TOFN podcast: HOF MLB Willie Lanier revisits the most intense exhibition game ever played

Hank Stram photo courtesy of the Kansas City Chiefs

The Talk of Fame Network introduces another in our “5 Games” series of podcasts this week with Hall of Fame middle linebacker Willie Lanier of the Kansas City Chiefs.

The concept of the podcast is to visit with an historic football figure about five significant games in his career. We visit with Lanier about a couple games between the Chiefs and their bitter AFL-rival the Oakland Raiders, a Super Bowl, the longest pro football game ever played plus, interestingly enough, an exhibition game.

On this podcast we’ll discuss that exhibition game. The Chicago Bears became the first NFL to play the Chiefs following their humiliating loss to the Green Bay Packers in the first Super Bowl. Green Bay’s Hall of Fame coach Vince Lombardi said afterwards that the Chiefs could not compete with the top NFL teams, and Hank Stram’s ears still stung from those words seven months later when George Halas and the Bears visited Kansas City in August 1967.

Stram, a Chicago native, treated the meaningless preseason game like a Super Bowl – and ran up the score in a 66-24 triumph over the Bears. Lanier was a rookie with the Chiefs and spent most of the game watching from the sideline as Stram kept his starters on the field almost throughout.

“We as rookies were trying to understand the essence of the practices the week before the game – the kind of seriousness that seemed to have overtaken Stram in the way he was preparing for that game,” Lanier said. “And not just Stram – the seriousness of the veteran players. They were the ones who lost to the Green Bay Packers. We hadn’t lost to them. We were just rookies. We were trying to grasp the reality of what makes one game in the preseason more important than another?

“The seriousness of the veteran players who had played in the Super Bowl — you could see, visually, that (they) were affected by maybe what Lombardi said about the team. Now you’re playing an NFL team in a preseason game. Jim (fellow rookie linebacker Lynch) and I didn’t play until the fourth quarter… I think what Hank was doing was setting a foundation for everyone else to see that, yeah, maybe his team lost the Super Bowl but they can still play and play well against a big boy from Chicago.”

George Halas coached the Bears for 40 years and won 68.2 percent of his games in a Hall of Fame career. But those 66 points were the most ever scored against a Halas team.

“The Chicago game was just an explosion of offensive skill that started at the beginning of the game and lasted until the clock hit double zeroes,” Lanier said. “I don’t think I ever saw a team, ours or anyone else, play at that level for four quarters … It was a tremendous presentation of what was to come. It allowed a statement to be made and Hank to feel that he had a team that could compete.”

Lanier came from Morgan State and talked about the impact the historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) had on the Chiefs and the AFL and how stereotypes were shattered. And how, as the first African-American middle linebacker enshrined in the Hall of Fame, Lanier helped open Canton’s doors for the Mike Singletarys, Harry Carsons and Ray Lewises who would follow him.

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