This year, in honor of the NFL’s 100th season and the Bills’ 60th season, Buffalo will pay tribute to the individuals and moments that have contributed to franchise history. Recently, buffalobills.com caught up with former wide receiver Don Beebe, who played for the Bills from 1989-1994. Find out more about Beebe's tenure with the Bills, his new job as the head coach at Aurora University, about his son Chad playing for the Minnesota Vikings and more.
1. Do you have a favorite Bills moment or memory from when you played here?
As an athlete, some of the best experiences were going to four Super Bowls in a row. I felt like, I just remember talking to my family you know, going into the season every year we were looking at the calendar [and saying], ‘Where’s the Super Bowl at?’ and then we would start planning on it. [It would be the] extra season for us. That was a really neat deal.
Then on the field, having the first pass to ever go my way was a 63-yard bomb by Kelly in the Astrodome down in Houston, which is an amazing way to break into the NFL. I mean, it was just probably the most exhilarating [moment] that I’ve ever felt as a player.
My greatest memories, to be honest with you, were experiencing – and I try and tell other athletes from other sports and other players from other NFL teams [this] – there was nothing like the experience that we had in Buffalo in the ‘90s. That team was so close and you know a lot of guys [from other teams] talk about ‘Oh, yeah we were so close,’ but it was nothing like Buffalo because here we are 20 something years later and we’re still very close [and] we still talk. We still get together and it’s like we’ve never missed a beat. I think there was roughly 24 guys that went to all four Super Bowls.
2. Did you have any pregame rituals or superstitions?
I wasn’t a superstitious guy. I was more I would say…of a regimented guy. The same meal, I’d probably get over there [to the stadium] around the same time, I’d pretty much wear the same clothes. I always wore the ‘his pain, your gain’ shirt under my pads. So, it’s stuff like that that I kind of kept [to each game]. Some call that superstitious, I just call it [a] pattern. I think as an athlete, and I’ve learned as an athlete now as a coach, that when you keep things the same, there’s less stress involved on your body. You can perform better. You feel better [and] from a physical standpoint, you’re more aware. When you’re regimented like that, I think players play better and coaches coach better.
3. Do you have a funny story from the locker room that you remember?
Probably my favorite one was with Russell Copeland. He used to do this joke on everybody. He even got Marv on it one time and some of the guys were like, ‘Man you don’t do that to coach.’ But he did it to him and he was a rookie. We were sitting around the wideout meeting room one time and everybody had to say what their nickname was. I said ‘Beebs’ and I was a veteran by this time anyway. So, Lofton and [Andre] Reed and I, we just kind of sat there [and] Tasker. Then he comes across and he has this gold tooth and had this big smile on his face, and he said, ‘They call me franchise.’ James Lofton literally got under the table; he was literally laughing so hard at this kid. Russell was a unique individual.
So, what we did was, on Thanksgiving we pulled a prank on him. We got him over to a person that was supposed to be chopping up turkeys and giving away free turkeys. So, Russell falls for the joke, and we’ve got cameras rolling and everything. We actually played the footage the next day at the meeting in front of the whole team…and he fell for it hook, line and sinker. The guy that played the role, we had a butcher, and he came out with a big cleaver and he was going to chop this turkey’s neck off right in front of Russell and Russell’s freaking out. And he didn’t do it obviously, but it was just funny to watch Russell fall for that joke on Thanksgiving week. We got him back bad, believe me.
4. What is your favorite Bills uniform combination? It can be from when you played or throughout history.
Oh, I like the white pants with the blue over the top. The ones that we wore. I love that combination. I know we had the red helmet, but I personally like the white helmet a little better. I never wore that one. I like the blue. The blue combination was good.
5. What would you say are some lessons that you learned from playing in the league? It sounds like you’re already applying some of them to your time as a coach.
You know, [being] a stickler to the details, just showing up on time, being a man of character, being a team person [is what I learned]. Because every winning team, believe this or not, has a player and head coach and I’ve been a head coach at a lot of different levels from eighth grade girls basketball with my daughter’s team to high school, and now college. The last time I was on a losing team, .500 or under, was my junior year in high school. That was 36-37 years ago. Why I say that is, I’ve been very fortunate to play for great coaches and high school coaches especially, and I’ve learned from all of them. I think the main thing that I learned about all of those guys, especially Coach Levy, is character. Be around men of character, recruit them, draft them wherever level you are, or teach them if you’re a high school coach.
When you get men of character together, you can do crazy, miraculous things – like going to four Super Bowls in a row. Nobody’s ever done it. We know that. Well, it takes a lot of men of character to be able to do something like that. Win a Super Bowl, winning state championships, winning college championships, takes a lot of men of character. To me, personally, you can throw the X’s and O’s out. Everybody has X’s and O’s, okay? What great coaches have the ability to do, is love their guys and get those guys to be better than they are. Every great coach that I’ve had, had ability to do that – from Coach Levy down to my high school coach. That’s why I’ve been fortunate to be a winner at all those levels and now all I do is coach – I teach them what I was taught, and it works. So, I’ve been very blessed in that area.
6. Do you feel like the players are able to relate to you more because they know that you played professionally for so long?
I think initially, yeah. I think when I walked in the room [they thought], ‘There’s Don,’ but over…time that kind of wears off. Because if I was a jerk…that’s going to wear on people, and they couldn’t care less who you are then, right? So, basically you have to love them and unconditionally love people and especially your team. When guys like Dabo Swinney from Clemson, they’ve got this in spades. He does so well in this area that those kids, those guys that play for him, they just play at another level. When you create that kind of atmosphere and chemistry, well, you’re going to win a whole lot more games than you’re going to lose. That’s always been my approach. I want these guys to know that I genuinely care about them and I’ll go to bat for them, and I’ll help them as much as I can. So, that I think is the main ingredient that every coach at any level, boys or girls, I think the greatest quality is that.
7. What has it been like to watch your son Chad play professionally for the Minnesota Vikings?
It’s funny because there’s two sides of it for me. It’s a little weird and then at the same time, it’s like [I’m] generally proud because I know how hard he’s worked – like a lot of people work. But for Chad’s situation, I know the setbacks that he has had and what he’s had to endure, is absolutely incredible. There’s no way he should be where he is today. No way. He could have given up so many times. [He’s had] so many injuries and setbacks and he kept persevering. And that as a dad, it’s very gratifying and very emotional at times. To see him out there on the field is just really, really cool. I am way more nervous as a parent than I was as a player. I mean it’s not even close. And I’m calm. I go to the games and everyone else around me is nuts and I just kind of sit there and I’m calm...But I’m more, I would say, anxious that he stays healthy as any father or mother would. That he just stays healthy and that he enjoys the ride because it’s the time of his life.
I really think he’s going to have a great career. I really do. I think he’s set himself up and he’s worked really hard and every time he’s had the opportunity, he’s seized the moment let’s say. Going up there as a rookie minicamp guy, really the last guy on the totem pole, having to pay really his own way to get there – in the NFL that never happen – and then to just make the team and now being considered their [Minnesota Vikings] third receiver and possibly punt returner [is amazing]. He knows he has a lot of work to do and such, but he’s come so far already.
8. What are your favorite hobbies? You were just on a fishing trip, right?
Fishing. I wanted to be a pro fisherman when I was a kid. I just love fishing. I’m not much of a hunter. I’m not saying I wouldn’t do it, [but] I’m [a] fishing [guy]. I love being on a lake, up north, early in the morning when the sun comes over the trees and it’s just me and the water. I just love those moments. Then as the day goes on, then I go back in I pick up my girls. I have three girls, then there’s Chad and my wife. Nobody gets up that early like me. I go pick them up and then we go out and we go fishing. There’s something about, for me, being in a boat with my kids fishing. There’s nothing better in life than doing that, for me.
9. Where were you up north?
We’ve been going up north into Minnesota, Northern Minnesota, for this was our 53rd year. So, since I was two years old. My dad took me up and his five kids, of course there was only three at that time but as it grew, we became five. So, we have the original five kids and mom and dad, and we’ve been taking this trip for 53 years and now the party on the Beebe side of the family is 54 people with great grandkids and grandkids. Nobody in 53 years has ever missed. It’s an amazing tradition.
So, now we do that with our four children. We do our vacation together too, so it trickles down into that. But when it comes to the Beebe side of the family, my two brothers and sisters and grandkids and everybody, they know [how special it is and that they can’t miss it]. As a matter of fact, when I took the Aurora University job here, I mean one of the first things I talked about, I said, ‘Listen these two weeks in June, I’m out of here.’ They were like, ‘No problem.’ I was like, ‘I can’t take the job unless I can go on that trip.’ So, it was kind of a joke.
10. Do you have a favorite TV show or movie?
[My] favorite movie is “Dances with Wolves” …I don’t watch much TV.
11. What is your favorite meal or favorite type of food?
There’s nothing better than a good steak now. My best friend is a big cattle guy. So, I get meat from him. There’s nothing better than eating steak that you can cut with a fork…
12. Do you have a favorite quote or motto?
Actually, I quote a lot of Marv Levy stuff. Coach Levy, I mean, I actually see him a couple times a year. We’re going to go to dinner with him in a couple weeks downtown because he lives downtown in Chicago. So, me and my wife, we go downtown and visit with him and Frannie his wife, have dinner and such. He’s actually going to be doing the pregame for our homecoming here at Aurora University. He’s coming to do the pregame speech. He has so many quotes. I’ve used ‘Where else would you rather be than right here, right now?’ -- I use that all the time with the guys that I’ve coached through the years and things like that nature. He wrote a book of poems...and I got that book and I’ll use some of his poems every once and a while. He’s one of those guys, he’s like a Knute Rockne. The guy’s going to have quotes for the rest of our time. I would think that anything he’s probably said; I probably have used at some point in time.
13. Did you have a sports idol growing up?
I was a big fan of Walter Payton. Growing up in the Chicago area, I grew up a Bears fan. So, I loved Walter Payton and his work ethic and what he stood for. He scored a touchdown and it wasn’t about him. He’d hand the ball to a lineman and let the lineman spike it. He was just a humble person, but yet fun loving. A great people person. I was fortunate to be able to train his son Jarrett Payton. It’s funny because I just saw Connie Payton yesterday. I was with her here in the Chicago area, but [yes] he was probably my hero.
14. If you could have dinner with anyone throughout history, who would you pick?
Christ. I know that’s kind of a cliché, but it’s true with me and one day I will. So, I’m not worried about that. I’ll have breakfast, lunch and dinner with Christ one day. As far as a person here, that’s lived in this lifetime recently, if I can go far back, I’d love to sit down with Abraham Lincoln. I’m a history guy. I think he was a real humble guy and that he did it the right way. He would be a neat conversation to have…[Also], Martin Luther King, I would love to have a conversation with him as well. I think he was a unique person that did amazing things for his time and did things of value. Value to me is not monetary, money-wise or building things. I am just talking about changing people. And Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, they changed people forever. I think those are the individuals that I would just love to sit down and have a conversation with.