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How Dick “Night Train” Lane Got His Nickname

The Game Before the Money Podcast took a look at Night Train’s life and career in Episode 24.

Night Train Lane’s NFL Career

Night Train Lane’s life story is truly amazing. He’s a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame class of 1974. A lot of prominent players consider him one of the — if not THE — greatest defensive backs of all time.

Dick “Night Train” Lane first played in the NFL for the Los Angeles Rams during the 1952 season. He snagged 14 interceptions that season, which, even after the 2020 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.

Why Did They Call Him Night Train Lane

There are possibly several 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. Although that may have helped the mystique of his nickname, that isn’t how he got his nickname. There is no doubt that his hits coincided with the moniker, however. The train reference to his punishing style of play resonated with both players and the media.

A second theory and this is the one that I heard growing up as a kid. That theory stated that he didn’t like to fly and that he traveled to road games via a late-night train. 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. Although that sounds like a neat way that Night Train got his nickname, it’s not the story that Lane or his Rams teammates ever told, at least to my knowledge.

The story that 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 into Fears’ room and somebody said, “Hey, here comes Night Train.” For whatever reason, the nickname stuck.

Did Night Train Lane like his nickname?

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.

Dick “Night Train” Lane’s life story is truly incredible. He made the NFL and subsequently the Hall of Fame against incredible odds. You can learn more about him here.

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Looking for a great NFL history book? Check out The Game Before the Money: Voices of the Men Who Built the NFL available at — Amazon.com – Barnes and Noble – University of Nebraska Press

Like football history? Listen to our podcast! Most episodes include stories from former NFL, AFL and college football stars.

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