There’s a raft of great middle linebackers in NFL history, and let the roll call begin.
Yet when people run down their list of favorite middle linebackers, they sometimes omit one of the best ever — the Chiefs’ Willie Lanier, an eight-time All-AFL/AFC choice and Pro Football Hall of Famer who missed only one game in his last 10 years.
That, however, is an omission former Washington running back Larry Brown can … and will … never make. In fact, when we asked him on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast which defensive player — not middle linebacker, but defensive player — gave him the most trouble in his career he didn’t hesitate with his answer.
“Willie Lanier,” he said. “We played Kansas City, and at halftime I went into the locker room, and I told the offensive line, I said, ‘You make up your mind whether you’re going to block Willie Lanier. And if you can’t block him, I’ll block him myself … and you run the ball.’ ”
That was an Oct. 24, 1971, game that was memorable for both parties. The Chiefs beat Washington 27-20, and Brown ran 11 times for 40 yards and no scores. It marked his second lowest rushing total that season and his fewest touches (11) in any game that year.
So the record speaks for itself, but where’s the surprise? Lanier was one of four middle linebackers on the NFL’s 75th anniversary team, along with Dick Butkus, Ray Nitschke and Jack Lambert. Nevertheless, we asked Brown what happened in the second half of that game and how … or if … the offensive line responded to his demand.
“They were a little more competitive in the second half,” he said, “but Willie was a very predominant linebacker. I mean, when he hit you, you felt it.”