Richard “Night Train” Lane

Aug 17, 2021 - 3:50 pm

Richard “Night Train” Lane was born in Austin, Texas in 1927. Abandoned by his birth mother, he was taken in by a woman named Ella Lane who was walking home that evening and heard what she thought was a cat. When she saw the baby boy, she took him home and adopted him. 

Growing up, he played football with the  kids in his neighborhood. In 1944, he was an integral part of Anderson High School winning the Texas State Championship.  Anderson High School went to the playoffs again in 1945, thanks in part to Lane.  

After graduating, he moved to Nebraska, where he reconnected  with his birth mother. He spent one year attending Scottsbluff Junior College before enlisting in the US  Army. He served four years and rose through the ranks to Lieutenant Colonel. Dick continued to lay football.  While based in Fort Ord, located in Monterey Bay, California, he garnered Second-team All-Army in 1949 and First-team All-Army in 1951. And, during the 1951 season, he caught 18 touchdown passes for Fort Ord. 

Photograph of Dick "Night-Train" Lane

After leaving the military, he went to Los Angeles to work at an aircraft plant, but finding he didn’t see a future in the job, he showed up one day at the LA Rams training camp and asked to try out for the team. 

He initially tried out for the position of wide receiver, as that’s the position he had played in the Army, but the Rams switched him to defensive back due to his size and speed. 

It is commonly circulated that he acquired the nickname "Night Train" from a hit record by Jimmy Forrest (A #1 R&B hit for 7 weeks in 1952) often played by teammate Tom Fears when they’d meet to go over plays, pass patterns, and defensive moves. However, it is also said that he acquired the name because of his fear of flying and the many night-trains he would take to get to games. 

In his rookie season he set an NFL single season record for interceptions with 14, which stands to this day even though the length of the season at the time was only 12 games. 

He was traded to the Chicago Cardinals in 1954 and to the Detroit Lions in 1960. He played six seasons in Detroit (1960–65) and recorded 21 interceptions for 272 yards plus one touchdown. He was All-NFL four times (1960 - 1963) and was named to the Pro Bowl three times (1961 - 1963).

Between 1954 and 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.

His go to move was to tackle opponents around their head and neck in order to keep them from making any more progress across the field since, if he had tackled them at the legs, they could fall forward and make a first down. After the tackle was made  illegal in the NFL, it is sometimes referred to as a Night Train Necktie

Dick "Night Train" Lane mid-tackle using the "Night-Train Necktie"

In 1969, Lane was named the best cornerback of the first fifty years of the league.  He was elected to the NFL Hall of Fame in 1974. Lane’s career stats are impressive: 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, The Sporting News ranked Lane as number 19 on their  list of the 100 Greatest Football Players of all time.

In 1975 he was hired as manager of Detroit’s Police Athletic League and remained until 1992 when he retired to his hometown of Austin, Texas.  

Lane died of a heart attack on January 29, 2002  and is buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Austin.

Headstone Richard "Night Train" Lane April 16 1928 - Jan 29 2002  Pro Football Hall of Fame 1974, Pro Bowl 7 Times, Los Angeles Rams 1952 - 1953, Chicago Cardinals 1954 - 1959, Detroit Lions 1960 - 1965, Int Record (14) 1952