If the Pro Football Hall of Fame is the final resting place for men who impacted the game in a major way, Lloyd Wells earned his right to walk through those doors. And if it is dedicated to preserving both the history of the game and the memory of the men and women who changed it, then “The Judge’’ should have a place within its halls
Because few did more to alter the face of pro football than Lloyd Wells.
A photographer by trade in Houston, Lloyd Wells became the first African-American full-time scout in pro football when Lamar Hunt hired him in the early days of the AFL-NFL wars and was instrumental in opening the door to the historically black colleges and universities that produced a flood of talent, primarily for Hunt’s fledgling AFL.
“He was an energetic, positive person who had an opportunity to help shift the views of professional football in the direction of the historic black colleges,’’ Hall-of-Fame linebacker Willie Lanier told Chiefs.com several years ago when asked about Wells’ impact on Kanas City’s 1969 Super Bowl IV championship team. “The amount of talent Wells brought in should be acknowledged. He had an approach of possibly cajoling, I might say.’’
“Cajoling’’ was as important as scouting itself between 1960-1966 when the NFL was in a talent war with the upstart AFL before the leagues merged and agreed to a conjoined draft beginning in 1967. It was primarily the AFL that began to mine the untapped source of talent at places like Grambling, Morgan State, and Prairie View A&M, Southern and throughout the HSBCs.
And no one mined it like Wells.
Even though the NFL would re-integrate its game in 1946, one year before Jackie Robinson broke the color line in major league baseball, black players — not to mention black scouts — were still a rarity in pro football’s formative years. So Lamar Hunt’s decision to hire Wells to seek talent in places long ignored by the NFL was one that literally and historically changed the face of the game.
Wells was responsible for signing eight players who went on to become All-Pros, including the backbone of the Chiefs’ defense that smothered the Minnesota Vikings, 23-7, in the final AFL-NFL Super Bowl. That team included Hall of Famers Lanier, Bobby Bell, Buck Buchanan. Curley Culp and Emmitt Thomas on defense and Otis Taylor at wide receiver.
Wells’ signing of Taylor out from under the nose of the Dallas Cowboys in 1966 was an example of how competitive things were between the leagues before the merger and how important a sly and well-connected guy like Lloyd Wells could be.
Wells had known Taylor since he was a kid growing up in Houston, so when the Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles drafted him, Kansas City had a decided advantage.
In those days the NFL ran what commissioner Pete Rozelle called “Operation Babysitter,’’ which was basically legalized kidnapping. Teams around the league would take drafted players and hide them off campus in fancy hotels, keeping them away from the competition.
As far as the NFL was concerned, this was a cooperative venture. So the Cowboys were employed to squirrel away Taylor and a teammate from Prairie View named Seth Cartwright over the Thanksgiving Day holiday, even though Taylor had been drafted by the Eagles.
Wells realized he’d lost track of Taylor and got wind of where he was by first calling Taylor’s mother and, later, his girlfriend. When he found him at the Continental Hotel in Richardson, Tex., just outside of Dallas, he learned he was watched by a Dallas stock broker, sleeping in a room across the hall.
Wells was at first rebuffed by a Cowboys’ security man when he tried to visit Taylor. But the ever resilient Wells went around to the back of the building and convinced him and Cartwright to climb out the bathroom window. Both signed with the Chiefs.
A year later Taylor was averaging a phenomenal 22.4 yards per reception, and in 1969 scored a game-breaking touchdown against the Vikings in Super Bowl IV.
“If you don’t have Wells working for the Chiefs, then they don’t get Taylor,’’ recalled Michael MacCambridge, Hunt’s biographer and author of “America’s Game. “When I spoke to Lamar, he was very adamant he was not in any way attempting to be a social progressive … He just recognized Lloyd Wells would be an asset to what he was trying to do.
“It was no accident that the teams that were most successful were the teams that had the largest contingent of black players. That 1969 Super Bowl team was the first in pro football history to win a championship with the majority of the starters being African-American.’’
Central to finding … and more importantly signing … them was Wells. Every year he would travel by car throughout Texas, then up through the southeast and on to Maryland-Eastern Shore and Morgan State, searching for future stars at historically black colleges the NFL was all but ignoring. When the elder league came to recognize the talent there, the AFL had built a foundation that would help it dominate the late 1960s and most of the 1970s.
“You had other scouts going down to those schools, but they didn’t have the access or the relationships that Lloyd had,’’ recalled Baltimore Colts’ personnel director and Wells competitor Upton Bell, the son of former NFL commissioner Bert Bell. “Lloyd was really a trailblazer. He was a great scout and a relentless recruiter.’’
Hunt first met Wells at a function at Texas Southern University and quickly realized he had an eye for football talent and the adroitness and personality to sign the players he liked. In those early days many NFL and AFL teams had few, if any, full-time scouts, and none had a black scout until Lloyd Wells broke that barrier.
That alone might only qualify him as a footnote in NFL history. But when you add the players he was directly responsible for signing, including Hall-of-Famers Lanier, Buchanan, Thomas and Culp … well, as far as Hall-of-Fame resumes go, Lloyd Wells would seem to have a strong one.