Willie Lanier's enshrinement speech transcript


1986 Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony
August 2, 1986
Pro Football Hall of Fame

LAMAR HUNT: Thank you Jim (Muzzy, the emcee). In the 1967 college draft the Chiefs had the good fortune to have two No. 2 draft choices. We thought our college scouting was fairly thorough at that time, but the facts are that by today's standards we were back in the stone ages. The Chiefs used both of those No. 2 draft choices at the linebacker position. And we found two players destined to star for ten years. The first one came from a major college power, Notre Dame, where we drafted the captain of their national championship team, Jim Lynch. Two players later, in the second round, we selected Willie Lanier from a small college in Baltimore, called Morgan State University. It is ironic that even though we took Willie in the second round, we had not previously talked to him in person. No member of our organization had really had a conversation with him. Willie had been discovered by a part-time scout named Frank Barnes who was a friend of Hank Stram's who did scouting for us on a regular basis, but he wasn't on our staff.

Lanier poses with his presenter and fellow Hall of Famer, Lamar Hunt
To say that Willie was a sleeper, was an understatement. But the ultimate on draft day was made by Hank. Once Hank saw Jim Lynch and Willie in training camp, he decided that both of them should play and he moved Lynch to the outside and Lanier was to play his middle position as a forceful bear of a man whose strength and intensity and striking power set new standards for the game. In Kansas City, Willie Lanier played on one of the greatest defensive teams in pro football history. He was the immovable rock, who had to be avoided at all costs by the offense. In the frozen 1969 playoff game in Shea Stadium, it was his tears and determination that helped stop the Jets on what was the goal line stand, the all-time goal line stand of the Kansas City Chiefs' history. Two years later in a game that I remember very vividly and a play I still see in my mind, Willie hammered Larry Brown of the Redskins in the submission in a memorable mid-season game with the Washington Redskins.

The Hall of Fame was open in 1963. Prior to today, only 10 linebackers have been honored on these steps and I must mention with great, great pride that Willie and his teammate Bobby Bell, who was enshrined here a couple of years ago, are the only two linebackers in pro football history to be honored from the same team. Now you understand my statement of a few minutes ago about the greatness of that team's defense.

In August of 1945, Harry Truman was President of the United States and the NFL as an entity was struggling to keep the sport alive with a roster of makeshift teams. Doak Walker and Bobby Layne were in the Merchant Marines together and "V" Day was just a few weeks ago. But in that scenario in Clover, VA a baby boy was born to the Robert Lanier family and I want to say Clover in this case must have meant the four-leaf kind because it was indeed a lucky day for the football fans of America. Later a teenaged Willie Lanier furthered his education at a school called Maggie Walker High School in Richmond, VA and judging by Willie's later financial acumen, which is substantial, that school was indeed prophetically named after the first black female bank president in America. Willie went on to Morgan State University and he went there as an unrecruited, non-scholarship player. He actually called the school in July to find out how he could get to enroll there. The rest is, of course, history. So today we honor Mr. & Mrs. Lanier's baby boy who grew up to be such a bear of a man. His destiny was to be the prototype of his era. It was a period that was highlighted by the emergence of the AFL and the great stars who flourished in that league and Willie was one of the very greatest. The caliber of the linebackers at Canton is, of course, above question. I mentioned that there had been only 10 before today. The staccato names echo a thousand collisions along the way because these guys are really the hitters of this game. They are the reminders that indeed how this game is meant to be played. One thinks of Joe Schmidt and (Chuck) Bednarik and Bulldog Turner and one knows that each in turn have stood on these same steps. One reflects on the memories of (Dick) Butkus, (Ray) Nitschke and Notre Dame's George Connor and remembers, too, the exploits of Bill George and Alex Wojciechowicz who are gone, but not forgotten. The honor roll is complete with Sam Huff and the incomparable Bobby Bell and now here today, a second Kansas City Chief takes his place, his rightful place and I present to you a linebacker for the ages. Willie Lanier.

WILLIE LANIER: Thank you, Lamar, for that very fine and inspiring introduction. I think for all of us as we have been here have found ourselves with the past enshrinees telling us what might happen to us here. I think that anytime you have that kind of introduction I have to be a little careful because I guess I would say that sometimes the way I played it might have been a little bit demonstrative. I would just like to say how happy I am to be here in Canton today to be enshrined with the four gentlemen that are also being enshrined here today and to be around so many others who have been my contemporaries in the game. I think in looking back since January when it was announced that I would be one of the inductees this year, I started trying to decide and understand exactly maybe how all this came to be. And, of course, you have to start with your parents who gave birth to you and nurtured you and allowed you to develop into that person you would become. I think that looking back at that my father is here today, but unfortunately, my mother passed away three years ago and it was a situation that she traveled to many games around the country and I think she took a great joy in her youngest son's ability to play the sport. I was in the parade this morning and the response we got here in Canton was the greatest I have ever seen in my life. To see the outpouring of respect and emotion and everyone trying to make it better for you on this particular day that will be with all of us for the rest of our lives.

Lanier_WillieI happened to see a gentleman who was my very first coach in Little League basketball in Richmond, Russell Williams. He was on the street waving as hard as he could and I think that the essence of being here is that there are certain foundations and those people who are part of that and we follow the direction that they offer. Hopefully, you might find yourself some day at this place. I was very blessed to have gone to Richmond, VA with Russell Williams and then Cannonball Cooper at Walker High School because he saw something in me when I was a 12th grader and switched me to a linebacker position and said at that time that I had bilateral movement than anyone he had ever seen. At that time I obviously had no idea what that would lead to. But to stand here today, I would probably not be here unless he would have made that choice.

I went on to Morgan State College, as Lamar mentioned, and it was a situation that a teammate of mine in high school, Gilbert Carter, who is here today also, was recruited by Morgan and I had an interest in going to school there. So I sought out the school, talked to the coach and I found myself at Morgan for four years and it was a great experience and I was nurtured a little bit further by a fellow by the name of Earl Banks, who is here today. And I want to thank Earl as he knows how strongly I feel about him because that was the next step in coming toward Canton.
I was in the shrine a little bit earlier today and I noticed George Knoch who is sitting in the back who is a running back at Morgan and Clarence Scott and Wade Johnson and it is such a great thrill to stand here and know that so many people from all different phases of your life can share in this kind of event. I think that is the greatest thing I have felt since alt this occurred is that everywhere along the way those who have touched me, who have supported can be a part of this event as it occurs today.

But then moving on to Kansas City, being drafted No. 2. Going out to Kansas City and finding that there was a relationship built there with players of such a quality that I think very few players have had the opportunity to play with them and the kind of caliber people that we played with. Jim Lynch, of course, is here and Bobby Bell, I am so pleased to be the second linebacker from that threesome to be able to stand here before you because we developed a bond, an attitude, and a trust that I think is very rare in almost anything you can do. Otis Taylor is here. I saw him last night. Buck Buchanan is, of course, here. I know that the rest of the teammates that I played with at Kansas City all share this honor with me and I feel that this is for all of you and for all of us.

It is difficult to explain how you really feel when you stand here and realize that a stadium such as Fawcett Stadium, is just like any basic stadium in the country. You play in a field of the same size all over the country and you wonder at what point you really decide to try to maybe be a little bit better. But I think if there is one thread that runs between all of us who happen to be here is that there was a tremendous amount of dedication and a belief that we had the skill to perform. Not at a level above others, but we set some sites that were only among ourselves and in doing that allowed us to stand before you today.

I look out in the audience and I see my three kids who are growing and really becoming a great part of the athletic life and my oldest son will be going to college this year which I think sometimes dates me a little bit. I feel a little bit young maybe coming into the Hall of Fame, but knowing my son is going into college lets me know that is quite not the case. I just would like to say that there is no way that I can adequately state to everyone who is involved here, the Hall of Fame, the previous players who have been inducted, those I am being inducted with today and I would like to say to those that are coming forward that this is worthy, this is great, this is something that should be strived for. And I think it is important for all young people that try to make decisions that would affect their lives in the future that they recognize that these kind of events are possible for all of you out there regardless of background, circumstances or maybe if you have to call your coaches to ask what college you should attend. I would like to thank everyone who has attended today and this has been and will always be one of the greatest moments I will ever remember. Thank you.

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