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Levy inspires young pups of Steelers

DETROIT -- Dick Hoak and Dick LeBeau heard the rumors before the regular season ended. The Buffalo Bills were going to fire their old boss, Tom Donahoe, and bring back Marv Levy to be general manager at 80. The Pittsburgh assistants were shocked and gratified at the same time.

"Hey, we're just a couple of young guys," Hoak told LeBeau. "This means we'll stay around for a long time."

No one knows how Levy will do as a GM. But for Hoak and LeBeau, he's an inspiration. At a time when teams are handing key jobs to increasingly younger men, Levy can strike a blow for the NFL's senior citizens, who feel you can be vital and effective into your late 60s and beyond.

LeBeau, the Steelers' defensive coordinator, is in his 47th consecutive year in the NFL as a player or coach. He is credited with inventing the zone blitz, which could prove the difference Sunday when Pittsburgh meets Seattle in Super Bowl XL.

"But it's not just 'Dick LeBeau' anymore," LeBeau said Wednesday. "It's now 'the 68-year-old Dick LeBeau.' "

LeBeau, who was a Bills assistant in 2003, could pass for 55. He's physically fit and mentally sharp, a Renaissance man who plays guitar, plays scratch golf, and recites "The Night Before Christmas" for the team every Christmas.

"You're born when you're born," LeBeau said, "and hopefully the good Lord will leave us around a little longer. Look at Marv. He's much younger physiologically than he is chronologically. I believe he'll do well there. Age is a number, and who's counting?"

Not Hoak. The Steelers' running backs coach is 66, two-thirds of it with the Steelers. Hoak spent 10 years as a Pittsburgh running back and has been an assistant for 34 straight seasons, easily the longest continuous tenure of any NFL coach. He has worked under two head coaches in that time -- Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher.

"You're only as old as you feel," said Hoak, who runs three miles a day. "If Marv feels like he can do the job, more power to him. He's a very intelligent person. I'm sure he'll do a good job. You hear some coaches say they're burned out. I'm not burned out. It doesn't bother me and it doesn't bother Dick. We enjoy what we're doing."

Hoak and LeBeau joke about how long they've been in the game. They figure they've spent five years of their lives at training camps. They say today's players make more in meal money than old-time guys earned for a preseason game.

"When Dick and I started, you didn't get paid until the first preseason game," Hoak said, "and then you got $50 for the first preseason game and they took income tax and Social Security out of it. So you got 44 bucks. I don't know what the players get for per diem today, but it's more than $44, I'll tell you that."

So how does a coach relate to the modern NFL player if he lived during World War II, if he went to college during the Eisenhower administration?

"I don't have any problem relating to them or getting along with them," Hoak said. "Dick's never had a problem. I've seen younger guys who couldn't handle the players. To some of them, it's a respect thing. The players know Dick and I played the game."

A lot has changed but it's essentially the same game Hoak and LeBeau played as teenagers. They don't see any reason to quit now. LeBeau said the last two years in Pittsburgh have been a blessing. LeBeau hasn't given it much thought, but if he coaches three more years, he'll have spent 50 consecutive years in the NFL. Hoak has a chance to spend 50 years in the league -- all with one team.

"It's a nice even number, isn't it?" LeBeau said. "When I reached 30 years, I didn't think about 50. But we're a little closer to 50 now. So we'll see. I'll take it one snap at a time."


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