HoF Interview with Willie Lanier

Bobby Bell was an outstanding athlete and ultimately was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  However, there was another Chiefs linebacker that sometimes gets overshadowed by Bell’s greatness, but was no-less an influence in the Chiefs success.  That is Willie Lanier.  Here the HoF middle linebacker talks about the overall magnitude of hall of fame induction, and what it means to the professional football player.

Todd Tobias (790 Posts)

Todd Tobias's interest in the American Football League began in 1998, when he wrote my master's thesis about Sid Gillman. He created this site to educate and entertain football fans with the stories of the American Football League, 1960-1969. You can follow Todd and get more AFL history on Twitter @TalesfromtheAFL.


7 Responses to HoF Interview with Willie Lanier

  1. Eddie Arminio says:

    A really tough hitter.I remember he had his helmet design changed to help prevent concussions, obviously he was ahead of his time.He had extra padding on the outside of the helmet running from the top of the cage, to the back of the helmet.

  2. Howard says:

    A very classy guy! He has had a very productive career as an investment advisor. As far as a player, he was one of the greatest linebackers in history. A fearsome run stopper and a good coverage guy. Fairly short, but a smart technically fundamental player.

    He was the heart and soul of those great KC defenses. His screaming at his teammates to stop the Jets on the goal line was the stuff of legend.

  3. Bob Stein says:

    Willie Lanier was not only an outstanding, hard hitting MLB, well deserving of HOF status, but an extremely smart one.
    After hospitalizations from rookie year concussions, the Chiefs fashioned his heavily padded “war helmet”. But it was Willie who developed effective techniques to become a top MLB without battering his head the rest of his career. He should be advising the NFL rules committee on safe defensive play and rulemaking.
    I backed him up 4 years starting with the Super Bowl team in 1969, and can verify he was also a team leader who helped lesser players like me. He is a high quality person like Bobby Bell, Jim Lynch and so many others on that team.
    Bob Stein

  4. Doc Trulear says:

    One in a long line of great players from Morgan State, including Leroy Kelley, Rosey Brown and Len Ford. And Raymond Chester and Frenchy Fuqua were not too shabby.

  5. 1967 says:

    One of the benefits of the Chiefs losing Superbowl 1 was they saw the need to make changes in their defensive personnel. Though the defensive backfield and more specifically CB was the area of most need, defensive line and linebacker were the areas targeted in ’67, the first combined AFL/NFL draft.

    Enter Willie Lanier, exit KC’s Chief worries MLB position the next decade plus. Fact is, Willie was somewhat an afterthought at the time, an couple other guys drafted ahead of him by KC.

    They began by addressing DE: Gene Trosch was picked #1 in the draft (he a huge DL who never panned out, lack of quickness/mobility.) Next, two picks in round 2 equated bullseyes: Willie Lanier and Jim Lynch… but not in that order.

    Lynch was drafted three picks higher round 2 than Lanier & was believed to be the front runner to replace MLB Sherrill Headrick, sooner than later. KC’s DE Chuck Hurston was also tried at MLB that training camp before returning to DE where Aaron Brown’s thigh injury kept him out all of 1967 (in fact, Brown was tried at full back that camp, and Daryle Lamonica and Joe Kapp et al probably wish Aaron had stayed there.)

    By the time ’67 was over, the Chiefs had found new starters: ‘Salt & Pepper’, Lynch & Lanier. The duo was if memory serves the first black & white roommates the Chiefs ever had, noteworthy too in that they were competitors for the very same starting spot, MLB.

    Lanier was slated for a look at OLB as well MLB the mike position, in the days before the 3/4 defense was en vogue. While Lanier is sometimes listed as being the first black MLB in pro football that nod technically may go to a guy named Bill Willis, a nose guard credited with becoming the first ‘middle linebacker’, creating the position according some 1940’s – 50’s. As it happened Lynch moved outside, Lanier anchored the middle and the rest as they say was history.

    Arguably, no one to date has played MLB any better than Willie Lanier. Listed 6’1 245 (5’11 3/4 – 6’0 reality), Lanier (nicknamed ‘Contact’ by KC DE Jerry Mays & known too as ‘Honey Bear’) was big enough & good enough to become the starter his rookie year, displacing former All Star MLB Headrick the process.

    Likewise, Lynch made the loss of OLB EJ Holub to injury vs SD early that season his entree to his starting spot, and facilitated the move of Holub to Center in 1968, fixing two holes the process. When Brown returned in a big way in ’68 and KC obtained DT Curley Culp from DEN in trade that same year (augmented a Lynch, Lanier as well CB Emmitt Thomas & S Jim Kearney’s emergence as starters), 10 of 11 pieces a Championship outfit were in place, the last coming in ’69 with the Chiefs drafting of CB Jim Marsalis.

    But a great defense’s incubation began in ’67 with Hall of Famer Lanier and All Star Lynch’s arrival.

    It grew by leaps & bounds in ’68 the maturation Lanier, Lynch, Thomas, Kearney & Culp, and became pro football’s best with Marsalis 1969, as the Chiefs became for a too brief moment in time the best team in football. For all time however, Willie Lanier will be a Hall of Famer.

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