Lanier, Willie 1945–
Willie Lanier 1945–
Football player, businessman
Throughout his illustrious professional football career, Willie Lanier displayed the ferocity and tenacity that made him the preeminent linebacker of his time. Playing for the Kansas City Chiefs during a time when the middle linebacker position was considered a thinking position—and, therefore, exclusive to white players—Lanier broke through the color barrier. According to chiefswarpath.com, Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt was quoted as saying about Lanier, “His destiny was to be the prototype middle linebacker of his era.”
Willie Lanier was born in Clover, Virginia, on August 21, 1945. He attended Maggie Walker High School in Richmond, Virginia. Upon graduation, Lanier had planned to attend Virginia State University, study business administration, and find a job somewhere in central Virginia. Professional football was not a part of this original plan. However, Lanier, seeing a more racially tolerant environment in the North, decided that he would rather attend Morgan State University, in Baltimore, Maryland. Since he also wanted to play on the college’s football team, Lanier telephoned Morgan State coach Earl “Pappa Bear” Banks. “He told me that there was no scholarship available, and I told him I wasn’t looking for a scholarship,” Lanier told the Times-Dispatch. “I told him I just wanted to go to school to get an education.”
Banks invited Lanier to take the Morgan State entrance exam. Lanier obliged, and promptly scored in the top ten percent of the entire incoming freshman class. Without a scholarship, Lanier financed his first semester with a student loan and a work-study arrangement. On the football field, he made a name for himself, his play from 1963 to 1966 ranking him among the greatest players to have ever played at Morgan State. He eventually earned an athletic scholarship, and through this success on the field, his dedication to his studies remained intact. He completed his education in four years, earning a degree in business administration. “You were supposed to graduate in four years,” Lanier told the Times-Dispatch. “That was the expectation. Everybody did it at that time, and there was no question why you were in school.”
Lanier earned his degree in 1967, and was selected by the Kansas City Chiefs in the second round draft. Nicknamed “Honey Bear” by his teammates, Lanier was tough as nails on the football field. He was also nicknamed, “Contact.” “I always had a history of being someone who played the game physically and would be
Born William Lanier on August 21, 1945, in Clover, VA. Education: Morgan State University, business administration degree; University of Missouri-Kansas City, graduate school, attended.
Career: Kansas City Chiefs, 1967–77; Wheat First Union, senior vp and capital markets liaison, currently.
Memberships: Virginia State University, board of visitors; United Way of Greater Richmond; YMCA; The Garfield Child’s Fund; WCVE Public TV, Central Virginia; Industrial Development Authority of Chesterfield County; Huddle House, Ine, board of directors.
Awards: NFL Man of the Year, 1972; Linebacker of the Year, NFL Player’s Association, 1970-75; Chiefs’ Super Bowl IV, Defensive Star; All AFL/AFC, seven times; played in two AFL All Star Games; six Pro Bowls; elected to Kansas City Chiefs, Hall of Fame, 1985; Pro Football Hall of Fame, 1986; Virginia Sports Hall of Fame, 1986; NFL 75th Anniversary Team, 1995; Virginian of the Year, 1986.
very much involved in hard tackles,” Lanier told the NFL Insider. “You start with a high degree of intelligence about what it takes to perform and how to protect yourself and make sure that you play every game of every season at a very high level….”
During his professional career, Lanier had 27 interceptions and 15 fumble recoveries. He also played in the Super Bowl IV, in which the Chiefs defeated the Minnesota Vikings, 23-7. While Lanier’s numbers looked impressive, nothing showed his true colors as a player than a goal line stand in the AFL Divisional Playoff Game against the Super Bowl champion New York Jets. Thanks to Lanier’s leadership, the Jets were able to earn only a field goal and were defeated by the Chiefs. Against the Vikings, the Chiefs weren’t predicted to win, but Lanier, teamed with such veteran stars as defensive tackle Buck Buchanan and linebackers Bobby Bell and Jim Lynch, created one of the AFC’s top defenses. “The Kansas City defense only gave up 20 points in three (playoff victories over) the New York Jets, Oakland, and then Minnesota,” Lanier told the NFL Insider.
Lanier retired from football following the 1977 season. He had amassed some great honors, including being named to the first six AFC-NFC Pro Bowl games. In 1971 Lanier was named the Defensive Most Valuable Player. He was inducted in the Chiefs’s Ring of Honor in 1984—the ring is displayed around the upper deck facing at Arrowhead Stadium. In 1986 Lanier was inducted in the Pro Football Hall Of Fame. Finally, in 1999 Lanier was named one of the middle linebackers on “Dr. Z’s All-Century Team.” Lanier was also named one of The Sporting Newss 100 Greatest Players. “Playing in the Super Bowl and being inducted into the Hall of Fame were caps on my athletic career,” Lanier told the Times-Dispatch. “But I never saw them as caps on my life.”
Unlike many athletes of his time, Lanier’s transition away from football was smooth. One of the first post-football things that Lanier did was enroll in the graduate school at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. “That’s what other students with business degrees were doing,” Lanier told the Times- Dispatch. “I didn’t see any reason why I should be any different.” Employed as senior vice president and capital markets liaison with Wheat First Union in Richmond, Virginia, Lanier has spent the past 21 years in the investment business. He has also, along with NFL Hall of Famer Jim Brown, explored the possibility of formulating the first black-owned NASCAR team.
Who’s Who Among African Americans, 14th ed. Gale Group, 2001.
NFL Insider, January 28, 2001.
The Charlotte Observer, February 13, 1999.
Sports Illustrated, August 30, 1999.
Times-Dispatch (Richmond, VA), 1998.
The Sporting News, www.sportingnews.com
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