INDIANAPOLIS — Whatever his role in Super Bowl XLVI, it will be difficult for Patriots running back Danny Woodhead to upstage the last Chadron State graduate to play in the Super Bowl.
Wide receiver Don Beebe, who graduated from the then-NAIA school in 1989, played in a record-tying six Super Bowls and produced one of the most memorable plays in the event's history.
He got the chance to show off his blazing speed — he reportedly ran a 4.27-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine — on a national stage in Super Bowl XXVII. Buffalo was heading toward its third consecutive title defeat, trailing Dallas 52-17 in the fourth quarter when Cowboys defensive tackle Leon Lett picked up a fumble and rumbled toward the end zone.
Out of nowhere, Beebe streaked into the picture with Lett 40 yards from paydirt.
"I was thinking to myself as I was running, 'How in the world am I going to tackle this guy? I'm not going to bring him down,'" Beebe said in a phone interview this week. "I was literally going to jump on his back. Now, that would have been funny. But he made my job easy by sticking the ball out."
Beebe closed the gap just in time, slapping Lett's right hand inches before the goal line. The ball squirted through the end zone and a touchdown quickly became a touchback.
Chadron State offensive coordinator Chris Brien, who played tight end alongside Beebe in college, said he isn't surprised by the play because it epitomizes Beebe's attitude. Brien also sees physical similarities between Beebe and Woodhead, who both returned kicks in the NFL.
"You can't fake speed. That's the biggest thing," Brien said. "You can't fake what those two guys do, and that's run and run tremendously fast. That's definitely going to get you noticed."
Because Super Bowl XXVII was a rout before Beebe's sprint, it remains a quintessential hustle play in NFL lore. It has become his identity to many fans, and that's OK with Beebe, who played in four Super Bowls with the Bills and two with the Green Bay Packers.
"You never know what play is going to make or break you within the game," said Beebe, now the head football coach at Aurora Christian High School in the western Chicago suburbs. "What you need to do is make sure you're well-prepared and give it everything you got.
"There's no better example of that than that play, for both me and Leon. Did I know it was going to get that notoriety it has today? No way. But I get to live with the good and he gets to live with the bad."