Hail to the Chiefs
I’m not a Kansas City Chiefs fan, despite living in Kansas for the last 14 years and having ties to the state all my life thanks to my father and paternal grandfather.
In this post, however, I’m going to throw Chiefs fans some red meat by naming two more on my list of the greatest National Football League players by jersey number.
So far, #64 (Jerry Kramer) and #73 (John Hannah) have been revealed. Before I reveal the next two, I need to make an addition.
I’d like to add Bob Baumhower, who played defensive tackle and nose tackle for the Dolphins from 1977-86, to the honorable mention list at #73.
Baumhower was an All-Pro in the middle when Bill Arnsparger went to the 3-4 defense full time in the late 1970s. He usually tied up two or three blockers, allowing Miami’s linebackers and defensive ends, Doug Betters and Kim Bokamper, to more easily attack the opposing backfield. Many of the blocks against Baumhower were cut blocks, which is a reason why he had so many knee injuries and forced to retire sooner than he would have liked.
Before playing for Miami, Baumhower was an All-American for Bear Bryant at Alabama, where he dated future television and movie superstar Sela Ward. When his playing career was over, Baumhower returned to Alabama and opened one of the state’s most successful restaurants, a wing chain which has locations in every major city in the Yellowhammer State.
Had Baumhower played with the No-Name Defense, he might be in the Hall of Fame. As it is, he was a tremendous player when healthy, which sadly, wasn’t enough to keep the Dolphins from struggling to stop anyone during Dan Marino’s record-setting 1984 season. That was especially evident in Super Bowl XIX, when the Joe Montana carved up the Killer B’s like a turkey. The 49ers gained 537 yards and won 38-16, with Montana taking home Most Valuable Player honors for the second time (he did it again five years later).
Baumhower was helped immensely by battling two future Hall of Fame centers in practice, Jim Langer and Dwight Stephenson, an ex-Crimson Tide teammate.
Miami hasn’t had a defensive tackle of Baumhower’s ability since his retirement. Little wonder the Dolphins have played in one AFC championship game (1992) in that time.
Okay Chiefs fans, here’s your steak.
Buck Buchanan was an easy choice for the greatest #86 in NFL history.
Buchanan was drafted out of Grambling in 1963, the first pick for the franchise after Lamar Hunt moved the Dallas Texans to Kansas City. Grambling was a black college superpower under legendary coach Eddie Robinson, but in the era of segregation, few noticed. For the record, LSU did not have a black player on its varsity until 1972.
Yet in 1963, Grambling had gotten notice among NFL scouts and coaches, thanks to the exploits of Willie Davis, who blossomed into an All-Pro defensive end for the Packers, who won back-to-back league championships under Vince Lombardi in 1961 and ’62.
Buchanan immediately moved into the starting lineup at right defensive tackle and stayed there for the next 13 seasons. Not only was Buchanan one of the largest players of his era at 6-foot-7, 280 pounds, but one of the quickest. His strength allowed him to overcome double teams, and his speed gave him the grace to chase down ballcarriers.
The Chiefs defense which helped them win Super Bowl IV was quite underrated. Six Hall of Famers started that day in New Orleans: Buchanan, Curley Culp, Bobby Bell, Willie Lanier, Emmitt Thomas and Johnny Robinson. Now why were the Vikings a 13-point favorite?
Buchanan was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1990, but passed away from cancer two years later.
The number 63 was a little bit more difficult, but went with Buchanan’s teammate, Willie Lanier.
Lanier, like Buchanan, was a product of the black college system.
Morgan State in Baltimore was on par with Grambling. The two schools routinely faced each other in large venues like Yankee Stadium and Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium, often drawing 60,000 fans or more, many of whom were white. Two future Hall of Famers, Len Ford and Rosey Brown, played for Morgan in the 1950s, and in the 1960s, Lanier was a teammate of Leroy Kelly, who went on to a Hall of Fame career as Jim Brown’s successor in Cleveland.
Hank Stram sensed a glaring weakness at linebacker after his Chiefs were crushed by the Packers in Super Bowl I. He had Bobby Bell on the strong side, but his middle and weak side men were not up to par.
That got fixed in one draft when Stram took Lanier and Notre Dame All-American Jim Lynch. It was assumed Lynch would play the middle and Lanier the weak side, as no professional team at the time had a black middle linebacker.
Stram showed confidence in Lanier by plugging him into the middle from the get-go. It was a wise move, as Lanier was a consistent All-Pro throughout his 11-year career. In 1986, he became the second member of the Chiefs’ Super Bowl IV defense to earn Hall of Fame induction, following Bobby Bell, who was enshrined in 1983.
Honorable mention: Gene Upshaw (Raiders G, 1967-81); Lee Roy Selmon (Buccaneers DE, 1976-84); Mike Munchak (Oilers G, 1982-93)
So far, here’s the list:
#63–Willie Lanier; HM: Gene Upshaw, Lee Roy Selmon, Mike Munchak
#64–Jerry Kramer; HM: Randall McDaniel, Dave Wilcox
#73–John Hannah; HM: Ron Yary, Joe Klecko, Larry Allen, Leo Nomellini, Joe Thomas, Bob Baumhower
I left home without my American Express card this morning when I went to Hays. Lucky for me, (a) the service for my Buick did not cost as much as I feared, and (b) I had a $50 bill. Don’t leave home without it!
I don’t like cash. It’s a lot easier to insert the card into the chip reader or use Apple Pay. Again, America, slow to get with the times.