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Leon Lett, Jr. (born October 12, 1968 in Mobile, Alabamamarker), nicknamed The Big Cat, is a former star 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 Universitymarker. Lett was a two-time Pro Bowler, with selections in 1994 and 1998. He wore jersey number 78 and was 6'6, 292 pounds during his playing days. He is best remembered for two infamous plays in Cowboys' team history.

Early life

Lett graduated from Fairhope High Schoolmarker and played two seasons at Hinds Community College in Raymond, Miss., before starring in 1989 and 1990 at Emporia State Universitymarker in Kansas.

He earned All-NAIA District 10 recognition as a senior, but pro scouts lost interest when he missed his last three games with a leg injury.

Professional career

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 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, and was considered the best backup defensive lineman in the NFL.

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. He was forced to miss 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.

In 1998, he had 51 tackles, four sacks, 20 quarterback pressures and a team-high seven tackles for losses (98). He 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.

When Lett was playing, he was one of premier defensive players in the game. He dominated at the point of attack, disrupting the running and the passing game. He was an outstanding talent that commanded constant double-teams.

He was part of the Cowboys Super Bowl winning teams in 1992, 1993 and 1995.

He spent a decade in Dallas before playing his final NFL season with the Denver Broncos in 2001, retiring with 22.5 career quarterback sacks and seven fumble recoveries in 121 games.

Despite his accomplishments, Lett is probably best known for two infamous plays.

Infamous plays

Lett was a talented player and a cornerstone of the Cowboys defense during his tenure, but fans will likely remember him for his 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 made a play by recovering a fumble on Buffalo's 45 yard line and proceeded to run it back towards the endzone. When he reached the 10 yard line, he started to slow, and held the ball out as he approached the goal line. However, he didn't see a hustling Don Beebe, who was 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 did not affect the outcome of the game, but it certainly embarrassed Lett, and it is still well known by football fans 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 very next season and was actually more serious as it resulted in a Cowboy defeat. On Thanksgiving Day in 1993, during a rare snow and sleet storm in Dallasmarker, the Cowboys were leading the Miami Dolphins 14-13 with 3 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. This second attempt was successful and the Dolphins won the game 16-14. The play actually didn't hurt the Cowboys season as they won the Super Bowl that year, but the play was an unfortunate sign for the Dolphins as they lost all of their remaining games of that season and failed to make the playoffs. In 2008, the game was named the third-most memorable in the history of Texas Stadiummarker by ESPN.

Recent Events

On May 9, 2009 Lett graduated with a degree in university studies, with a concentration in sociology and history from the University of Nevada, Las Vegasmarker.


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