It's a safe bet few professional football careers were ever launched like this: "I was standing on a ladder one day ..."
The rise of Don Beebe from swinging a hammer for brother-in-law Bob McQuade's siding company to National Football League receiver is indeed the stuff of legend. A new book, "Six Rings from Nowhere," details the state-champion Aurora Christian football coach's ascent from blue-collar laborer to the player who shares an NFL record with six Super Bowl appearances after only slight college experience.
"It's just a great uplifting story," said Beebe. It was written by Denise Crosby of Sun-Times Media.
Beebe, Crosby and fiery sports commentator and Daily Herald columnist Mike North, who Beebe has worked with for years on radio broadcasts, will present a book signing for "Six Rings from Nowhere" at 3 p.m. Saturday in the Aurora Christian auditorium. Beebe's first official book signing was held Dec. 8 at his House of Speed franchise in Green Bay; he estimated more than 500 people came to see the former Packers, Buffalo Bills and Carolina Panthers wideout.
In 116 games between 1989 and 1997 Beebe caught 219 passes for 3,416 yards and 23 touchdowns. He averaged 21.4 yards on kickoff returns with a 90-yarder for touchdown with Green Bay in 1996. His most famous, most inspirational play was running down the Dallas Cowboys' Leon Lett to deny a touchdown in Super Bowl XXVII, an indication of Beebe's heart and desire considering the Bills were trailing 52-17.
That was all in the future in 1986 when Beebe was working three stories up on a wooden plank and a gust of wind froze him in terror.
"I just said, this is not for me," he said.
He'd graduated out of Kaneland in 1983 with a full football scholarship to Western Illinois. He arrived at Western's two week camp at 165 pounds, got sick and lost 20 pounds. He left and enrolled at Aurora College (now Aurora University), but dropped out in the spring of 1984 to start working with Bob McQuade.
McQuade eventually talked him into trying out for the Bears in May 1986, setting the wheels in motion. He didn't latch on with the Bears but out of the blue in June Western Illinois coach Bruce Craddock called. Trouble was, Beebe lacked credit hours so he enrolled at Waubonsee Community College for a semester.
He was back at Western by the spring of 1987. One day Beebe veered from normal routine and walked into the gym, where he said some Leathernecks were working out for five NFL scouts. Wearing jean shorts and sandals, he asked if he could run the 40-yard dash. Initially denied, Beebe persisted until he was allowed. Taking off his sandals, he ran the 40 in 4.32 seconds.
"If I could go back in time this is one time I'd like to go back, and see the look on that Dallas scout's face," Beebe said.
Beebe played his one remaining season of NCAA eligibility at Western in the fall of 1987, leading the Leathernecks in receiving yards with 455. He finished his protracted college career at Chadron State in 1988, recruited to the NAIA school by a former Western receivers coach.
In 10 games at Chadron State he caught 49 passes for 906 yards and 13 touchdowns, certainly not standout numbers. Those he saved for the 1989 NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. His 40 time of 4.25 tied the Combine record with Deion Sanders and stood until Eastern Kentucky receiver Rondel Menendez ran a 4.24 in 1999. Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson equaled the mark in 2008.
As Beebe's Wikipedia entry claims, "Most of the coaches and staff were dumbfounded as to where he came from and how he got invited."
Beebe was drafted by the Bills in the third round of the 1989 Draft, taken 82nd overall. The rest is history -- and a book.
"I never considered myself a book guy," Beebe said, but many people approached him about telling his story.
"I decided it'd be a great opportunity to write a book and share it with the kids, and the athletes and people," he said.
"It's a remarkable story."
On Dec. 1, 30 top senior girls volleyball players assembled at Moraine Valley Community College to play the third annual Illinois Volleyball All-Star Game. Proceeds benefitted the American Cancer Society's Making Strides Against Breast Cancer.
The game, which offered 25 girls who have committed to college scholarships included St. Charles East setter Erienne Barry, headed to Western Michigan, and familiar name McKenna Kelsay of St. Francis.
It also featured West Aurora's Wisconsin-bound outside hitter-setter Lauren Carlini. She earned game MVP honors with 10 kills and 13 assists.
This presaged a greater honor when on Wednesday, as previously noted, Carlini was named the Gatorade Illinois Volleyball Player of the Year, a day after she won National Player of the Year honors.
We mentioned Geneva graduate Lauren Wicinski in last week's college achievers column, but also on Wednesday the American Volleyball Coaches Association named the Michigan State junior Second-Team All-America. The outside hitter, in the top five nationally in aces per set, was a Third-Team pick in 2011.
Taylor Richmond graduated from West Aurora in 2005. The point guard left Illinois' second largest city to play for Central Methodist University's women's basketball team in Fayette, Mo., population 2,700.
Being on both sides of the coin has helped Richmond adapt to her role as first-year physical education teacher and head girls basketball coach at downstate Lincoln, which the Illinois High School Association credits with an enrollment of 841.
"It's much smaller than what I was used to, but there's not too big of a culture shock, especially since where I went to college was a small town," Richmond said. "I think I've made an easy adjustment."
Richmond sounds pleased as punch to be coaching the Railsplitters and teaching at Lincoln: "The people here are so nice and welcoming."
Richmond is still a sprite of just 25, but she carried an accomplished coaching resume to Lincoln. For four years she was an assistant coach for the Lady Lightning AAU program, which sent a sixth-grade team to the national championships in 2011.
Transferring to Northern Illinois University to finish her degree after three years at Central Methodist, Richmond assisted Dave Beebe at Rosary for several seasons, and last year was varsity assistant at Larkin. Richmond credits each of those stops as well as her father, Mark, as prime influences.
"I believe defense wins games," Taylor said. "I believe you have to take care of the ball on offense, run the system and work together as a team. I don't think there's one person who can win a game for you."
Winning games has been a recent problem for the Lincoln girls, who placed fourth in Class AA in 1999. They haven't won more than five games since the 2006-07 season, a span that includes a winless 2009-10 campaign.
Richmond is not dissuaded in the least by this or by the Railsplitters' 2-8 record entering Saturday's game at Pleasant Plains.
"We're just trying to build a program and build confidence and let these girls know that they can succeed," she said.
"It's small victories. If we keep our turnovers under 12 or are able to control the boards one night, those are things that can help our confidence, so those are small victories that can lead to big victories."
Talk to veteran head coaches long enough and many sound weary of the position's drudgery -- scheduling. fundraising, uniform handouts, and et cetera.
Perhaps one day Richmond will find these facets numbing. Right now they all roll into an experience that makes her feel "ecstatic."
"This is my dream job," she said. "It is something that I've wanted for a very long time and I'm very happy to be in the role that I am in. And I couldn't ask for anything more."
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