HOF Artifact of the Week

HOF Artifact of the Week

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This week's featured artifact is the helmet worn by Pro Football Hall of Famer Willie Lanier from late in his career. Lanier was the first African-American to star at middle linebacker playing for the Kansas City Chiefs from 1967-1977. He was traded to the Baltimore Colts on April 24, 1978 for a fifth-round draft choice.

Lanier’s distinctive helmet with its center pad was sent to the Baltimore Colts equipment room when he was traded and it was repainted white. However, Lanier decided to retire three months later (on July 20, 1978) and was given back his helmet. He donated it to Pro Football Hall of Fame when he was enshrined in 1986. Lanier initially announced his retirement after the 1974 season to pursue a career with the Philip Morris Company, but came back for three more seasons with the Chiefs.  

Nicknamed “Contact”, Lanier had a habit as a rookie of making tackles head first which caused him to suffer injuries. After his first season, Kansas City Chiefs equipment manager Bobby Yarborough customized his helmet with a center pad. He cut a piece of foam normally used for shoulder pads and glued it to the center of the helmet. He then applied red vinyl tape to the pad and repainted the entire helmet red. After his second season, Lanier learned to tackle with his chest and arms and earned the nickname “Huggy Bear” by his teammates. With his new tackling technique Lanier didn’t really need the custom helmet, but kept it because he felt it gave him a menacing look.

Our weekly artifacts and other unique items are featured daily in our docent presentations for visitors of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Plan your visit to the Hall to learn more about the collection in our archives.

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