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Monday, February 11, 2002
Lane was member of NFL's 75th anniversary team
AUSTIN, Texas -- Dick "Night Train" Lane hounded wide receivers with his ferocious tackles and quarterbacks with his interceptions.
An undrafted free agent who would become one of the greatest defensive backs in NFL history during his 14-year career, Lane died Jan. 29 after a heart attack at the assisted living facility where he lived. He was 73.
A member of the NFL's All-Time Team for its first 75 years, Lane was an aggressive tackler whose signature hit -- a clothesline-type move dubbed the "Night Train Necktie" -- was banned by the league because it was too dangerous.
"He delivered a few of those on me," Hall of Fame wide receiver Tommy McDonald said. "I told him once, `Night Train, you need to tackle a little lower -- for my health.'
"When you lined up against him, you were in for a tough day. God should never have given him that kind of speed."
Lane was a big hit his rookie season when he had 14 interceptions in a 12-game season, a mark that has stood for 50 years despite the schedule increasing to 16 games.
At 6-foot-3, 185 pounds, Lane was often bigger and faster than wide receivers. His 68 career interceptions remain among the most in league history, and he returned them for 1,207 yards and five touchdowns.
Lane spent four years in the Army after junior college and signed with the Los Angeles Rams in 1952. He was traded to the Chicago Cardinals in 1954 before going to the Detroit Lions in 1960. He made the Pro Bowl seven times in a career that ended when he retired after the 1965 season.
Lane was selected the all-time NFL cornerback in 1969 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1974.
"I played with him and against him, and he was the best I've ever seen," former New York Giants kicker Pat Summerall once said.
Once married to jazz singer Dinah Washington, Lane was listening to jazz the night he died, said Terry Yates, the personal care worker who helped Lane for the last two years at the Five-Star Personal Care facility .
"I just helped him to bed. When he laid down he took a big gasp of air. He was having difficulty breathing. It wasn't 20 minutes before he was gone," Yates said.
Lane was proud of his accomplishments, especially considering his hard-luck background and his ability to make the NFL without any big-time college experience, said friend Chuck Carroll.
"He was probably most proud of the fact that with really nothing more than a high school education he walked on to the Rams, back when it was fairly tough time for a black man to do that, and ended up in the Hall of Fame," Carroll said.
Lane's mother was a prostitute and his father was a pimp known as Texas Slim. Abandoned in a dumpster when he was 3 months old, Lane was found by a woman who at first thought his cries were a meowing cat. A widow with two other children, she adopted him.
A tough kid growing up in Austin, Lane earned the nickname "Cue Ball" for having thrown one into the back of the head of a boy who ran from a lost pool bet.
He didn't get the nickname "Night Train" until he was a pro. He would stop by a teammate's dorm room when the Buddy Morrow song "Night Train" was playing on the phonograph.
"I didn't like (the nickname) at first," Lane told the Austin American-Statesman last year. He thought it sounded racial.
"I'd been called all sorts of names by that time, and I wasn't sure what they meant by that nickname. The veterans had given me the name, and it got national attention."
Lane was married and divorced three times, including his marriage to Washington, who was known as "Queen of the Blues."
After his playing career, Lane spent a short time as road manager for comedian Redd Foxx and had coaching stints at Southern University and Central State in Wilberforce, Ohio.
Bothered by diabetes and chronic knee problems, Lane moved into the assisted living facility two years ago, Carroll said. He also had back surgery.
He continued to sign autographs but had used a wheelchair for the last year and half.
Lane was scheduled to be inducted into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame next month. He is survived by two sons, Richard Lane of St. Louis, and Richard Walker of Detroit.
Funeral services were planned for 11 a.m. Saturday at Greater Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Austin.
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