Behind the Bronze: Willie Lanier


Two-hundred-sixty bronze busts reside in the Hall of Fame Gallery inside the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. They "immortalize" the greatest players, coaches, and contributors that this game has produced.

Willie Lanier

Linebacker Willie Lanier was the Kansas City Chiefs second-round pick in 1967. He starred for the Chiefs for 11 seasons in which time he picked off 27 passes. Known as a devastating tackler, perhaps his greatest performance came in the Chiefs' Super Bowl IV victory. He was named to two AFL All-Star Games, six Pro Bowls and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1986. Willie's HOF Bio>>>

Behind the Bronze Series:

Jack Ham>>>
Joe DeLamielleure>>>
Charlie Sanders>>>
Dave Wilcox>>>
Randall McDaniel>>>
Jack Youngblood>>>

I really don't have a lot of hobbies. I would say it's probably reading newspapers, periodicals, and different types of magazines.

What are some of the publications you read? As far as magazines I look on a regular basis at the The Economist, and Fortune. I also spend a lot of time each day going through three of four of the national newspapers – the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, New York Times – and some local ones also just to keep refreshed on a lot of local, national, and international points of view.

Favorite Music: My favorite piece of music is the 1812 Overture by Tchaikovsky. My family had that in the home when I was growing up. And, I've always enjoyed the Fourth of July because that's the one that finishes many of the Fourth of July activities. I had always hoped to hear it performed by the Boston Pops. About nine years ago, I was in Boston and was able to hear the 1812 Overture performed by the Boston Symphony. It was one of the most joyous moments of my life to be able to appreciate a song that I'd enjoyed all of my life and to be in Boston on the Fourth of July and feel the essence of patriotism and quality of the presentation.

Favorite Movie: I wouldn't say movie, but movies. The Ian Fleming's James Bond movies. I've been watching them since my days in college and even up to today.

Favorite Food: Sweet potato pie.

Favorite Current NFL Player: I'll say Ray Lewis because he plays the same position I did.

Favorite Athlete in Another Sport: He's no longer playing but it's Rafer Johson. In my lifetime, Rafer won the 1960 decathlon. He epitomized a broad swath of athletic skill.

Favorite NFL Team as a Child: I didn't really have one as a child. I really started watching the pro game as I was finishing high school and when I went to college in Baltimore so I started to focus on the Colts.

First Job: Selling newspapers in Richmond, Virginia. The thing I remember is that there was a sales contest when I was 14. I won a trip to Miami, Florida for a week by selling new subscriptions to the newspaper.

Favorite NFL Stadium During Your Career (other than your own): My favorite stadium was Mile High in Denver. It wasn't as much the stadium as it was located in Denver. I enjoyed Denver and the time of year that we played there. A lot of times when we played the Broncos there would be these wonderful, big snowfalls that would occur.

Watch: Willie Lanier recalls his most memorable game.

One Person Who Influenced You Most: My father.

Did you have any pre-game rituals/superstitions? Jim Lynch and I played together for 11 years and after the national anthem was played we'd hit each other on the shoulder pads four or five times, hit each other left hand, right hand, left hand, right hand on the helmet to get ready for the games. Also when Bobby Bell was with us for the first eight years, if we were wearing red slacks, we wore contrasting shoe strings tied to our belt. And, if we wore white slacks, we'd wear red strings. And we made sure that each game everyone had the string. The feeling of the superstition was that in Bobby's 12 years and I played 11 with Jim, and collectively we missed just three games. And, so that's maybe why we were superstitious.

Was there a reason for choosing No. 63? I didn't pick it; it was given to me when I arrived in Kansas City.

Toughest Opponent you ever faced: The Oakland Raiders. The joy was that either they or us would win the Western Division and would have the chance to go on from there. So, the great thing was playing them made you better.

What about the single toughest player you faced? I don't really have one player I faced. The one I paid the most attention to also played for the Oakland Raiders. The interesting thing is that it wasn't the one most people would think. It wasn't (Gene) Upshaw, it wasn't (Art) Shell, it wasn't (Jim) Otto, all of who were Hall of Fame players. It was a guy who only played there for three years named Bob Brown. He's in the Hall of Fame also. I just watched the way Bob physically and aggressively attacked defensive players. He didn't really ever hit me but I paid more attention to him because I saw his skill as being so highly elevated that it needed a little bit more respect.

Most Influential Coach: Hank Stram. He had a responsibility of making a decision about a draft in 1967. Other teams in the NFL, as well as the AFL, had not had minorities playing the middle linebacker position. So, if he doesn't have the character and the confidence to make a decision that others weren't making at that time then whatever my career might have been, may not have happened.

How would you spend time during the offseason? I was a business major at Morgan State so I did business related things from being licensed in real estate to being licensed in securities. Everything was always a constant business related involvement.

What makes you most proud about your Hall of Fame career? The fact that I was the so-called first black middle linebacker to play full-time in pro football and the expansion of opportunity so that my skills went from being accepted to all the way to being inducted into the Hall of Fame.

How did you learn of your Hall of Fame election? I was at Morgan State College. But, it was nowhere like it is today where you're waiting around the phone with friends and family. I really couldn't tell you exactly where I was except I was in Baltimore on Morgan State's campus.

Was it difficult to pick your presenter? It's always difficult because it's a very singular and very important decision that you have the opportunity to make. And, looking over my pro career I selected Lamar Hunt because of the impact not only that he had on sport but the reality is that if he didn't have the inclination to form a league to allow young men of color a chance to play, we wouldn't have an opportunity. We came to know each other as individuals rather than just owner-player.

If you could do your Enshrinement Speech over today, what would you change? I really wouldn't change anything. I think the reality of the speech is that I'm not one to write one, I speak extemporaneously. So, mine came as the pure document of the moment so whatever was there that day is the imprint that is there for the ages.

Your greatest accomplishment outside of football: My greatest accomplishment is to have three children and three grandchildren.

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