This month’s “C” word is COACH, which, in the “C” You In The Major Leagues lexicon means that a person understands the game; is an independent thinker; is a good self-evaluator; and offers enthusiasm. With the NFL season underway, there’s a Kansas City Chiefs’ legend and Pro Football Hall of Famer who’s a great fit for COACH: Willie Lanier.
The story might be one of the greatest in Chiefs history. Even among the players of the 1969 team. And, it’s the moment that best sums up Willie Lanier’s passion for football and his teammates.
During the fourth quarter of the 1969 AFL divisional playoff game against the defending Super Bowl champion New York Jets, at Shea Stadium, the Chiefs held a 6-3 lead. Joe Namath and the Jets had the ball at the Kansas City 1-yard-line on first down after a pass interference call against the Chiefs.
With his teeth clenched and tears running down his face, Willie Lanier, middle linebacker, pleaded with the defensive unit: “They’re not going to score! They’re not going to score!”
On first down, Namath handed off to Bill Mathis, who was stopped for no gain.
“By instincts, if you’re the Jets, you can’t go with a long count at the goal line because everyone is so intense that it could even throw off your guys,” Lanier said. “So, if you start moving as soon as (Namath) said ‘hut,’ their attempt to block can’t happen. Even if you’re caught moving too early, they’re still at the goal line.”
Then, on second down, New York’s Matt Snell tried a similar play up the middle but he was pushed back for a loss of a half-yard.
“Our guys started feeling better at that point and we ratcheted things up,” said Lanier.
On third down, Namath attempted a pass, but Bobby Bell was in his face and disrupted Namath’s throw. The Jets settled for a field goal. Just a few plays later, the Chiefs scored on a 19-yard pass play from Len Dawson to Gloster Richardson. Kansas City went on to win the game 13-6.
By the way, tears? Several Chiefs players say yes.
“Think of the military and drill sergeants getting in people’s faces and trying to bring concerted focus,” said Lanier. “But I would say that I couldn’t remember if there were tears or not.
“Creating the analogy of sports and business, none of us knows when that moment will come along that will give you a chance to do something important.”
Lanier knows plenty about both sports and business. For more than 35 years, he has been a financial advisor in Virginia. Additionally, Lanier has been the Chairman for PDS/US, an automotive logistics business, and on the advisory board of Crossflo Systems.
In 2015, Lanier donated $500,000 to his alma mater, Morgan State University, to start an endowed business ethics lectureship.
Of course, whenever Lanier is in Kansas City, he’s remembered more for his 11-year NFL Hall of Fame career with the Chiefs, 1967-77, as a member of one of the game’s best linebacker corps, with Bell and Jim Lynch. And, of course, as being part of Super Bowl IV, when the Chiefs’ defense dominated Minnesota, forcing five turnovers and holding the Vikings to 67 rushing yards, in a 23-7 win.
“We didn’t really see Minnesota as being better than Oakland (which the Chiefs beat in the AFL championship),” said Lanier, who was enshrined in Canton in 1986. “And the Jets were the previous Super Bowl winner. It was one of those times that if (the Vikings) were going to be better than those teams in our eyes, they were going to have to prove it. They didn’t.”
When asked about great personal moments that may stand out, Lanier quickly deflects and points to the people.
“The intensity of every moment is so full that I don’t have a biggest moment,” he said. “I think about the quality of Lamar Hunt and his founding the team and creating the opportunities for a lot of talented players. I think about the relationships that were created that time and continue today. And I think about the combination of Lamar, Jack Steadman and Hank Stram in our success. We had quality front-office people, quality coaches and quality players. Everyone was on the same page with the same mission and same desire for the ultimate outcome.”
This story was written by our Director Matt Fulks and appeared in his book, “100 Things Chiefs Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die.”