NFL Greats Remembered : Dick “Night Train” Lane

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It would not be an overstatement to suggest that Richard Lane is the greatest cornerback in the history of the NFL. From his auspicious beginnings as an abandoned orphan to his enshrinement in the NFL Hall of Fame, very few journeys have hit the peaks and valleys as that of the “Night Train.”

In 1927 at the tender age of three months old, in Austin, Texas, Richard Lane was found abandoned and screaming in a dumpster by Ella Lane. Ella was a single mother who was already struggling to make ends meet, but she rescued young Richard and went on to adopt and raise him as if he were her own.

Richard was a three-sport athlete in high school, preferring basketball, but excelling at football. After high school Richard attended Scottsbluff Junior College in Nebraska staying for only one year before dropping out in favor of enlisting in the Army. Upon being discharged Richard gained employment at a factory working with sheet metal for air crafts. Luckily for sports fans he hated that job.

Richard’s introduction occurred in 1952 when he walked into the offices of the Los Angeles Rams with nothing but a scrapbook of his high school football accomplishments and walked out with an invitation to training camp. At this point in time the 24-year old Richard stood approximately 6’1″ and weighed in at 210 pounds and coming off of his military service, was in excellent physical condition.

In that initial training camp Richard originally went out for the position of offensive end due to his size and athleticism (offensive end was the precursor to the wide receiver and is analogous to the modern day tight end). But the Rams already had two future Hall of Famers at offensive end; Tom Fears and Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch, and opted to put Richard at the position of defensive back.

The other major occurrence that took place during training camp featured Tom Fears, a record player, and perfect timing.

Richard and Fears became close friends, thanks in no small part to the fact that Fears was a music lover who brought his personal record player to camp. That summer one of the biggest hit songs was an R&B tune by Jimmy Forrest called “Night Train.” It was Richard and Fears’ penchant for playing this song over and over combined with its acoustically pleasing tambour, Richard ceased to exist and Dick “Night Train” Lane was born.

Night Train rewarded the Rams’ gamble by intercepting 14 passes in his first season. At that time, NFL seasons were only 12 games long and heavily dependent on the run game. It is a single-season record that stands to this day.

All in all Night Train played 14 seasons for the Los Angeles Rams (1952-53), the Chicago Cardinals (1954-59), and the Detroit Lions (1960-65). Over the span of his career Night Train accumulated 68 total interceptions, 1207 interception return yards, 5 touchdowns off of interceptions, and 11 fumble recoveries. Night Train was elected to the Pro Bowl 7 times (1954-56, 58, 60-62), was selected to the All Pro second team 4 times (1954-55, 57-58), and was a first team All Pro 6 times (1956, 59-63). Along with interceptions in a season, Night Train also currently holds the record for consecutive games with an interception with 6.

Given his accomplishments it comes as no surprise that in 1969 Dick “Night Train” Lane was voted as the best cornerback in the NFL’s first 50 years. While his statistics were and are no doubt impressive, it was Night Train’s style and technique that left an indelible impression on football and forever changed the way the game was played.

Night Train was a ferocious tackler who legitimately hated allowing offensive players to gain extra yardage by lunging or falling forward after they had been tackled low or by the torso. Therefore Lane would engage in what players would refer to as the “Night Train Necktie” where Lane would wraps his arms around the offensive players’ head and neck and wrench them down, rather than trying to hit them low. Night Train is single-handedly responsible for the ban on clothes lines and other head-hunting tackling techniques.

Night Train is also responsible for the advent of the cornerback blitz and the bait-and-switch technique. Lane was so athletic and quick that his coaches trusted him to determine situations in which he would abandon his coverage in favor of pursuing the quarterback. Also, his ability to give a receiver space in order to bait the quarterback into making the pass, only to close the gap and intercept the pass, is now considered a fundamental necessity for anyone playing cornerback in the NFL.

Lane’s career culminated in 1974 when he was unanimously voted into the NFL Hall of Fame. Because of his lack of a championship and the evolution of how the game is played Dick “Night Train” Lane’s greatness is largely forgotten by all but the most ardent football fans.

But one cannot watch an NFL game today without seeing Night Train’s direct influence. Whether it be defensive technique or the evolution of the quarterback position to compensate for that technique, Richard “Night Train” Lane is the epitome of an all-time great deserving of remembrance.

It would not be an overstatement to suggest that Richard Lane is the greatest cornerback in the history of the NFL. From his auspicious beginnings as an abandoned orphan to his enshrinement in the NFL Hall of Fame, very few journeys have hit the peaks and valleys as that of the “Night Train.”

In 1927 at the tender age of three months old, in Austin, Texas, Richard Lane was found abandoned and screaming in a dumpster by Ella Lane. Ella was a single mother who was already struggling to make ends meet, but she rescued young Richard and went on to adopt and raise him as if he were her own.

Richard was a three-sport athlete in high school, preferring basketball, but excelling at football. After high school Richard attended Scottsbluff Junior College in Nebraska staying for only one year before dropping out in favor of enlisting in the Army. Upon being discharged Richard gained employment at a factory working with sheet metal for air crafts. Luckily for sports fans he hated that job.

Richard’s introduction occurred in 1952 when he walked into the offices of the Los Angeles Rams with nothing but a scrapbook of his high school football accomplishments and walked out with an invitation to training camp. At this point in time the 24-year old Richard stood approximately 6’1″ and weighed in at 210 pounds and coming off of his military service, was in excellent physical condition.

In that initial training camp Richard originally went out for the position of offensive end due to his size and athleticism (offensive end was the precursor to the wide receiver and is analogous to the modern day tight end). But the Rams already had two future Hall of Famers at offensive end; Tom Fears and Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch, and opted to put Richard at the position of defensive back.

The other major occurrence that took place during training camp featured Tom Fears, a record player, and perfect timing.

Richard and Fears became close friends, thanks in no small part to the fact that Fears was a music lover who brought his personal record player to camp. That summer one of the biggest hit songs was an R&B tune by Jimmy Forrest called “Night Train.” It was Richard and Fears’ penchant for playing this song over and over combined with its acoustically pleasing tambour, Richard ceased to exist and Dick “Night Train” Lane was born.

Night Train rewarded the Rams’ gamble by intercepting 14 passes in his first season. At that time, NFL seasons were only 12 games long and heavily dependent on the run game. It is a single-season record that stands to this day.

All in all Night Train played 14 seasons for the Los Angeles Rams (1952-53), the Chicago Cardinals (1954-59), and the Detroit Lions (1960-65). Over the span of his career Night Train accumulated 68 total interceptions, 1207 interception return yards, 5 touchdowns off of interceptions, and 11 fumble recoveries. Night Train was elected to the Pro Bowl 7 times (1954-56, 58, 60-62), was selected to the All Pro second team 4 times (1954-55, 57-58), and was a first team All Pro 6 times (1956, 59-63). Along with interceptions in a season, Night Train also currently holds the record for consecutive games with an interception with 6.

Given his accomplishments it comes as no surprise that in 1969 Dick “Night Train” Lane was voted as the best cornerback in the NFL’s first 50 years. While his statistics were and are no doubt impressive, it was Night Train’s style and technique that left an indelible impression on football and forever changed the way the game was played.

Night Train was a ferocious tackler who legitimately hated allowing offensive players to gain extra yardage by lunging or falling forward after they had been tackled low or by the torso. Therefore Lane would engage in what players would refer to as the “Night Train Necktie” where Lane would wraps his arms around the offensive players’ head and neck and wrench them down, rather than trying to hit them low. Night Train is single-handedly responsible for the ban on clothes lines and other head-hunting tackling techniques.

Night Train is also responsible for the advent of the cornerback blitz and the bait-and-switch technique. Lane was so athletic and quick that his coaches trusted him to determine situations in which he would abandon his coverage in favor of pursuing the quarterback. Also, his ability to give a receiver space in order to bait the quarterback into making the pass, only to close the gap and intercept the pass, is now considered a fundamental necessity for anyone playing cornerback in the NFL.

Lane’s career culminated in 1974 when he was unanimously voted into the NFL Hall of Fame. Because of his lack of a championship and the evolution of how the game is played Dick “Night Train” Lane’s greatness is largely forgotten by all but the most ardent football fans.

But one cannot watch an NFL game today without seeing Night Train’s direct influence. Whether it be defensive technique or the evolution of the quarterback position to compensate for that technique, Richard “Night Train” Lane is the epitome of an all-time great deserving of remembrance.
It would not be an overstatement to suggest that Richard Lane is the greatest cornerback in the history of the NFL. From his auspicious beginnings as an abandoned orphan to his enshrinement in the NFL Hall of Fame, very few journeys have hit the peaks and valleys as that of the “Night Train.”

In 1927 at the tender age of three months old, in Austin, Texas, Richard Lane was found abandoned and screaming in a dumpster by Ella Lane. Ella was a single mother who was already struggling to make ends meet, but she rescued young Richard and went on to adopt and raise him as if he were her own.

Richard was a three-sport athlete in high school, preferring basketball, but excelling at football. After high school Richard attended Scottsbluff Junior College in Nebraska staying for only one year before dropping out in favor of enlisting in the Army. Upon being discharged Richard gained employment at a factory working with sheet metal for air crafts. Luckily for sports fans he hated that job.

Richard’s introduction occurred in 1952 when he walked into the offices of the Los Angeles Rams with nothing but a scrapbook of his high school football accomplishments and walked out with an invitation to training camp. At this point in time the 24-year old Richard stood approximately 6’1″ and weighed in at 210 pounds and coming off of his military service, was in excellent physical condition.

In that initial training camp Richard originally went out for the position of offensive end due to his size and athleticism (offensive end was the precursor to the wide receiver and is analogous to the modern day tight end). But the Rams already had two future Hall of Famers at offensive end; Tom Fears and Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch, and opted to put Richard at the position of defensive back.

The other major occurrence that took place during training camp featured Tom Fears, a record player, and perfect timing.

Richard and Fears became close friends, thanks in no small part to the fact that Fears was a music lover who brought his personal record player to camp. That summer one of the biggest hit songs was an R&B tune by Jimmy Forrest called “Night Train.” It was Richard and Fears’ penchant for playing this song over and over combined with its acoustically pleasing tambour, Richard ceased to exist and Dick “Night Train” Lane was born.

Night Train rewarded the Rams’ gamble by intercepting 14 passes in his first season. At that time, NFL seasons were only 12 games long and heavily dependent on the run game. It is a single-season record that stands to this day.

All in all Night Train played 14 seasons for the Los Angeles Rams (1952-53), the Chicago Cardinals (1954-59), and the Detroit Lions (1960-65). Over the span of his career Night Train accumulated 68 total interceptions, 1207 interception return yards, 5 touchdowns off of interceptions, and 11 fumble recoveries. Night Train was elected to the Pro Bowl 7 times (1954-56, 58, 60-62), was selected to the All Pro second team 4 times (1954-55, 57-58), and was a first team All Pro 6 times (1956, 59-63). Along with interceptions in a season, Night Train also currently holds the record for consecutive games with an interception with 6.

Given his accomplishments it comes as no surprise that in 1969 Dick “Night Train” Lane was voted as the best cornerback in the NFL’s first 50 years. While his statistics were and are no doubt impressive, it was Night Train’s style and technique that left an indelible impression on football and forever changed the way the game was played.

Night Train was a ferocious tackler who legitimately hated allowing offensive players to gain extra yardage by lunging or falling forward after they had been tackled low or by the torso. Therefore Lane would engage in what players would refer to as the “Night Train Necktie” where Lane would wraps his arms around the offensive players’ head and neck and wrench them down, rather than trying to hit them low. Night Train is single-handedly responsible for the ban on clothes lines and other head-hunting tackling techniques.

Night Train is also responsible for the advent of the cornerback blitz and the bait-and-switch technique. Lane was so athletic and quick that his coaches trusted him to determine situations in which he would abandon his coverage in favor of pursuing the quarterback. Also, his ability to give a receiver space in order to bait the quarterback into making the pass, only to close the gap and intercept the pass, is now considered a fundamental necessity for anyone playing cornerback in the NFL.

Lane’s career culminated in 1974 when he was unanimously voted into the NFL Hall of Fame. Because of his lack of a championship and the evolution of how the game is played Dick “Night Train” Lane’s greatness is largely forgotten by all but the most ardent football fans.

But one cannot watch an NFL game today without seeing Night Train’s direct influence. Whether it be defensive technique or the evolution of the quarterback position to compensate for that technique, Richard “Night Train” Lane is the epitome of an all-time great deserving of remembrance.



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