Round 2: Linebacker Willie Lanier
In the 1960s, the Chiefs were still trying to return to AFL championship status after missing out on the game since winning in 1962 as the then-Dallas Texans. They would never have a chance for another AFL championship after the league announced a merger with the larger NFL. The announcement came in 1966 but did not take effect until 1970. In the meantime, the two leagues held a joint draft and championship game, still known as the Super Bowl. Under this merger cloud, the Chiefs had an opportunity, like all other teams. The year was 1967, and little did they know that their second-round selection would pave the way for one of the greatest linebackers in the history of the franchise, Willie Lanier.
With the 50th overall pick in the draft, the Chiefs took a chance on Lanier, a standout linebacker from Morgan State University. The Chiefs saw immense potential in the young linebacker and believed he could be a key component in strengthening their defense. Lanier is pushing racial boundaries, joining Garland Boyette of the AFL’s Houston Oilers as the first Black middle linebacker in professional American football history. The small-school product had a Kansas-sized chip on his shoulder and wasted no time in proving himself to be a force to be reckoned with.
His rookie season saw him quickly adapt to the professional game, showcasing his agility, instincts, and unmatched tackling ability. He won the starting middle linebacker job over fellow rookie Jim Lynch and did not look back. Lanier’s imposing presence on the field made him a nightmare for opposing offenses, as he disrupted plays with bone-crushing tackles and earned the nickname “Contact”. His sophomore season in 1968 was a breakout year for Lanier, as he led the Chiefs’ defense with unmatched intensity and skill. He recorded four interceptions in the Chiefs’ defensive unit. He again played a pivotal role in helping the team reach the Super Bowl that year, marking the Chiefs’ second appearance in the Super Bowl. Facing the mighty Minnesota Vikings, the Chiefs’ defense needed to rise to the occasion. Lanier stepped up in a big way, intercepting a pass and leading a Kansas City defense that held the Vikings to one touchdown. His performance and leadership helped propel the Chiefs to a resounding victory, securing their first-ever Super Bowl title. Lanier’s impact extended beyond his Super Bowl heroics.
Throughout his illustrious career, he continued to dominate on the field, earning numerous accolades, including eight All-Pro selections, six Bro Bowl selections, and winning the NFL’s Man of the Year Award in 1972. Lanier’s leadership and defensive prowess were unparalleled, and he became the anchor of the Chiefs’ defense for over a decade. He only missed one game after his rookie year, serving as Kansas City’s defensive ironman. His contributions to the Chiefs’ franchise are significant, not only in terms of his on-field excellence but also as an ambassador for the team. Lanier’s character, professionalism, and dedication to the game earned him respect both on and off the field.