. "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 got an inkling of how the play would resonate while still trying to compose himself in the Rose Bowl locker rooms.

"When I first noticed that it might have been something special was right after the game," Beebe said. "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 'No. 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."

Beebe also explained in the article how he received voluminous feedback through letters sent to One Bills Drive and that he saved "about 30 to 50 that were emotional."

In a news release, CBS Sports is promoting an "unprecedented reunion for the first time ever" of Beebe and Lett as part of its Super Bowl XLVII pregame show, but Sports Illustrated writer Austin Murphy got them together three months after the fumble.


Don Beebe | Frank Reich | Leon Lett
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About Press Coverage

Tim Graham

Tim Graham

Tim Graham returned to The Buffalo News in 2011 after covering the NFL for three years at ESPN and for one year at the Palm Beach Post. Before that, the Cleveland native spent seven seasons on the Buffalo Sabres beat for The News and was president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.

@ByTimGraham |

Mark Gaughan

Mark Gaughan

Buffalo native Mark Gaughan started working at The News in 1980 and has been covering the Bills exclusively since 1992. He is a former president of the Pro Football Writers of America, and he is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee.

@gggaughan |

Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski joined The News in January 2009. The Lewiston native attended St. Francis High School before graduating from the University of South Florida. He writes a weekly Fantasy column in addition to his beat writing duties.

@JaySkurski |