KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Some players for the Kansas City Chiefs only require a last name: Buchanan, Thomas, Lanier.
And for them, the organization they played for was led by a family known for giving Historically Black College and University players a chance.
“The Hunt family was the best family that I could have ever imagined being involved with to play football,” former Chiefs linebacker Willie Lanier said.
When the then-Dallas Texans arrived in the new American Football League, the league had to take what was seen as a risk.
“This was really the only place where (Black players) could have really much of a chance,” Chiefs historian Bob Moore said.
Meanwhile, the National Football League mostly stayed to the course.
“As late as 1960, there was still an NFL franchise that didn’t have any Black players at all, Washington,” Moore said.
In contrast, Chiefs founder and former owner Lamar Hunt and new head coach Hank Stram went to work, finding talented Black players first from local, bigger schools, Moore said.
“They didn’t have a chance to play in the other league, so consequently, when a new league starts, even though there were Black players in the NFL, when the AFL came into being, there were certainly going to be a lot more,” Moore said.
“In 1960, the first MVP of the AFL was a Black player, from the Texans at that point, Abner Haynes. So it was very clear there were no favorites on the basis of race.”
And when the team moved to Kansas City, the new Chiefs got creative to get talent, going to places like Grambling, Louisiana; Prairie View, Texas; and even Princess Anne, Maryland.
“There was this vast untapped talent pool of Black college athletes,” said Michael Hurd, author of “1892-1992: Black College Football.”
“The AFL was the first to recognize the fact that they were pretty much the startup,” former Chiefs wide receiver Noland Smith said. “The predominately Black players were really the backbone of the American Football League.”
Hurd knew the secret first started in the newspapers, Black college all-stars in publications like the Pittsburgh Courier. Pick a year, and you’d see a future Chiefs player.
“At Grambling, there was a man named Collie J. Nicholson. One of the things that Collie did was a publicist, and in doing that gig, he developed relationships with the Black media,” Hurd said. “One of the things he did is consistently sending game stories to newspapers, magazines and scouts all around the country, and that’s how a lot of Black college talent was discovered.”
Then Hunt and the Chiefs just needed to find a man who could find that talent, a Houston writer named Lloyd Wells. “The Judge,” as he was known, was the first fulltime African American pro scout.
“He could talk players into doing a lot of things, which he did his entire career with the AFL,” Moore said. “So he goes to Willie, along with a lot of other players, and tells them about the money involved, and he wants them to sign right away. This is in the midst of the battle between the two leagues.”
He was instrumental in building the Chiefs rosters with HBCU talent.
“There were not a lot of Lloyd Wells. Well, there was never anybody like Lloyd Wells,” Hurd said. “There were no scouts who were consistently promoting those guys at HBCUs.”
Wells was a scout for the Chiefs in the ’60s. He knew about the colleges like Grambling, Prairie View, Tennessee State, Morgan State, Maryland Eastern-Shores and more.
Hunt and Stram were more than welcoming to Wells’ contacts.
“And as the AFL came along, he started making connections with Lamar Hunt and the Dallas Texans. And so, he started to funnel a lot of that Black talent to the AFL, and of course, a lot of those guys ended up with the Chiefs,” Hurd said.
Kansas City firsts
From there, Hunt and Stram took that HBCU talent and got to work.
“He was a very personable individual and believed in his program, and one of the things I liked about him is that he knew his players,” former Chiefs receiver Jerrold McRae said.
Still Hunt knew he was taking some risks.
“Lamar Hunt’s father was receiving a lot of pushback from a lot of people in the South who didn’t like idea that his son’s team had a lot of African-American players on them,” Moore said.
But there was only one mission: winning. Players could see it, too.
“I felt that the family had as much equal opportunity in their soul as any group I’d ever seen,” Lanier said. “So the quality and value of Kansas City, the ownership group, the history of who they are and how they run it, being very cognizant of all people, all classes, all to have equal benefit.”
Hunt, Stram and Wells combined for many firsts in Kansas City, including the first overall draft pick in 1963, Buck Buchanan.
That same draft, the Chiefs proved they treated Black players better than their NFL counterparts. Bobby Bell out of Minnesota, a 2nd round pick in the NFL, went to the Chiefs where he was a 7th round pick. The reason: a guaranteed contract.
“I know Stram was a great fan of players from Black college conferences. Coaches like Stram, once he got to see that talent, like wow, like man, what have we been missing,” Hurd said.
“The fact that all those firsts came from Kansas City and come with them from Dallas, that’s a pretty significant accomplishment when you’re looking at racial relationships in this country, especially in the 1960s, when everything was changing,” Moore said.
And the Chiefs took all that HBCU talent to the Chiefs’ first Super Bowl title — with an important figure included in the celebration.
“Lloyd’s the only scout that I knew of that was featured in a Super Bowl locker room celebration,” Hurd said. “Lamar Hunt and those guys brought him in ’cause he was some responsible for a lot of the key players on the Chiefs Super Bowl teams.”
It could be argued that Wells’ contributions and the trust the Chiefs showed him expedited the AFL-NFL merger and let the world know the AFL and HBCU talent were not and never were inferior talent.
“In hindsight, I think we can at least say it would have taken longer,” Hurd said. “Because of what guys like Otis Taylor and Jimmy Marsalis and Emmitt Thomas, the way those guys came into the league and played as well as they did, it really put the NFL on notice.”