Willie Lanier

Willie Lanier
No. 63
Position: Linebacker
Personal information
Date of birth: (1945-08-21) August 21, 1945
Place of birth: Clover, Virginia
Career information
College: Morgan State
NFL Draft: 1967 / Round: 2 / Pick: 50
Career history
Career highlights and awards
Career NFL statistics
Interceptions: 27
Sacks: 2
Defensive touchdowns: 2
Player stats at NFL.com

Willie Edward Lanier (born August 21, 1945) is a former American football middle-linebacker who played 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. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1986.

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.

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 Lanier in the second round, after the team had selected 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, and the American Football League had another first: the first black middle linebacker 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. Lanier was stellar in the Super Bowl, recording 7 tackles and an interception. Lanier 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 his 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. "They're not going to score!" Lanier yelled at this teammates. "They're not going to score!" The Chiefs shut down the Jets on three straight plays and held them to a field goal. When Kansas City scored a touchdown on its next possession, the game was won. The first important step to the Super Bowl was complete.

The Chiefs would reach 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, but the change would not serve the team well, since by 1974, the team's talent had been 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 retired just three months later as training camp was set to get under way.


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.

Interceptions Fumbles
Season Games Int Yds Avg TD FumRec Yds TotScore
1967 10 0 0 0 0 1 0 0
1968 14 4 120 30 1 0 0 6
1969 14 4 70 17.5 0 1 5 0
1970 14 2 2 1 0 2 0 0
1971 14 2 38 19 0 3 3 0
1972 13 2 2 1.0 0 2 0 0
1973 14 3 47 15.7 1 3 10 0
1974 14 2 28 14 0 2 3 6
1975 14 5 105 21 0 0 0 2
1976 14 3 28 9.3 0 2 0 0
1977 14 0 0 0.0 0 2 0 0
Total 149 27 440 16.3 2 18 21 14
Punt Return Kick Returns
Season PR Yds Avg TD KR Yds Avg TD
1967 0 0 0 0 1 1 1.0 0


Rode in a cab in Tampa with The Jon "Johnny Tonsils" Olear. 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


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