KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Buck Buchanan was the first African American selected #1 overall in a professional football draft, and in the third part of FOX4’s focus on how historically Black colleges and universities impacted the Kansas City Chiefs, Harold Kuntz shines the spotlight on Buchanan’s Grambling State Tigers, HBCUs in Texas, and a former wide receiver who many believe belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“Buck Buchanan actually was my role model, unbeknown to him, because one of my teachers whose name was ‘Buchanan’ lied to me and told me his name was ‘Buck,’ and he told me he was the professional guy. And I said, ‘If he can do it, I know I can do it!” former Chiefs defensive lineman Leonard Griffin said.
Griffin knew in fourth grade that Buck Buchanan was someone he wanted to model his football career after. Little did the young Leonard know that he would play for the same team Buchanan played for.
“He would share information with me, little details of what to do, what not to do,” Griffin recounted.
“He took on the big brother role where he was there almost every afternoon, encouraging me, telling me, ‘Don’t give up.’”
Griffin went on to play with the Chiefs from 1986 to 1993.
“It was the ideal place for me to go. Because of the heritage, because of the guys at Grambling that ended up in Kansas City,” he said.
He was one of 10 players from Grambling to play for the Chiefs, learning from the legendary Eddie Robinson, who coached the Tigers between 1941 and 1997.
“Coach Robinson, you know, he had a knack for not only coaching football players, he coached respectable young men. He taught us to be patient and seize that opportunity,” Griffin said.
The most prominent Chief who Robinson coached was Hall of Famer Buck Buchanan.
“He was a great leader for us, he played it well and he was one of those guys that was an inspiration for all the other guys,” Robinson said at Buchanan’s Hall of Fame induction in 1990.
The Chiefs were very happy to have him.
“If I wasn’t playing very well, I just had to do something to keep myself motivated and I was always screaming not only at my team, but the opposing team and telling guys, ‘He’s holding them and if he doesn’t stop, I’m going to kill him,’” Buchanan said during an interview.
The selection paid off with eight Pro Bowl seasons in his first nine, and 70 sacks in his 13-year career.
He was one of the key cogs of Hank Stram’s defense as a defensive right tackle. In Stram’s Hall of Fame induction speech for Buchanan, he said: “Buck was not an ‘x’ and he was not an ‘o,’ he was an ‘o and an x,’ he was an ox.”
“My election to the Hall of Fame makes me feel extremely proud to be the first AFL defensive lineman to be enshrined in Canton,” Buchanan said during his speech.
“We had eight that Super Bowl year, eight African Americans, five from HBCUs on that team. And with those individuals we were able to craft something that was unique and have an understanding on how you improved on almost a daily basis,” Chiefs linebacker Willie Lanier said.
“Buck was a leading figure on those teams, he was very much of a person that everybody looked up to. He was more than a great player; he was a community leader,” Chiefs historian Bob Moore said.
In 1967 and 1968, Buchanan had arguably his best two seasons, and off the field, he gave his time to Kansas City in a time where racial unrest led to riots in April of ’68.
“Curtis McClinton and Buck Buchanan, in the midst of the Watts riots after the MLK assassination, had gone out into the community to try and keep peace,” Moore said.
Buchanan set the standard for Grambling Tigers playing in KC on and off the field. There was also defensive back Albert Lewis.
“Kansas City, when I think about it, I thought of Albert Lewis, Fred Jones, Emmitt Thomas, Buck Buchanan. I was like, ‘wow,’ and when you look at it, they (the Chiefs) really do a lot with HBCUs,” former wide receiver Tim Barnett said.
Lewis spent 11 seasons with the Chiefs, the last few years building the younger generation of talent behind him on the depth chart. Grambling left some more impact, with the Chiefs drafting three other Tigers: Tracy Greene, Fred Jones and Ernie Ladd.
As much as Grambling helped the Chiefs, the team also got back to its Texas roots as well when it came to HBCU players. Emmitt Thomas, last seen coaching Chiefs’ defensive backs, also had plenty of talent. Hailing from tiny Bishop College in Dallas, he became a Hall of Famer, but unlike many of the HBCU players before him, he went undrafted.
“The most important reason I’m here, I played the game with a lot of respect, honor that the game so very much deserved from everyone who has ever had the privilege of strapping on the shoulder pads. That every time I stepped on the field at Municipal Stadium, and later at Arrowhead Stadium, I did it with the knowledge I was representing the Kansas City Chiefs,” Thomas said during his Hall of Fame speech.
He was a ball hawk, a five-time pro bowler, a league leader in interceptions and most importantly, snagged a key interception in the Chiefs first Super Bowl win.
He had 58 total interceptions, and then went on to coach defensive backs for eight seasons with the Chiefs, finishing with a total of 38 years coaching.
Chiefs Coach Andy Reid said of Thomas when he retired: “Having a pro football Hall of Famer lead that room and share his experience as a player and a coach has been incredible for our guys.”
But as much as Bishop College was tiny, it was in Dallas before it closed. Prairie View, Texas is a little harder to find on the map, but in 1965, the Chiefs didn’t take long to find Otis Taylor.
“I grew up around the corner from Otis. Otis was a great QB in high school, great basketball player, he was just a great all-around athlete,” author Michael Hurd said.
“All of his former teammates who talk to me, to a man, say Otis Taylor was the best athlete to come out of Prairie View.”
To procure Taylor’s services, the Chiefs had to beat the NFL. Kansas City picked Taylor in the fourth round of the AFL Draft. The NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles picked him in the 15th. Scouts had Taylor secured in a hotel until Lloyd Wells came along.
“He could talk players into doing a lot of things, which he did his entire career with the AFL. This is in the midst of the battle between the two leagues,” Moore explained.
Wells came in through the back window, picked him up, signed him, took him straight to the airport, and his career with the Chiefs took off.
“He was the prototype for the modern day receiver. He had the size, he had the speed, and those great hands,” Hurd said.
All told, Taylor had over 7,000 yards receiving, over 400 receptions, 60 total touchdowns, which at the time, were incredible numbers for anyone playing in only 14 games.
He also came through at the most dire time. Take the 1969 divisional against the New York Jets, hauling in a 61 yard reception, followed by a catch from fellow HBCU player, Gloster Richardson, for the winning touchdown, ultimately leading to the Super Bowl IV win, where he also had a touchdown. Alas, he’s not one of the many Chiefs in the Hall of Fame.
“Otis was just the best, just the best. And it’s shame that the Pro Football Hall of Fame overlooked him for this long. That’s just criminal. For the longest time he was the Chiefs all-time leading receiver,” Hurd said.
Only Tony Gonzalez and Travis Kelce are ahead of Taylor for the Chiefs all-time leader in receiving yards.
“He was just an incredible receiver, and in that era, the AFL was so pass happy, I don’t know how you can overlook him,” Hurd said.
There are 10 members of the Super Bowl IV champion team enshrined, Taylor would make a case for 11. There are many making a case for his induction, including Jason Watkins, who recently released a podcast where he addressed Taylor not being a member.
There is a vote coming soon for a senior’s list for the Hall of Fame. The semi-finalists list of 25 will be released soon. Up to three senior players can be nominated by the committee, which then goes to the Hall of Fame selection committee.