Quick Take

    Our hats should be off to the real heroes, our men and women fighting in the Middle East to prevent another Hitler-type debacle, and to preserve and protect the independence of the free world. They are the real heroes; they're the ones who belong in the most important Hall of Fame.

Story of the Week


    The story and the player belong to a bygone era, when pro football was less organized, and opportunities were such that talented people could walk in from the street and find themselves in uniform. One such player was Dick Lane, who arrived with the slimmest of credentials beyond his own confidence.

    It was 1952. Recently discharged from the Army, Lane was working at an aircraft factory when he decided to better his life. Riding in a bus down Beverly Boulevard, he saw a sign marking the office of the Los Angeles Rams. He stepped inside and asked for the head coach whose name, Joe Stydahar, he could not pronounce.

    Lane had competed for one season at Scottsbluff (Nebraska; I’ve actually been to Scottsbluff.) Junior College, and had played service football at Fort Ord. The Rams invited him to training camp where, as an offensive end, his competition included Elroy (Crazy Legs) Hirsch and Tom Fears, Rams receivers destined for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Lane was not an immediate success.

    He acquired his nickname in the course of his frequent visits to Fears’ room for guidance. The accomplished receiver had a phonograph (if you remember phonographs and "78" pressed records, you have a problem, just as I do; the problem is called age.) on which he played Buddy Morrow’s recording of "Night Train" again and again. Because Lane’s visits invariably coincided with the music, Fears’ roommate, Ben Sheets, transferred the title to the rookie receiver. Quarterback Norm Van Brocklin took the next step, christening him Night Train Lane.

    Now that he had an identity, all he needed was a position. Switched to defense and to the cornerback position for the annual intrasquad game, he made an acrobatic adjustment to stop Dan Towler in his tracks. It was a sign of things to come for the walk-on rookie. Lane recorded 14 interceptions in a 12-game season in 1952, a truly remarkable feat.

    In his great 14-year career, Night Train was selected All-Pro while playing for the Rams, the Chicago Cardinals, and the Detroit Lions. His 1,207 career return yards on 68 interceptions were second only to Emlen Tunnell. An intuitive player, the 6-2, 210-pound Lane had a reputation as a head-hunter, and his habit of yanking the ball-carrier by the facemask was said to have played a major role in the NFL’s legislation against that practice.

    The unschooled Lane made a laboratory of the football field, learning even as he demonstrated revolutionary techniques for a defensive back. He had great reflexes that permitted him to recover in time if he gambled wrong. That is a trait that separated him from most cornerbacks in the NFL.

    Lane was married to singer Dinah Washington. Among the photographs of her that he carried on the road was one inscribed, "I keep my eye on all trains."

Last Week’s Trivia

    Who are the only two boxers to win the Olympic gold medal and become pro champions, both accomplishments coming in the heavyweight division? Joe Frazier and George Foreman.

Trivia Question of the Week

    All but two of the Heisman winners of the 90’s were either QB’s or RB’s. Who were these two college star exceptions? Hint; they played for the same university. See next week’s Sports Junkie for the answer.