NEW ORLEANS, LA – JANUARY 11: Willie Lanier #63 of the Kansas City Chiefs runs with the ball against the Minnesota Vikings during Super Bowl IV on January 11, 1970 at Tulane Stadium in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Chiefs won the Super Bowl 23-7. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
13. Willie Lanier becomes first black middle linebacker (1967)
Former Kansas City Chiefs head coach Hank Stram was instrumental in innovating the game of football with his progressive vision as a football coach. What you’ll trace from his fingerprint are schemes including the moving pocket, the two tight-end set, and even stacking linebackers directly behind lineman.
What may be his greatest accomplishment in changing the game as we know it was taking on an approach to building his roster that was unbiased and embraced diversity. The only thing Stram cared about was if you were a good football and had good character. It was this kind of forward thinking that opened the door for Willie Lanier to become the first African-American to play middle linebacker in the NFL.
In 1967, Kansas City drafted Lanier in the second round out of tiny Morgan State. Lanier, who was 6-foot-1 and 245 pounds was called “Contact” because ability to hit opponents powerfully. By the fourth game of his rookie season Lanier had played well enough to win the starting job and would never give it back.
Lanier contributed greatly to the Chiefs in the 11 seasons he played for them, registering 27 interceptions, 18 recovered fumbles, and only missed five games total in his career.
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