With the recent selection of Floyd Little to the Pro Football Hall of Fame class of 2010, and the considerable discussion about how soon Shannon Sharpe will earn his place as well-next year, in my opinion-the conversations turned my attention to the many players who are already in the Hall.
Just for the fun of it, I thought it might be interesting to run a few blogs about some of the greatest players in pro football history, incorporating some tidbits of information that might not be readily known.
I was driving in to the office the other day listening to some jazz on XM radio and they played a Dinah Washington song. Naturally, anything by Dinah Washington would capture my attention, but as usual, it reminded me of Dick “Night Train” Lane.
No connection, you say?
More than you could imagine.
He is so well known as Night Train that even his entry in Total Football, The Official Encyclopedia of the National Football League, lists him simply as “Night Train Lane,” not by his given name of Richard.
He broke in with the Los Angeles Rams during the first Golden Age of Pro Football in the early 1950′s (1952, for Night Train), playing two for the Rams, six for the Chicago Cardinals and finally six more for the Detroit Lions.
One of the greatest cornerbacks of all-time, he finished with 68 interceptions, five returned for touchdowns, and had the astonishing total of 14 in his rookie season, despite the NFL at that time playing only a 12-game season.
A daring player, Night Train Lane had one of the most unconventional tactics in the game at that time. At a critical passing down he would sometimes abandon his coverage at the line of scrimmage and actually blitz the quarterback.
Not only did this have great shock value, but it was a devastating move at that time, made possible only by Lane’s quickness, allowing him to get to the passer before the pass could be made. All by himself, he invented the corner blitz, which shocked all defensive thinking in pro football at the time.
Now it is a routing part of any defensive concept, but it all began with Night Train Lane.
But how he got his nickname is where the connection with Dinah Washington comes in.
When Lane reported to training camp with the one year, he took with him, among the standard clothing and toiletries, several pair of khaki slacks (he really became attached to them as his favorite slacks while in the military), a record player for his room, and a number of “singles” (that’s what records used to be called, “singles” or “albums,” before CDs-way before CDs) made by a singer of whom he was particularly fond, Dinah Washington.
Dick Lane and Dinah Washington were married, eventually -he was the last of her six husbands-and she was a major star way before he had made any kind of a name for himself in football.
Dinah Washington is notable for many great contributions to American jazz, including “Unforgettable,” but a mostly forgotten song which she pressed was “Night Train.” I can only guess than Lane must have been crazy about that song, besides his feelings for Dinah herself.
After a long day of practice and meetings, after dinner when everyone was settled in, Lane would play “Night Train” on the record player in his room, over and over and over again.
After a few nights of this spillover sound blaring through the walls, down the halls, and into every room besides his own, one morning he went to practice and was dubbed “Night Train” by his teammates.
The moniker stuck and became one of the great nicknames in pro football history.
Dick and Dinah were married in 1963–the union lasted just one year as she died later that same year-and Night Train Lane entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1974 with records and a nickname that would last forever.