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The Amazing Story of Night Train Lane

Notes from The Game Before the Money Podcast. Many episodes include interviews with NFL legends. This football history podcast is on your favorite podcast app.


What do you know about Dick “Night Train” Lane? Many of you know he set the single-season interception record in 1952 by snagging 14 interceptions. Few know the backstory to how he set that record, included in this podumentary (documentary podcast).

Fewer still know the backstory of his life, which included overcoming unspeakable tragedies and finding incredible resolve. He was abandoned as an infant and left for dead. During his football career, he endured the accidental death of his wife, jazz superstar Dinah Washington.


Lane also co-holds the Cardinals all-time record for the longest receiving touchdown in franchise history! He caught a 98-yard TD pass from Ogden Compton in 1955, and you’ll hear Compton tell the story in this episode!

Sports artist Robert Hurst also shares his experiences with Lane in this episode hosted and produced by Jackson Michael. You can play the podcast in its entirety in the transcription player below. You can also read the transcription. Please remember that transcriptions are automatically generated and may include slight errors.

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Welcome to “The Game Before the Money Podcast”, celebrating pro and college football history. This episode, the amazing story of Dick Night Train Lane.

JACKSON MICHAEL: NFL History book author.:
Hi and welcome to “The Game Before the Money Podcast”, which comes out on every Tuesday, I’m Jackson Michael, author of “The Game Before the Money” Voices of the Men Who Built the NFL and writer director of We Were the Oilers, The Luv Ya Blue Era. Both are available on Amazon.com. Going to delve into the amazing story of Dick Night Train Lane in this episode.

Night Train passed away in 2002, but we’ll have two guests share stories about him. One is Ogden Compton, a teammate of Lane’s with the Chicago Cardinals, and the other is artist Robert Hurst. Dick Night Train Lane has a special connection to “The Game Before the Money” because although I never got to meet or speak with him, “The Game Before the Money” in some ways started with him. When I met artist Robert Hurst, he mentioned that he knew the Night Train Lane while Night Train was still alive and I told Robert that I wish we could have met at that point so that I might have been able to sit down with Night Train and record some of his stories. And after hearing that, Robert was gracious enough to invite me to a Texas Sports Hall of Fame event and “The Game Before the Money” really started at that event.

Night Train Lane’s life story is truly amazing. He has one of the great back stories in NFL history. First, here’s a brief overview of his NFL career. He’s a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame class of 1974. And a lot of prominent players consider him one of the, if not the greatest defensive backs of all time. Lane first played in the NFL for the Los Angeles Rams during the nineteen fifty two season. He snagged fourteen interceptions that season, which, even after the twenty nineteen season, remains the NFL’s single season record.

He played for three teams the Rams, the Cardinals and the Lions. He was known as one of the hardest hitting players in his day and really is still regarded as one of the hardest hitting players of all time. What most people don’t know about him as a player is that the Cardinals occasionally used him as a receiver. And Ogden Compton will share a great story about that later. In fact, Night Train isn’t often associated with the Cardinals as much as with the Rams and Lions, although he actually played more games with the Cardinals than with any other team.

Nisht Train Lane’s life story started precariously. He was born in Austin, Texas, in nineteen twenty eight. The history regarding his biological parents isn’t pretty. A widow named Ella Lane lived on East 9th Street in Austin with her two children, and one day she heard what she thought was a cat crying. And she looked in a dumpster and was shocked to find a baby boy wrapped in newspapers. The boy’s biological parents abandoned him in the garbage, Lane adopted the infant named him Richard Lane. He eventually became known as Dick Night Train Lane.

Before you earned the nickname Night Train, however, he earned the nickname Cueball.

The story of schoolmates like to share is that Lane and another boy made a dime bet as to who to win a pool game. Lane won the game and the other kid wouldn’t pay up and lane through the cueball at him and struck him quite hard.

Lane attended Anderson High School in Austin. At the time, it was an all black high school and a member of the Prairie View Interscholastic League. And you can hear more about the PVIL on the Texas Sports Hall of Fame podcast episode called Thursday Night Lights, which I also put together for the Texas Sports Hall of Fame. Other athletes to come out of Anderson High School in Austin include Baseball Hall of Fame shortstop Willie Wells and another NFL player with a great nickname, Thomas Hollywood Henderson.

Lane excelled at basketball and football, although his adoptive mother didn’t want him to play football, especially after Lane returned home with a pair of ripped pants. Lane was quoted as saying his mother offered to buy him a saxophone to give up football. And although Lane loved music, his true heart was in sports. He helped the Anderson High School yellowjackets reach the state football championship game.

Anderson lost 12 to two, and it’s good to note that Lane’s high school football coach, William Pigford, is legendary when it comes to PVIL coaches. Coach Pigford led Anderson to several state championship games. It was during Layne’s high school years that he learned that his biological mother had murdered his biological father. She spent time in prison and moved to Nebraska after being released. She asked Elaine to come to Nebraska and promised to pay for his tuition at Scottsbluff County College, now known as western Nebraska Community College. This was in nineteen forty seven, which turned out to be a tumultuous year in Lane’s life, but on the positive side, a baseball scout known as Lane in a pickup game and signed him to play for a Kansas City Monarchs affiliate. For those of you who don’t know baseball history as well, the Monarchs were the team Jackie Robinson played for before he joined the Dodgers. Lane played for the Omaha Rockets again, kind of a minor league affiliate to the Monarchs. So Lane didn’t play with Jackie Robinson, who actually joined the Dodgers that year in nineteen forty seven.

But Lane did play on the Rockets with Satchel Paige. Lane left the team, however, when he received word that his adoptive mother in Austin had grown very ill. He took a train to Austin and he arrived just a few days before she passed away.

He returned to Nebraska and Scottsbluff County College. Lane played a season of football before he left and joined the Army All of you who read the book “The Game Before the Money”, and our regular listeners to this podcast. You know, the military bases had sports teams back then, and Lane excelled in football as a receiver. He reportedly caught eighteen touchdowns during one of the military base seasons that he played. Lane’s military base was in Northern California and he apparently wrote letters to both Forty Niners coach Buck Shaw and Rams coach Joe Stydahar. Both apparently also responded and told them he could contact them again about playing after his military commitment ended. Although it’s important to note that neither offered him a contract or even a tryout.

And here’s another interesting part to Lane’s background that I pulled from an article from the Ann Arbor Sun that they did in interviewing Lane in the mid 1970s. And the article notes that Lane was offered a football scholarship at Loyola University after leaving the Army and he was ready to go.

But the school closed its football program. So instead of attending Loyola after he was honorably discharged from the Army, Lane got a job in a Los Angeles factory that manufactured airplanes. He joked in a mid 1970s New York Times article that the Jobs title was “Filer”. He thought he’d be working in an office doing file work, but the job actually involved the placing large, oily sheets of metal into a bin, he said. It was very dirty work that he didn’t enjoy and that his wife at the time had to help him clean up after each day.

Legend has it that Lane took a bus to work every day and that it went past the Rams facility. And one day in 1952, he got off the bus early and stopped at the Rams offices. His Cardinal teammate, Ogden Compton, shares part of the story with us.

OGDEN COMPTON: 1950s NFL Quarterback:
He walked on out there and said they want to play for the L.A. Rams. All right, so who are you? Coach (Stydahar) said. “Who are you?”

He said, “I’m Dick Lane.” Just imagine this happening today!

So the coach said, “what do you play?”

(Night Train Lane said) “I’m a receiver.”

The coach said, “Oh, well, we got two All-Pro receivers now. I don’t think we need one.

He said (Night Train Lane said) “I can play defense.”

JACKSON MICHAEL: NFL History book author.:
Lane had brought along a scrapbook of press clippings to show Rams head coach Joe Stydahar who started to thumb through it and eventually offered Lane a 4500 dollar contract conditional on his making the team.

OGDEN COMPTON: 1950s NFL Quarterback:
The coach was intrigued by Dick’s tenacity about wanting to play in the NFL.

So he (Rams coach Joe Stydahar) said, “Oh, come on out this afternoon, we’ll give you a shot.”

JACKSON MICHAEL: NFL History book author.:
Well, the Rams were defending NFL champions at the time, having won the 1951 NFL championship over the Cleveland Browns. And that was actually the Rams third straight appearance in the NFL championship game. They lost to the Eagles in 1949 and the Browns in 1950. You can hear more about that 1950 game in “The Game Before the Money” podcast episode with Dub Jones, who played an important part in the 1950 NFL championship game. So here’s Richard Lane, who, by the way, is still known simply as Richard Lane or Dick Lane. He’s 23 or 24 years old. And remember, this was the same guy who was an infant and basically abandoned and left for dead in a dumpster and rescued by a woman who thought she heard a cat in a garbage bin.

And this is a man who started playing minor league baseball, but the season was interrupted by his adoptive mother’s death and a man fresh out of the military who apparently missed out on a college scholarship, but instead wound up with an NFL tryout.

Going into the 1952 training camp, the world champion Rams starting lineup featured those two All-Pro the Ogden Compton mentioned earlier. And both of those All-Pro turned out to be two future Hall of Famers. Tom Fears and Elroy Crazy Legs Hirsch. Also remember Lane didn’t have much organized football experience since high school. He played junior college football as a freshman and military base football after that. And that was it. The Rams trained at the University of Redlands and Redlands, California, and that’s where Dick Lane became Night Train Lane.

I’ll start this part by saying there are two alternate versions of the nickname’s origin that you’ve possibly heard. The first is that he earned the nickname from his ferocious hits on receivers. And although that may have helped the mystique of his nickname, as we’ll see later, his vicious tackles coincided with the nickname. But that isn’t how he got his nickname.

A second theory, and this is the one that I heard growing up as a kid, was that he didn’t like to fly and that he traveled to road games via a late Night Train.

And this theory is so prominent that it’s even given as the reason for the Night Train label in a story about him on the Denver Broncos official website. And although that sounds like a neat wa, that Night Train got his nickname, it’s not the story of the Lane or his Rams teammates ever told, at least to my knowledge.

And the story of the Lane and his Rams teammates told is a bit more fun. Now during that Rams training camp, Lane visited Tom Fears after practices to ask him for tips on making the team. Fears owned a record player and played a song called Night Train, a song written by sax player Jimmy Forrest. There are also renditions by Buddy Morrow, James Brown and jazz great Oscar Peterson. One time, Lane walked in to Fears’ room and somebody said, “Hey, here comes Night Train.” For whatever reason, the nickname stuck. Lane didn’t really know what to think of the nickname at first. He took down Choo Choo Charlie Justice with a vicious tackle and a newspaper headline shouted “Night Train Derails Choo Choo”

Night Train Lane loved his nickname after reading that.

But before making headlines, Lane needed to prove himself in the Rams training camp, a camp where his competition where two future Hall of Famers in Tom Fears and Elroy Hirsch. The Rams also had two Hall of Fame quarterbacks, Norm Van Brocklin and Bob Waterfield, and both already loved throwing the ball to those two great receivers. The situation forced land to cover Hirsch and fears on passing drills against Van Brocklin and Waterfield. He did so well that head coach Joe Stydahar, himself a future hall of Famer, knew that Lane had what it took to play in the NFL. Perhaps what most impressed Stydahar was a play that Lane flipped into the air and somehow tackled the ball carrier in the midst of landing.

The coach ran on to the field and yelled, “That’s the kind of player I want!” And so Night Train Lane went from bus ride to training camp opportunity to earning a spot on the defending NFL champion L.A. Rams roster as a defensive back.

OGDEN COMPTON: 1950s NFL Quarterback:
He made the team, he led the league in interceptions, his very first year — imagine that.

JACKSON MICHAEL: NFL History book author.:
And even more, his league leading a total of 14 interceptions in nineteen fifty to set a single season NFL record that still stands as of the end of the twenty nineteen season. Over sixty five years later, the Rams lost the nineteen fifty two season opener, thirty seven to seven to the Cleveland Browns. Remember that was their first regular season game after winning the championship the year before.

The day after the game, stories hit the papers that there might be some quote, dissension in the Rams coaching staff. And the next day, Rams owner Dan Reeves announced that Stydahar had resigned, although Stydahar insisted that he considered himself fired. Either way, HAMP Pool took over as head coach of the Rams, who ended up starting the season one and three. And their only win in those first four games was the result of a twenty four point fourth quarter rally led by Bob Waterfield against the Green Bay Packers Night Train. Lane nabbed his first career interception off of Hall of Famer Bobby Layne in week four in a twenty four to sixteen loss. It was the Rams second loss to the Lions in three weeks. The Rams played the Bears the next week and again found themselves in need of a rally.

They found it with the help of Night Train. The Rams trailed seven to three going into the fourth quarter and Van Brocklin hit Elroy Hirsch for a touchdown to put the Rams ahead ten to seven. And then Night Train followed up by intercepting the Bears on their next possession and returning it all the way to the Bears four Yard line leading to another Rams touchdown. The Rams exploded for twenty eight points in the fourth quarter to win thirty one to seven. Lane ended up with two interceptions in that game.

He grabbed another two interceptions the next time the two teams met in mid-November. He also added a safety when he tackled Bear Eddie Macon in the end zone just seconds after the Rams returned a fumble for a touchdown in a third quarter scoring barrage that led to a forty to twenty four victory.

So here we got to what’s super interesting about Night Train Lane’s single season interception record. At that point in the season, Lane had seven interceptions in eight games and only four games remain on the Rams schedule. And Train didn’t intercept a pass in week nine against San Francisco. So we had seven interceptions after nine games with only three games left to go.

That means a half of Lane’s interceptions came in the last three games of the season. He picked off a Y.A. Tittle pass against San Francisco when the teams met for the second time in two weeks. Lane’s interception helped the Rams win their sixth straight game and move into a division tie with the first place Lions. So with only two games left in a twelve game season, Lane’s interception total stood at eight. The Rams played the Packers the next week, and they made a huge play with an eighty yard interception return for a touchdown.

That put the Rams ahead by ten points in the third quarter. Night Train picked off three passes total in that game and that gave him eleven on the season. The Rams played their regular season finale at home against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The L.A. coliseums field was hot that day and registered over one hundred degrees at one point. Night Train Lane also stayed hot. For the second week in a row, he ran an interception back for a score, and that put the Rams up by two touchdowns in the second quarter. Lane notched two more interceptions on the day before leaving the game with an injury.

Those three interceptions gave him fourteen on the season.

Segment with fictional sports correspondent Hal Rosenberg:
This is a Basie Sports Network update. The Nineteen fifty two NFL regular season concluded today. Los Angeles Rams rookie Dick Night Train Lane intercepted three passes to amass fourteen on the season, establishing a new league record. The previous record was 13, set by Washington’s Dan Sandifer in nineteen forty eight and tied by Spec Sanders of the New York football Yankees in 1950. Today also marks the Sammy Baugh career coming to an end. He retires as the NFL all time leading passer in yardage and touchdowns. Early in his career, Baugh doubled as a defensive back and in nineteen forty three established a league record for most interceptions in a single season with eleven.

JACKSON MICHAEL: NFL History book author.:
Let’s pause and put a few things into perspective here, he was a rookie defensive back making plays against Hall of Famers like Y.A. Tittle, Bobby Layne and George Blanda.

He made 14 interceptions in a 12 game season. So that means his record stood throughout the entire era of 14 game seasons and decades of 16 game seasons. Furthermore, Night Train Lane wasn’t an ordinary rookie. He didn’t play four years of college ball at USC or Notre Dame or even for a smaller school in the Skyline conference.

He played one year of junior college football before playing military base football and then, as an undrafted free agent, he walks into the Rams offices and asks for a tryout. The defending world champion Rams. Mind you, somehow he not only makes the team, but even makes the starting lineup. And then he sets a record that’s now stood for nearly 70 years and survived the days of more passing and longer schedules.

Now that Rams victory over the Steelers in the final week of the regular season landed them in a tie with the Detroit Lions for first place and the NFL’s National division, the teams played a divisional playoff in Detroit.

But Night Train Lane suffered an injury in the final game against Pittsburgh and missed the playoff game. The Lions won that playoff and that gave them three wins over the Rams that season. And the next week, Detroit moved on to win the championship over the Cleveland Browns.

Here’s another crazy fact about Night Train’s 1952 rookie season. He didn’t make any of the All-Pro teams. His teammate Herb Rich, made eight interceptions that year and made All-Pro as a defensive back. So did the Great Hall of Famer Emlen Tunnell and Hall of Famer Jack Christiansen of the Lions and a guy named Bob Smith, who also played for Detroit and had nine interceptions.

Train did at least make honorable mention on the UPI All-Pro team. Night Train Lane played one more year in Los Angeles. He tallied only three interceptions that year. The Rams secondary featured two other players who each had seven interceptions, so it took two guys to match Lane’s output from the previous year.

Lane played a huge role in a game against the Chicago Cardinals. That year, however, the Cardinals kick returner lost control of the ball on the opening kickoff of the second half and Night Train snatched it out of the air in full stride and raced twenty six yards into the end zone to tie the game at seventeen. And the game ended at a twenty four all tie after Cardinal cornerback Charley Trippi drove his team seventy three yards for a touchdown in the final minute, Night Train scored another defensive touchdown on a blocked field goal against the Packers and led the NFL in non offensive touchdowns for 1953, even though he only had those three interceptions.

In January of 1954, the Rams took part in a three team deal that sent Night Train lane to the Chicago Cardinals, where his original head coach, Joe Stydahar now worked. In a 1985 Sun-Sentinel article, Lane alluded to a salary dispute that may have led to the trade. Night Train landed ten interceptions in his first year with the Cardinals to lead the NFL. The Cardinals started experimenting with Night Train Lane as a receiver in 1954, and he made four receptions for a total of fifty eight yards.

But Lane really got a chance to showcase his receiving skills. In a nineteen fifty five game at Green Bay, Cardinal quarterback Ogden Compton will tell you the story.

OGDEN COMPTON: 1950s NFL Quarterback:
We were playing Green Bay, of course, you may know. And their punter had wanted out of bounds on our two yard line, so thus far I had not played in that game. But I was lucky enough to be able to go in when it was first and ten on our two. We tried a pass play. We tried running play. and Green Bay was all set for us and me being a rookie, they just didn’t worry too much about anything. And well into the game on third down and ten came Dick Night Train Lane, who many people think is the greatest conerback in history.

And I’m one of them. So it comes it is a game on third and ten and we call it play, and he went straight down the field, got behind the defensive back and I threw him the ball, which he called right around our 40 somewhere in there. I was in the end zone when I threw it and I was under a nine man rush by the Green Bay Packers, so he caught it and it was an easy route for him to run. He had to speed and he was the rest of the way for a 98 yard touchdown.

JACKSON MICHAEL: NFL History book author.:
That play still stands tied with a play in the 1930s as the longest touchdown pass in Cardinals history. And remember, the Cardinals are one of the original franchises. So that means that’s the record. After 100 seasons and throughout his life, Lane would often say that was his favorite play of his NFL career.

OGDEN COMPTON: 1950s NFL Quarterback:
When I came out of the game after three plays, my roommate, Lamar McHan, is the quarterback from Arkansas. He said, you are the luckiest S.O.P I’ve ever seen.

Well, OK. So anyway, we had a lot of interviews after that show for great but great thrill. And imagine playing about a minute and setting and NFL record which still stands.

JACKSON MICHAEL: NFL History book author.:
During our conversation I asked Compton if the Cardinals had practiced that play before.

OGDEN COMPTON: 1950s NFL Quarterback:
Well, no, he was a defensive back, so I was surprised to see him come to the game. I thought, “What’s he coming in here for?” He came in to outrun The safety gets the ball and goes and said NFL record. He played one play in that series.

JACKSON MICHAEL: NFL History book author.:
Compton adds that Lane was popular with his teammates.

OGDEN COMPTON: 1950s NFL Quarterback:
He was a really, really good guy too. Popular with the team, he was kind of quiet, didn’t go around bragging. He just did his job and he was just extraordinarily tough, he was fast.

He had all of the qualities you’re looking for.

JACKSON MICHAEL: NFL History book author.:
Lane continued to rack up Pro Bowl honors as a Cardinal on a regular basis, although his interception totals never reached above seven after his third year in the league. He also was only signed a one year contracts. When he signed his 1957 contract. The July twenty Fourth edition of The New York Times stated that he had previously announced his retirement at the end of the 1956 season, but later changed his mind. Now a lot of you know, it wasn’t uncommon for good players to retire with a lot of gas left in the tank in the days where they had to work during the off season and had to think about careers and what they would do after football. Laying often noted that the largest contract he signed was for twenty five thousand dollars.

In 1957 and 1958, Lane only notched two interceptions each year. A Chicago Defender article noted that quarterbacks rarely threw in his direction by that point in his career. In 1959, he only totaled three interceptions but returned one for a touchdown off of his former teammate, Norm Van Brocklin, who now played for the Eagles. And Lane’s interception gave the Cardinals a twenty four nothing lead in the third quarter. That particular game is historic for two reasons.

First, it was a regular season game played at Metropolitan Stadium in Minneapolis as a test to see if that city could support pro football. Secondly, the Eagles came roaring back and actually won the game twenty eight to twenty four after trailing by twenty four points. That tied a Philadelphia club record for the largest comeback in franchise history. And that record stands to this day.

Before the 1960 season, the Cardinals headed to St. Louis and traded Lane to Detroit for a man named Gerry Perry, a versatile player who played both offensive and defensive line and kicked field goals. Lions Hall of Famer Joe Schmidt called it one of the greatest trades in the history of sports, not just football. Night Train lane, already an established star, came of age with the Lions. Packers coach Vince Lombardi explicitly told his quarterback, Bart Starr, not to throw toward Lane under any circumstances. The Colts gave Johnny Unitas the same advice. Johnny U perhaps the greatest quarterback in the history of the game, shook his head and said he didn’t believe in giving anybody a free ride. Unitas through Lane’s way late in a 1960 game as the two time defending champion Colts trailed by six oh.

Segment with fictional sports correspondent Hal Rosenberg:
This is Hal Rosenberg reporting from Briggs Stadium in Detroit, where a thrilling finish just occurred. Johnny Unitas drove the Colts near the Lions 25 yard line with a chance to win the game in the final moments until Night Train Lane intercepted the ball and raced 80 yards for a touchdown to put the contest out of reach.

Night Train Lane was an instant hit in Motown. He stood out in a secondary that already boasted two future Hall of Famers Yale Larry and Dick LeBeau. Night Train played the hero again against the Forty Niners a few weeks after the Colts game when the Lions played at San Francisco. Night Train made two plays in the second half that changed the entire complexion of the game. San Francisco drove to Detroit’s five yard line before Lane made a touchdown saving interception off of John Brodie. San Francisco later drove to the Lions two and this time Lane crushed Hall of Fame running back Joe Perry and pushed him all the way back to the ten yard line on fourth down Detroit one twenty four to nothing. The first time the forty Niners had been shut out since nineteen fifty five. The Lions finished second in their division in nineteen sixty and played in what was called the runner up bowl or the playoff bowl. The game was an exhibition between the two teams that finished second and their respective divisions and didn’t make the championship game.

The Lions played the Browns in the Nineteen Sixty Runner-Up Bowl and the game was at the Orange Bowl in Miami and future Hall of Famer Bobby Mitchell scored for the Browns on an eighty nine yard pass near the end of the game to make the score. Seventeen to sixteen, Night Train blocked the extra point and saved the win for the Lions. Although Lane’s rookie year is his most famous because of those 14 interceptions, he made a huge amount of big plays in 1960, the interception off of Unitas, the big game against San Francisco, the blocked extra point attempt in the playoff bowl.

Lane established himself as a playmaker in his first year with the Lions. He also had established himself as one of the most ferocious tacklers in the game. By that point, his trademark tackle was called The Night Train Necktie. The tackle fell under the definition of a clothesline, and Lane basically grabbed players around the neck or helmet with his arm and threw people down. There’s a famous photo of him tackling John Arnett of the Rams, and you can find that pretty easily online. In the early days of the facemask, Night Train found that he could also grab a facemask and make a tackle. The NFL made both the clothesline and face masking illegal, in part because of nine trains play.

And you can read more about what made the clotheslined tackle illegal in the Caroll Dale chapter of the book, The Game. Before the Money, Lane continued to star for the Lions, a very good team during those days. In fact, they made the runner up bowl three times in a row and one each time. A signature win for Detroit came in nineteen sixty two on Thanksgiving Day when the Lions gave the defending champion Packers their only loss of the season. Night Train Lane had an early third quarter interception in a game that the Lions defense dominated.

Nineteen sixty three was an important year for Lane off the field Hail Mary jazz superstar Dinah Washington in July of nineteen sixty three. Lane’s best man was basketball superstar Wilt Chamberlain. Lane continued to play at a high level as a ball hawking defensive back. He caused seven turnovers in nineteen sixty three. The Lion’s fortunes changed through the season, however, as the team ended the season under the five hundred mark. Of course, Night Train Lane’s identity was that of a tough competitor. Other than missing several games in nineteen fifty seven, he rarely missed a game. He would, however, miss the final game of the nineteen sixty three season.

Lane woke up in the middle of the night the night before leaving for the Lions season finale against the Bears in Chicago. He found his wife, Dinah Washington, unconscious. He called the doctor who pronounced that Washington had passed away. She was thirty nine years old. Night Train again moved on.

Despite the tragedy, he was later quoted as crediting Washington for starting a new era in his life.

Lane suited up again for the Lions in 1964 for his season, was cut short due to a knee injury that required offseason surgery. He was slower when he showed up for Detroit’s 1965 training camp and the Lions cut the thirty seven year old defensive back. They later assigned Lane to their practice squad and reactivated him. Midseason Night Train appeared in seven more games before retiring after 14 NFL seasons.

At the time, he stood second in all time career interceptions behind Emlen Tinnell as of the twenty nineteen season, lane stands fourth in career, all time interceptions in NFL history. He will likely stay there a long time as no current player is in the top one hundred and twenty five all time in career interceptions. And it will be interesting to see if his single season mark of fourteen will be challenged as the league moves to a seventeen game season with the new collective bargaining agreement.

After his playing days, Lane worked for a few years with the Lions in an administrative role. You really wanted to get into coaching. He left the Lions and served as a college assistant coach for a couple of years and then worked briefly for comedian Red Fox. Detroit Mayor Coleman Young put Night Train Lane in charge of the city’s Police Athletic League youth program, and he found a real calling there. He relished giving back to kids. Having grown up a foster child himself.

Lane was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as part of the class of nineteen seventy four, and his high school football coach, William Pigford, presented him at the induction ceremony Night Train return to his hometown of Austin, Texas. Later in life, there was some press coverage around his economic situation late in his life that highlighted the fact that NFL pensions were falling short of covering the cost of living and medical expenses for some of the greats who built the game. Artist Robert Hurst met him in Austin and shares some of his experience with Night Train Lane.

Sports artist ROBERT HURST:
I became the artist for the Texas Sports Hall of fame in 1997, and I think I met Night Train Lane in 95, 94, when I was really first kind of starting off in the sports art career. And I met him in a really tiny show in Austin. And I I think it was even at a school that, you know, wasn’t publicized or anything. It was just, you know, him there and he was signing some autographs and stuff. And anyway, so we just got talking and we became friends. We talked about football and, you know, his past and what he was doing and where he was living. And so he was living back in Austin at this apartment complex. And so I would go and visit him probably once a week or so. Anyway, I realized Night Train had no money. You know, whatever he was getting from the NFL was barely enough to subsist on. And so I started putting together a few shows for him in the Austin area, you know, where he would do autograph signings and just gave him 100 percent of the money because I didn’t do it for any other reason. I just wanted to get him out of where he was living at the time, you know, for a few hours and meet his fans and that kind of stuff. And so we did that for a couple of years.

JACKSON MICHAEL: NFL History book author.:
Hurst adds that Lane enjoyed interacting with fans.

Sports artist ROBERT HURST:
Well, Train was really friendly. He seemed to really love people. And you could tell. He could tell a yarn ya know, he could tell a story. And, you know, because these were huge events or anything, everybody got to spend as much time with him as they wanted to or, you know, if they got their stuff autographed and then, you know, he’s sitting around afterwards. Well, you know, just a little roundtable with Night Train sitting there and telling stories and people asking questions. And so those were always a lot of fun. You know, you’d see a lot of joy in his face and, you know, and the people around, you know, just listening to the stories. So that that was, I think, the biggest fight I took out of it, you know, was getting to see him interact with, you know, the fans and the people that would come to the event.

JACKSON MICHAEL: NFL History book author.:
Hurst told me that he still has a few portraits autographed by Night Train Lane there are available on his website, a damn fine artist dot com. You can also find him by searching for Robert Hurst on Google. His last name is spelled h u r. S t. He also has artwork available signed by Sammy Baugh and many other sporting legends.

In the newspaper stories that came out late in his life Night Train would always say that he had no regrets about playing football.

His story is truly incredible from being abandoned as an infant to making an NFL team without playing traditional college football to setting a record that’s lasted nearly 70 years to suffering the loss of his wife, to earning a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Lane’s legacy lives on in pro football. Hall of Famer Lem Barney called him, quote, the godfather of cornerbacks.

When Night Train was named to the NFL 100 team coach Bill Belichick called him the prototype to players like Rod Woodson and Mel Blount. Hall of Famer Ed Reed simply said that Lane was a man playing among boys. Herb Adderley called him the best defensive back ever to play the game. Lane’s former teammate, Ogden Compton, adds his thoughts about Night Train lanes football legacy.

OGDEN COMPTON: 1950s NFL Quarterback:
One of my teammates was Pat Summerall. I’m sure you remember him. I really thought a lot of what anyone had said and so did John Madden, that he was the best corner in NFL history. And boy, I sure agree with that. He was that good. I was blessed to be able to get to play with a true Hall of Famer. You know, there was none better than this guy. And that goes for right now as well.

Thanks for listening to this episode of “The Game Before the Money” podcast, which comes out on every Tuesday.

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A special thanks to Odgen Compton and Robert Hurst for sharing their stories. “The Game Before the Money” podcast is powered by our transcription partner Sonix. That’s S O N I X. And transcriptions of podcasts are available at the game before the money.com in the podcast notes section.

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  1. I am the son of Dick Night Train Lane , me and my brother are trying to continue his legacy and would love to have a conversation with you. We are looking to interview some of our dad‘s friends that may have some old stories. We are in the process of putting together a documentary on his life not only as a football player but as him being thrown away as an infant.

  2. I enjoyed the podast great idea to talk about the early days of pro football .I can’t believe what I am hearing the history of the early days of pro football. Loved the Night Train story .Too good to be true but it is .Thanks for bringing past the past so clearly.Good fun