Dick Lane (American football)

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Night Train Lane
refer to caption
Lane in 1962 with the Lions
No. 81
Position: Cornerback
Personal information
Date of birth: (1928-04-16)April 16, 1928
Place of birth: Austin, Texas
Date of death: January 29, 2002(2002-01-29) (aged 73)
Place of death: Austin, Texas
Height: 6 ft 1 in (1.85 m)
Weight: 194 lb (88 kg)
Career information
High school: Austin (TX) Anderson
College: Scottsbluff JC
Undrafted: 1952
Career history
Career highlights and awards
NFL records
  • 14 interceptions, season
Career NFL statistics
Games: 157
Interceptions: 68
Int return yards: 1,207
Touchdowns: 6
Player stats at NFL.com

Richard Lane (April 16, 1928 – January 29, 2002) nicknamed "Night Train", was an American football player who played as a cornerback for the Los Angeles Rams, Chicago Cardinals and Detroit Lions of the National Football League (NFL). During his rookie season in 1952, Lane established the record for most interceptions in an NFL season (14), a record that has stood for over 60 years. He went undrafted in 1952, and was later inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Early life[edit]

Lane was born in Austin, Texas, in April 1928.[1][2] When he was three months old, he was abandoned by his birth parents, a prostitute and pimp.[3] He was found, covered in newspapers, in a dumpster.[4][5][6] Lane later recalled, "My father was called Texas Slim. I never saw him - I don't know if he's the one that told my mother to throw me away. A pimp told my mother I had to go. They put me in a trash can and took off. Some people heard me crying. They thought it was a cat."[7]

Lane was adopted and raised by Ella Lane, who also had four other children.[7] As a youth in Austin, Lane grew up poor, busing tables at local hotels, shining shoes on Congress Avenue, and following sports by reading the magazines at a news stand next to the shoe shine stand where he worked.[8] He also helped his mother with a laundry business she ran out of the home.[7] Lane became known as "Cue Ball".[5][6] Lane later recalled how he acquired the nickname "I was in a pool hall in 12th street. We were playing for money, maybe a dime. As soon as I made the eight ball, the other guy took off running. He didn't want to pay. I grabbed that cue ball and just as he made the corner I threw it and hit him upside the head. The guy didn't know what had hit him."[7]

Lane attended L.C. Anderson High School, Austin's segregated high school for African Americans. He played basketball and football and was a member of the school's 1945 and 1946 football teams. The 1945 team was runnerup in the Prairie View Interscholastic League, an association of black schools in Texas.[3][7][9]

After graduating from high school, lived for a time in Council Bluffs, Iowa, with his birth mother, Etta Mae King. She had visited during Lane's youth, and the two reconciled. His mother and a man had opened a tavern in Council Bluffs. While in Council Bluffs, a baseball scout signed Lane, and he played for a time with the Omaha Rockets, a farm team for the Kansas City Monarchs.[7]

Lane next enrolled at Scottsbluff Junior College in Scottsbluff, Nebraska. He played one season of college football at Scottsbluff.[7] Lane then enrolled in the United States Army. He served in the Army for four years.[4] He served at Fort Ord on Monterey Bay in California and played on an Army football team. After his discharge from the Army, Lane worked in an aircraft plant.[6]

Professional football[edit]

Los Angeles Rams[edit]

Signing and nickname[edit]

Lane tried out with the Los Angeles Rams during the summer of 1952.[10] He was recommended to the Rams by Gabby Sims and signed as a free agent.[11] In the Rams' first scrimmage on August 3, 1952, Lane drew praise as "the outstanding player in the scrimmage by a country mile" due to his "ferocious" approach to the game and his speed in chasing down Elroy Hirsch.[11] After the scrimmage, Rams head coach Joe Stydahar said, "Lane came out here to make the ball club. Well, last night he got himself a job."[11]

During the Rams' summer training camp in 1952, Lane acquired the nickname "Night Train". Teammate Tom Fears had a record player in his room and frequently played the record, "Night Train", by Jimmy Forrest. The record was released in March 1952 and was the #1 R&B hit for seven weeks running.[11][10] According to an account published by the Los Angeles Times in August 1952, "Whenever Fears plays it Lane can be found in the hall outside Tom's room dancing to the music."[11]

1952 season[edit]

As a rookie in 1952, Lane appeared in all 12 regular season games and broke the NFL single season record with 14 interceptions. He also led the league with 298 interception return yards and two interceptions returned for touchdowns.[1] In his first NFL game, a 37-7 loss to the Cleveland Browns, Lane was credited by the Los Angeles Times with playing "a positively sensational game at defensive halfback (he made about 50% of the tackles)."[12] On December 7, 1952, he intercepted three passes in 45-27 victory over the Green Bay Packers, including an 80-yard return of a pass from Tobin Rote.[13] The following week, he intercepted three more passes in a 28-14 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers, including one that he returned 42 yards for a touchdown.[14] However, he sprained an ankle after making his third interception against the Steelers and was lost to the Rams for their playoff game against the Detroit Lions.[15] Remarkably, Lane's single season record of 14 interceptions still stands despite the lengthening of the NFL season from 12 to 16 games.

1953 season[edit]

After Lane blocked two field goal attempts during a July 1953 scrimmage, Rams coach Hamp Pool said, "Night Train has the reflexes of a cat. It just doesn't seem possible that a man can come in from so far out and get in front of the ball in a matter of a couple of seconds."[16] During the 1953 season, Lane appeared in 11 games for the Rams, but he intercepted only three passes.[1] The highlight of his 1953 season was a blocked field goal against the Green Bay Packers; Lane blocked the kick at the Rams' 25-yards line, caught it on the bounce 45 yards downfield, and returned it for a touchdown.[17]

Chicago Cardinals[edit]

In January 1954, the Rams traded Lane to the Chicago Cardinals in 1954 in a three-team deal that also involved Don Doll.[18]

Detroit Lions[edit]

He was traded to the Detroit Lions in 1960. He played six seasons in Detroit (1960–65) and recorded 21 interceptions for 272 yards and one touchdown. He was All-NFL four times (1960–63) and was named to the Pro Bowl three times (1961–63).

Career accomplishments and legacy[edit]

All told, from 1954 to 1963, Lane made the All-Pro team six times and was also selected to seven Pro Bowls. He recorded three interceptions in all but four of his 14 NFL seasons.

He was particularly noted as a hard hitter, who liked to tackle opponents about the head and neck, which was then a legal technique. In the book Paper Lion by George Plimpton, former Detroit Lions assistant coach Aldo Forte recalled a hit that Lane placed on then New York Giant's quarterback Y.A. Tittle in 1962 that literally "knocked the plays out of his head",[19] rendering the quarterback unable to remember any of the Giants' plays until after halftime. Lane's style of tackling was sometimes called a Night Train Necktie.


In 1969, Lane was named the best cornerback of the first fifty years of professional football, then enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1974. In his 14 NFL seasons, Lane recorded 68 interceptions, 1,207 interception return yards, five touchdowns, 11 fumble recoveries, 57 fumble return yards, one touchdown, eight receptions, 253 receiving yards, one touchdown reception, and four punt returns for 14 yards.

In 1999, he was ranked number 19 on The Sporting News' list of the 100 Greatest Football Players, making him the highest-ranked defensive back, the Cardinals' highest-ranked player and the Lions' second highest-ranked player after Barry Sanders. He also placed number 2 on NFL Network's "Top 10 Greatest Undrafted Players".[20]

Lane is part of the Cardinals' Ring of Honor at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.


Lane was married three times, one of which was to jazz singer Dinah Washington; he was the last of her seven husbands at the time of her death on December 14, 1963.

Lane died of a heart attack on January 29, 2002. He had spent his last two years in an assisted living facility due to reduced mobility from diabetes, bad knees, as well as suspected issues related to Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy CTE brought on by football-related Injuries.[21]

Lane is survived by two sons, Richard Andrew Walker of Detroit and Richard Ladimir Lane of Detroit, one grandson, and five granddaughters.


  1. ^ a b c "Night Train Lane". Pro-Football-Reference.com. Sports Reference LLC. Retrieved September 28, 2016.  (listing date of birth as April 16, 1928)
  2. ^ Ancestry.com. U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015. Listing date of birth as April 16, 1928.
  3. ^ a b Rick Cantu (January 19, 2001). "Night Train's tale: NFL Hall of Famer Dick Lane reflects on East Austin roots, pro football life in new book". Austin American-Statesman. p. C1. 
  4. ^ a b Gary Klein (January 31, 2002). "Dick 'Night Train' Lane, 73; Set Record as Rookie on L.A. Rams". Los Angeles Times. p. B12. 
  5. ^ a b Jim Vertuno (January 31, 2002). "NFL legend 'Night Train' Lane dead at 73". Longview News-Journal (AP story). p. 3D. 
  6. ^ a b c Richard Goldstein (February 1, 2002). "Night Train Lane, 73, N.F.L. Defensive Star". The New York Times. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g John Maher (October 23, 1994). "Richard Night Train Lane: After a Remarkable Football Career and Life, This Lion in Winter Has Pulled Into His Home Station Again". Austin American-Statesman. p. C14. 
  8. ^ Andrew Maraniss (June 30, 1991). "'Night Train' knew his cues, and used one". Austin American-Statesman. p. F4. 
  9. ^ Obituaries indicate that he led the 1944 team that won the Prairie View championship, but more detailed stories indicate he appeared in only one game for the 1944 team.
  10. ^ a b Al Wolf (July 26, 1953). "Sportraits". Los Angeles Times. p. 65. 
  11. ^ a b c d e Frank Finch (August 4, 1952). "Stydahar Groans Over Rams' Play in First Squad Scrum at Redlands". Los Angeles Times. p. IV.2. 
  12. ^ "Browns Outclass Rams, 37-7, Before 57,832". Los Angeles Times. September 29, 1952. p. 54. 
  13. ^ Frank Finch (December 8, 1952). "Rams Roar Over Packers, 45 to 27: Lane Runs 80 Yards for Score". Los Angeles Times. p. 81. 
  14. ^ "Rams Hand Steelers 28-14 Beating to Tie for Crown". Los Angeles Times. December 15, 1952. p. 78. 
  15. ^ "Lane's Injury Dims Ram Victory Party". Los Angeles Times. December 15, 1952. p. 77. 
  16. ^ "Lane, Agajian Star in Workout". Los Angeles Times. July 24, 1953. p. 59. 
  17. ^ "Rams Trounce Packers, 33-17". Los Angeles Times. December 13, 1953. p. 82. 
  18. ^ "Rams Obtain Doll, Peters in Triple Deal, Lose Lane". Los Angeles Times. January 31, 1954. p. 86. 
  19. ^ Paper Lion, Plimpton, 40th anniversary edition, pg. 136.
  20. ^ http://www.nfl.com/videos/nfl-network-total-access/0ap3000000491529/Top-10-undrafted-players
  21. ^ http://espn.go.com/nfl/story/_/id/14701874/kenny-stabler-cte-diagnosis-why-football-needs-dramatic-change-nfl

External links[edit]