|Date of birth:October 12, 1968|
|Place of birth: Mobile, Alabama|
|High school: Fairhope (AL)|
|College: Emporia State|
|NFL Draft: 1991 / Round: 7 / Pick: 173|
|Debuted in 1991 for the Dallas Cowboys|
|Last played in 2001 for the Denver Broncos|
Career highlights and awards
Career NFL statistics
|Stats at pro-football-reference.com|
|Stats at DatabaseFootball.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 (1991–2000) 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 that he botched during his tenure with the Cowboys.
Lett graduated from Fairhope High School and received an American football scholarship from Auburn University, but after a low score in the ACT, he had to play two seasons at Hinds Community College in Raymond, Mississippi, compiling 141 tackles, 10 sacks, nine pass deflections and three fumble recoveries.
As a junior in 1989, he helped the team win the Central States Intercollegiate Conference (CSIC) title and reach their first NAIA Football National Championship game. After leading the team in pass deflections (10) and blocked kicks (two) and finishing second in tackles (83) and sacks (5), he received honorable mention NAIA All-America, All-NAIA District 10 and All-CSIC honors.
During his two years at Emporia, the defense held opponents to 4.1 yards-per-play and 3.1 yards-per-carry. He earned All-NAIA District 10 recognition as a senior and finished second in the team in sacks (4), but pro scouts lost interest when he missed his first three games with a right knee injury and wasn't invited to any senior All-Star games or the NFL Scouting Combine.
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. 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 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, 361 tackles, 128 quarterback pressures, 37 tackles for loss, 26 passes deflected, four blocked kicks and seven fumble recoveries in 121 games.
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 XXVII
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.
The Cowboys had a commanding 52–17 lead at the time, and the play is viewed as not having significantly affected 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 Classic
The second play (ranked #3 in both ESPN lists) occurred during the 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.
On February 21, 1998, Leon had a daughter by the name of Princess Leondra in Dallas, Texas.
Lett started his coaching career in 2009 as a volunteer assistant at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. On May 9, 2009, Lett graduated from UNLV 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.
On March 31, 2011, he was invited as part of the NFL Minority Coaching Fellowship Program to assist Dallas Cowboys defensive line coach Brian Baker during training camp. On July 20, 2011, he was hired as a full-time assistant defensive line coach for the Cowboys. He now resides in Morton, Illinois.
- Austin Murphy (1993-05-17). "When Don Beebe first met Leon Lett, the result was the – 05.17.93 – SI Vault". Sportsillustrated.cnn.com. Retrieved 2012-10-05.
- Helman, David (2013-01-02). "Leon Lett". Dallas Cowboys. Retrieved 2013-11-29.
- Brad Mangin/SI. "Leon Lett – DT, Seventh Round, Dallas Cowboys, 1991 – Best Draft Bargains of the Past 20 Years – Photos – SI.com". Sportsillustrated.cnn.com. Retrieved 2012-10-05.
- By BILL BRINKPublished: February 01, 1993 (1993-02-01). "SUPER BOWL XXVII: OOPS!; Lett, Carried Away, Fumbles His Moment of Glory – New York Times". Nytimes.com. Retrieved 2012-10-05.
- Luska, Frank (2008-08-15). "Legends, underdogs, goats shared Texas Stadium spotlight". ESPN.com (2008 ESPN Internet Ventures). Retrieved 2008-10-22.
- "ULM Football Head Coach Todd Berry Appoints Five Assistant Coaches – ULM Warhawks Athletics". Ulmwarhawks.com. Retrieved 2012-10-05.
- "Leon Lett to help with Cowboys' D-line". ESPN.com. Retrieved 2013-12-05.