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Thursday Tribute

Thursday Tribute: Willie Lanier

From an HBCU to Kansas City, Lanier was a pioneer for African American linebackers with his physicality, play-calling, and ball-hawking ability.

After losing 35-10 in the inaugural Super Bowl against the Green Bay Packers, upgrades were needed. The Chiefs found that and then some with middle linebacker Willie Lanier from HBCU Morgan State.

Lanier was selected in the second round of the 1967 NFL Draft. This high draft selection was well earned after he was named a two-time Small College All-American.

Right away Lanier competed for and earned the starting position for the Chiefs. Lanier’s legacy would be remembered as being an intelligent, but ferocious field general for the franchise.

Lanier earned the nickname, “Contact” for his physical style of tackling. Sadly, tackles weren’t a recorded stat back then but after watching some highlights, it’s safe to say that Lanier made a decent amount of tackles throughout his career.

His helmet was actually designed to have more padding than others. However, this extra protection was actually meant to help the other team, not Lanier.

Lanier was the true leader of the defensive side for the Chiefs. He called the plays and made adjustments accordingly, which means the organization had a lot of faith and trust in Lanier, both physically and mentally.

With making strong hits, Lanier recovered 18 fumbles throughout his eleven season career in Kansas City, according to Pro Football Reference. Sadly, forced fumbles weren’t recorded either, but with the nickname “Contact,” he probably forced a few.

Besides tackling and playcalling, getting interceptions was common for Lanier throughout his career. Lanier still holds the franchise record for linebackers with 27 career interceptions, even despite playing in a run-heavy league.

No interception was bigger than his fourth-quarter interception in Super Bowl IV against the Minnesota Vikings. That pick helped seal a 23-7 victory and bring Kansas City its first-ever world championship.

In his career, Lanier was named to eight all-star teams, varying from the AFL and NFL leagues. Lanier was also named an All-Pro three times throughout his career, according to Pro Football Reference.

Lanier was also awarded the now Walter Payton Man of the Year award in 1972. The legacy left by Lanier will be remembered and enshrined forever.

Lanier earned his gold jacket into the Pro Football Hall of Fame with the class of 1986. This would be just the second Chiefs player to be inducted, Bobby Bell was the first in 1983.

The legacy of Lanier should be more well known in the Chiefs Kingdom, as he played a significant role in bringing a Super Bowl title to the Chiefs. Whether it was calling the correct play, or making a devastating hit or interception, Lanier found a way to impact the game.

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