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Leon Lett Jr.
No. 78     
Defensive tackle
Personal information
Date of birth: (1968-10-12) October 12, 1968 (age 50)
Place of birth: Mobile, Alabama
Weight: 290 lb (132 kg)
Career information
College: Emporia State
NFL Draft: 1991 / Round: 7 / Pick: 173
Debuted in 1991 for the [[{{{debutteam}}}]]
Last played in 2001 for the [[{{{finalteam}}}]]
Career history
*Dallas Cowboys ( 1991- 2000)
Career highlights and awards
* 2× Pro Bowl selection (1994, 1998)
Sacks     22
Games played     121
Fumble recoveries     7
Stats at NFL.com

Leon Lett, Jr. (born October 12, 1968), nicknamed The Big Cat, is a former American football defensive tackle in the National Football League who played for the Dallas Cowboys (19912000) and the Denver Broncos (2001), after playing college football at Emporia State University. Lett was a two-time Pro Bowler, with selections in 1994 and 1998. He is also remembered for his involvement in two infamous plays during his tenure with the Cowboys.

Early life Edit

Lett graduated from Fairhope High School and received an American football scholarship from Auburn University, but after scoring a low ACT, he had to play two seasons at Hinds Community College in Raymond, Mississippi. He was set to move to New Mexico State University, but after having problems with his transfer credits, he accepted a partial scholarship offer from Emporia State University in Kansas.[1]

He earned All-NAIA District 10 recognition as a senior, but pro scouts lost interest when he missed his first four games with a right knee injury. He wasn't invited to any senior all-star games or the NFL Scouting Combine.

Professional career Edit

Dallas CowboysEdit

Lett was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the 7th round of the 1991 NFL Draft as a defensive tackle. He spent much of his rookie season on injured reserve with a lower back problem. After entering the league at 6'6" and 260 pounds, by the end of his rookie year, he had put on 16 more pounds, eventually playing at 300.

In his second season, he quickly blossomed into a key player in the Cowboys defensive line rotation. His teammates nicknamed him "Big Cat" in deference to his agility.

In 1993, Lett fractured his right ankle in the third game of the season. He was forced to miss five games. In 1994, he was named to the first of his two Pro Bowls. From 1995 to 2000, Lett was suspended three times by the NFL for violating its substance abuse policy, missing a total of 28 games. He served a four-game suspension in the middle of the 1995 season, a full 16-game suspension (3 games in 1996 and 13 games of 1997) and an eight-game suspension at the start of the 2000 season.

When Lett was playing, he was one of the most feared defensive players in the game.[2] Even though he was constantly double teamed, he dominated at the point of attack affecting both the running and the passing game of teams. He was part of the Cowboys Super Bowl winning teams in 1992, 1993 and 1995.

In 1998, he had 51 tackles, four sacks, 20 quarterback pressures, a team-high seven tackles for losses (98) and was named to his second Pro Bowl. In 2000, he suffered a season-ending knee injury in practice that forced him to miss the final seven games of the season.

Denver BroncosEdit

In 2001 he signed as a free agent with the Denver Broncos, where he played his final season before retiring with 22.5 career quarterback sacks and seven fumble recoveries in 121 games.

Infamous playsEdit

Lett was a talented player and a cornerstone of the Cowboys defense during his tenure, but he is also remembered for being involved in two infamous plays. Two of the top three of ESPN's "25 Biggest Sports Blunders" are attributed to Lett. The fans ranked him #1 and #3, whereas an expert panel placed him at #2 and #3.

Super Bowl XXVIIEdit

The first play (ranked #1 in the ESPN fan list, #2 in the ESPN expert panel) occurred in January 1993, in Super Bowl XXVII. Late in the fourth quarter, Lett recovered a fumble on the Dallas 35-yard line and ran it back towards the end zone. When he reached the 10-yard line, Lett slowed and held the ball out as he approached the goal line. However, Lett did not see Bills player Don Beebe chasing him down from behind. Beebe knocked the ball out of Lett's outstretched hand just before he crossed the goal line, which sent the ball through the endzone, and resulted in a touchback that cost Lett his touchdown. Lett later said he was watching the Jumbotron, and trying to do a "Michael Irvin", where he put the ball out across the goal line.[3]

The Cowboys had a commanding 52–17 lead at the time, and the play did not affect the outcome of the game, but it embarrassed Lett and is still well known today. Lett's gaffe also cost the Cowboys the record for most points scored in a Super Bowl (55, by the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XXIV).

1993 Thanksgiving ClassicEdit

The second play (ranked #3 in both ESPN lists) occurred during the very next season and was more serious as it resulted in a Cowboy defeat. On Thanksgiving Day in 1993, during a rare snow and sleet storm in Dallas, the Cowboys, who came into the game with a 7-3 record, were leading the 8-2 Miami Dolphins by a score of 14–13 with 15 seconds remaining in the game. The Dolphins attempted a 41-yard field goal to take the lead but the kick was blocked. While most of his teammates began celebrating, Lett attempted to recover the ball. He slipped on the ice as he tried to pick up the football, and Miami recovered the "muff" on the Dallas one-yard line. Had Lett simply done nothing, the Cowboys would have automatically received possession and could have run out the clock. By touching the ball and then failing to hold onto it, Lett enabled the Dolphins to take possession and then try another field goal with three seconds left on the clock. This second attempt was successful and the Dolphins won the game 16–14 as the clock expired.

The play did not hurt the Cowboys' season as they won all of their remaining regular-season games and went on to win the Super Bowl. The Dolphins took over sole possession of the lead in the AFC East with the win, but did not win another game for the rest of the year, dropping their last five games and finishing out of the playoffs. In 2008, the game was named the third-most memorable in the history of Texas Stadium by ESPN.[4]

Post-retirementEdit

On February 21, 1998, Leon had a daughter by the name of Princess Leondra in Dallas, Texas. On May 9, 2009, Lett graduated from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas with a degree in university studies and a concentration in sociology and history. On December 19, 2009, he was appointed defensive tackle coach for the University of Louisiana at Monroe Warhawks.[5]

Lett was hired on July 20, 2011, by the Cowboys as part of the NFL Minority Coaching Fellowship Program to assist defensive line coach Brian Baker during training camp.

On March 31, 2011, Lett was hired as an assistant defensive line coach for the Dallas Cowboys.

ReferencesEdit

External linksEdit

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