Willie Lanier

Last updated

Willie Lanier
Willie lanier 1971 topps card.jpg
Lanier displayed on a 1971 Topps card
No. 63
Position: Middle linebacker
Personal information
Born: (1945-08-21) August 21, 1945 (age 77)
Clover, Virginia
Height:6 ft 1 in (1.85 m)
Weight:245 lb (111 kg)
Career information
High school: Maggie L. Walker
(Richmond, Virginia)
College: Morgan State (1963–1966)
NFL Draft: 1967  / Round: 2 / Pick: 50
Career history
Career highlights and awards
Career NFL statistics
Fumble recoveries:18
Player stats at NFL.com  ·  PFR

Willie Edward Lanier (born August 21, 1945) is an American former professional football player who was a middle linebacker for the Kansas City Chiefs from 1967 through 1977. He won postseason honors for eight consecutive years, making the American Football League All-Star team in 1968 and 1969 before being selected to the Pro Bowl from 1970 through 1975.


A Super Bowl champion, Lanier won the NFL Man of the Year in 1972. He was selected to both the NFL’s 75th and 100th Anniversary All-Time Teams, and inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1986 and the College Football Hall of Fame in 2000.

Early life

Lanier was born in Clover and attended Maggie L. Walker High School in Richmond, Virginia. According to a DNA analysis, he descended, mainly, from Jola people of Guinea-Bissau. [1]

College career

Lanier played college football at Morgan State University under head coach Earl Banks where he was twice selected to the small-college College Football All-America Team and was also chosen MVP of the Tangerine Bowl. [2]

Willie Lanier is a member of The Pigskin Club of Washington, D.C. National Intercollegiate All-American Football Players Honor Roll.

Professional career

On January 15, 1967, the Chiefs lost Super Bowl I to Vince Lombardi's Green Bay Packers by a 35-10 score, forcing head coach Hank Stram to look for defensive players in the upcoming draft. Stram picked the 6’ 1”, 245 lb. [3] Lanier with the 50th overall pick, three picks after another linebacker, Jim Lynch of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

Lynch had been chosen to play in the annual College All-Star Game, causing him to miss the first two weeks of Chiefs practice. By the time Lynch made it to camp, Lanier had already established himself as the team's middle linebacker. He joined Garland Boyette of the AFL's Houston Oilers as the first black middle linebackers in professional American football history. In the midst of a solid first season, Lanier suffered an injury and missed the last four games of the year.

The following year, Lanier collected four interceptions, then matched that total in 1969 as he helped the Chiefs capture Super Bowl IV with a 23-7 upset of the Minnesota Vikings. He was stellar in the Super Bowl, recording 7 tackles and an interception. He later commented on the increased motivation that Chiefs players felt because of wearing an AFL patch to honor the league's final year.

There were numerous great moments throughout Lanier’s career, but none exemplifies his heart and desire as much as the Chiefs' goal line stand against the New York Jets in the 1969 divisional playoff game. Trailing 6-3 in the fourth quarter, New York had a first-and-goal at the Chiefs' one-yard line after a pass interference call on Kansas City. It was then that Lanier made an emotional appeal to the rest of the Chiefs defense, yelling: "They're not going to score...! They're not going to score!" The Chiefs shut down the Jets on three straight plays and held them to a field goal. Kansas City scored a touchdown on its next possession, winning the game, and winning a place in the Super Bowl.

The Chiefs reached the NFL playoffs only one more time during Lanier's career, in 1971, winning the AFC Western Division title. On Christmas Day, in the final contest at Municipal Stadium, the Chiefs' season came to an end against the Miami Dolphins in a double overtime classic. The contest was the longest game in NFL history, clocking in at more than 82 minutes.

In 1972, the Chiefs moved to Arrowhead Stadium. By 1974 the team's talent was depleted by age and injuries. After the conclusion of that season, Stram was fired after 15 years at the helm.

The linebacking trio of Lanier, Lynch and fellow Hall of Famer Bobby Bell is recognized as one of the most talented in professional football history, lasting until the arrival of new head coach Paul Wiggin in 1975.

Lanier was traded in April 1978 to the Baltimore Colts, but announced his retirement as an active player three months later on July 20, 1978. [4]


Lanier was known as Contact, a name coined by Chiefs' teammate Jerry Mays in 1967. As Lanier remembered: "Since I unfortunately followed the style of tackling that we were taught at that time – that was to use your head first of hitting players in the middle of their body. It was done in a rather aggressive manner".

But Lanier's uncontrolled tackling resulted in Chiefs' equipment manager Bobby Yarborough outfitting Lanier's helmet with extra padding. The padding was not on the inside of the helmet to protect Lanier but rather, as some photos of him in uniform show, on the outside of the helmet to protect the player he was tackling.

While renowned for his hitting ability, Lanier was also fast, agile and disciplined, finishing his career with 27 interceptions and 15 fumble recoveries.

Punt ReturnKick Returns


Willie Lanier received All-Pro ( AFL ALL-Star or All-AFC) mention every year, appearing in all-star games from 1968 to 1975 (his first two in the AFL and his last six in the AFC). In 1986, he achieved Pro Football Hall of Fame status.

After the NFL

After Lanier's retirement, the Chiefs retired both Lanier's and Bell's numbers.

Lanier returned to school, taking graduate courses at the University of Missouri–Kansas City. He then returned to Virginia as a stockbroker, at First Union Securities, where he served as vice-chairman. He is the former CEO of TDS/US, the minority venture partner of TDS Logistics (now Syncreon).

In 2006, Lanier was interviewed for the NFL Network documentary America's Game: The Super Bowl Champions chronicling the 1969 Kansas City Chiefs season.


See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Super Bowl I</span> 1967 National Football League championship game

The first AFL–NFL World Championship Game was an American football game played on January 15, 1967, at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, California. The National Football League (NFL) champion Green Bay Packers defeated the American Football League (AFL) champion Kansas City Chiefs by the score of 35–10.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Super Bowl IV</span> Fourth AFL–NFL Championship Game

Super Bowl IV was an American football game played on January 11, 1970 at Tulane Stadium in New Orleans, Louisiana. It was the fourth and final AFL–NFL World Championship Game in professional football prior to the AFL–NFL merger taking effect the following season. The American Football League (AFL) champion Kansas City Chiefs defeated the National Football League (NFL) champion Minnesota Vikings by the score of 23–7. This victory by the AFL squared the Super Bowl series with the NFL at two games apiece as the two leagues merged into one after the game.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Hank Stram</span> American football coach (1923–2005)

Henry Louis Stram was an American football coach. He is best known for his 15-year tenure with the Dallas Texans / Kansas City Chiefs of the American Football League (AFL) and National Football League (NFL).

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ten-year AFL patch</span>

The Ten-Year AFL Patch is a shoulder patch adapted for use on American Football League (AFL) team uniforms.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Len Dawson</span> American football player (1935–2022)

Leonard Ray Dawson was an American football quarterback who played in the National Football League (NFL) and American Football League (AFL) for 19 seasons, primarily with the Kansas City Chiefs franchise. After playing college football at Purdue, Dawson began his professional career with the NFL in 1957, spending three seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers and two with the Cleveland Browns. He left the NFL in 1962 to sign with the AFL's Chiefs, where he spent the last 14 seasons of his career, and rejoined the NFL after the AFL–NFL merger.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sherrill Headrick</span> American football player (1937–2008)

Sherrill Headrick was an American professional football player.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bobby Bell</span> American football player (born 1940)

Bobby Lee Bell Sr. is an American former professional football player who played as an outside linebacker and defensive end for the Kansas City Chiefs. He is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the College Football Hall of Fame, and was a member of the Chiefs' team that won Super Bowl IV against the Minnesota Vikings.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Buck Buchanan</span> American football player (1940–1992)

Junious "Buck" Buchanan was an American professional football player who was a defensive tackle with the Kansas City Chiefs in the American Football League (AFL) and in the National Football League (NFL). Buchanan was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1996 and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1990. Buchanan was massive for his era, standing at 6'7", and weighing 270 lbs. His height gave him a big advantage against lineman in the trenches.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Willie Brown (American football)</span> American football player (1940–2019)

William Ferdie Brown was an American professional football player, coach, and executive. He played as a cornerback for the Denver Broncos and the Oakland Raiders in the National Football League (NFL). Following his playing career, Brown remained with the Raiders as an assistant coach. He served as the head football coach at California State University, Long Beach in 1991, the final season before the school's football program was terminated. Brown was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a player in 1984. At the time of his death he was on the Raiders' administrative staff.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">1971–72 NFL playoffs</span>

The National Football League playoffs for the 1971 season began on December 25, 1971. The postseason tournament concluded with the Dallas Cowboys defeating the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl VI, 24–3, on January 16, 1972, at Tulane Stadium in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Jerrel Douglas Wilson was an American professional football player who was a punter for 16 seasons, 15 of them with the Kansas City Chiefs, in the American Football League (AFL) and the National Football League (NFL). Wilson played college football at the University of Southern Mississippi. Nicknamed Thunderfoot, he was selected to three AFL All-Star Teams and three AFC-NFC Pro Bowls. Wilson was elected to the Chiefs Hall of Fame in 1988. He was drafted in the 17th round of the 1963 NFL Draft by the Los Angeles Rams and in the 11th round of the 1963 AFL Draft by the Chiefs.

James Robert Lynch was an American football linebacker. Lynch played college football for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, where he was named an All-American and won the Maxwell Award in 1966. Lynch is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Emmitt Thomas</span> American football player and coach (born 1943)

Emmitt Earl Thomas is a former American football coach and cornerback. He most recently served as the defensive backs coach for the Kansas City Chiefs of the National Football League (NFL). He played in college at the now defunct Bishop College. He played professionally for Kansas City Chiefs of the National Football League. He owns the Chiefs all-time interception record with 58, which places him ninth on pro football's all-time list. Thomas was elected to the NFL's Pro Football Hall of Fame after being nominated by the Seniors Committee.

Lloyd C. A. "Judge" Wells, was an American football scout, sports photographer and civil rights activists in the world of sports.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Curley Culp</span> American football player (1946–2021)

Curley Culp was an American football defensive lineman who was a defensive tackle in the American Football League (AFL) and National Football League (NFL). He played college football at Arizona State University, where he was also an NCAA heavyweight wrestling champion. He played football professionally in the AFL for the Kansas City Chiefs in 1968 and 1969, and in the NFL for the Chiefs, Houston Oilers, and Detroit Lions. He was an AFL All-Star in 1969 and a six-time AFC–NFC Pro Bowler.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">1969 Kansas City Chiefs season</span> 10th season in franchise history; first Super Bowl win

The 1969 Kansas City Chiefs season was the team's tenth, their seventh in Kansas City, and the final season of the American Football League (AFL). It resulted in an 11–3 regular season record and three postseason road victories, including a 23–7 victory in Super Bowl IV over the NFL's heavily favored Minnesota Vikings.

The Kansas City Chiefs are a professional American football franchise that began play in 1960 as the Dallas Texans. The team was a charter member of the American Football League (AFL), and now play in the National Football League (NFL).

The Chiefs–Raiders rivalry is a National Football League (NFL) rivalry between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Las Vegas Raiders. The rivalry between the Chiefs and Raiders is considered to be one of the NFL's most bitter rivalries. Since the American Football League (AFL) was established in 1960, the Chiefs and Raiders have shared the same division, first being the AFL Western Conference, and since the AFL–NFL merger in 1970, the AFC West.

The 1971 Kansas City Chiefs season was the franchise's second season in the National Football League (NFL), ninth as the Kansas City Chiefs, and twelfth overall. They improved from a 7–5–2 campaign in 1970 to record a 10–3–1 mark and win the AFC West division championship, the Chiefs' first division title since 1966 and last until 1993. The Chiefs tied with the Miami Dolphins for the best record in the AFC and were tied for the third-best record overall in the NFL, trailing only the 11–3 marks of the Dallas Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Kansas City Chiefs</span> National Football League franchise in Kansas City, Missouri

The Kansas City Chiefs are a professional American football team based in Kansas City, Missouri. The Chiefs compete in the National Football League (NFL) as a member club of the league's American Football Conference (AFC) West division.


  1. Willie Lanier Ancestry Reveal on YouTube
  2. "Famous Alumni". Morgan State University Alumni Association. Retrieved 24 September 2019.
  3. Willie Lanier at football-reference.com
  4. Miller, Jim. "Colts Trade Chester To Oakland For Siani," The Baltimore Evening Sun, Friday, July 21, 1978. Retrieved October 28, 2020