Remembering The Lions’ Dick “Night Train” Lane

I recently interviewed former Detroit Lions defensive tackle Roger Brown for a Detroit Free Press article and after the phone conversation I thought of another legendary Lion player, Hall of Famer Dick “Night Train” Lane who many say was the greatest cornerback in NFL history.

Night Train Lane nearly decapitates the Ram's Jon Arnett in 1962.

As one of his “techniques” Roger Brown utilized the head slap on his opponent as he rushed the quarterback.

Roger told me, “At Maryland State our coach taught us that to control the offensive player you have to control his head. That is, if you get the head going the body’s going to follow and if it’s not, it’s going to come off. (laughs) I would slap my right hand against the left side of my opponent’s helmet and then with my left hand grab his shoulder pads and push to the left so you’re by him.

Brown’s “head slap” was eventually outlawed by the NFL, and so were two moves used by Night Train Lane, the face mask tackle and the often called “Night Train necktie”, otherwise known as a clothesline tackle.

After playing football for one year at a junior college, Richard Lane served four years in the U.S. Army, and later worked at an aircraft factory before walking into the offices of the Los Angeles Rams in 1952 and asking for a tryout.

In his rookie season, Lane intercepted 14 passes, a record that still stands today which is remarkable considering back NFL teams only played 12 games. He was later traded to the Chicago Cardinals and then to the Lions in 1960 where he would star until he retired in 1965.

Lane was one of the most feared players who ever lived.

Pity the receiver who cut across the middle.

Lane was known for playing off the receivers, and quarterbacks seeing an open man would make the throw. Night Train would then quickly head towards the receiver and more often then not either one of three things would happen.1.) Lane intercepts the ball 2.) The receiver drops the ball after hearing Night Train coming down the track, or 3.) The receiver catches the ball and Lane nearly decapitates him with his “Night Train necktie.”

Eventually Lane’s rather unique way of tackling would be outlawed.

In 1969, Lane was named the best cornerback of the first fifty years of professional football, then he enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1974. In his 14 NFL seasons, Lane had 68 interceptions, five touchdowns and 11 fumble recoveries.

In 1999 the Night Train was picked by the Sporting News as the 19th greatest NFL player of all time. After he retired, Lane worked briefly for the Lions and later for Detroit’ Police Athletic League under Detroit Mayor Coleman Young. He passed away in 2002 at age 73. If the accompanying photo doesn’t tell the story, check out this great you tube video on Night Train.


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