Pro Football Hall of Fame linebacker , an eight-time All-AFL/AFC selection during an 11-year career with the , was honored Tuesday as a Hometown Hall of Famer™ by the Pro Football Hall of Fame and Allstate Insurance Company
. The special plaque ceremony at Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School in Richmond, Va. took place in front of an audience that included more than 500 students, family and friends, as well as local community members with about 40 Maggie L. Walker alumni in attendance as Lanier was presented with the historic hometown plaque.
Following a performance by the school jazz band, the emcee and former Richmond sports anchor Ben Hamlin kicked off the event by reminding the audience that this honor was not just about celebrating Lanier, but about celebrating Maggie L. Walker and the Richmond community. Presenting Lanier with his plaque was former high school and Morgan State University teammate Gilbert Carter. Carter, who was also Lanier’s college roommate, shared childhood memories and emphasized how Lanier has continued to give back to Maggie L. Walker and the Richmond community through service and scholarships for high school students.
After the unveiling of the plaque, Lanier took the stage with an overwhelming amount of appreciation and reflected on his journey to success.
“I didn’t make the team my sophomore year of high school due to my size, but went on to make the team my junior year,” shared Lanier who was enshrined into the Hall of Fame in 1986. “It was my high school football coach that moved me from offense to defense where I assumed the middle linebacker position. If not for that move, I may never have been in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The education I received at Maggie L. Walker also helped me to achieve the American Dream and an NFL career that led me to great success and opportunities including shaking hands with five Presidents of the United States. None of this would have happened if not for my years developing at Maggie L. Walker”.
In addition to the plaque, a commemorative Hometown Hall of Famer™ road sign is on display at the entrance of Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School.
Additional speakers included Troy Chandler, Allstate Insurance Company and George Veras, president and CEO of Pro Football Hall of Fame Enterprises.
“This plaque commemorates the Richmond community – past, present and future,” said Veras. “It is this community that led Willie down the road to Canton and to the Pro Football Hall of Fame which is why this plaque belongs right here where it all began.”
Lanier was the second round draft pick of the in the 1967 AFL/NFL Draft. A two-time Small College All-American middle linebacker from Morgan State University, Lanier became the first African-American to star at the demanding position on the pro level.
Known for his powerful hits on the opposition, Lanier was nicknamed “Contact” and was known also for his ability to quickly track down ball carriers. Lanier scared offenses in other ways than just his powerful hits. He intercepted quarterbacks at least two times a year with the exception of his rookie and final seasons as a pro, tallying a career total of 27 picks returned for 440 yards and two touchdowns. He recovered a total of 18 fumbles throughout his career.
Lanier participated in the last two AFL All-Star games in 1968 and 1969 and was elected to the first six AFC-NFC Pro Bowls after the two leagues merged. In 1985 he was inducted as a member of the Chiefs Hall of Fame.
“I couldn’t be more privileged to recognize Pro Football Hall of Fame member as a hometown plaque recipient here in Richmond,” said Troy Chandler, Allstate Insurance Company. “I attended James Madison University with Mr. Lanier’s son and as a longtime friend of the family, I know not only what a great player Mr. Lanier once was but also what a great person he is.”
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