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Dick Lane

Dick Lane was selected as the best cornerback in NFL history by a 1969 poll of sports writers. See more pictures of football.

Dick "Night Train" Lane, wrote author Mickey Herskowitz, "was the midnight gambler who never hesitated to take the big risk, who so often made the big play and the key interception. He had superb reflexes and what he modestly described as a 'sense of recovery.'"

Like Emlen Tunnell, another great defensive back, Lane (born 1928) walked into the offices of an NFL team -- in Lane's case, the Los Angeles Rams, the reigning NFL champions -- in 1952 and asked for a tryout.

But, unlike Tunnell, he could not point to experience in college football. He had played a little in junior college, a little in the service.

In truth, the young man fresh out of the Army was simply looking for a job -- any job -- and the Rams were just another door to knock on.

For reasons best known to himself, Rams coach Joe Stydahar agreed to take him to training camp as a receiver. All he had to do was beat out Tom Fears and Elroy Hirsch.

When he had trouble learning the plays, Lane went to Fears for counseling.

It seemed that every time he showed up at Fears's room, the Buddy Morrow record "Night Train" was playing on the phonograph. "Night Train" became Lane's official nickname.

Soon Lane was switched to cornerback, where he became a surprise sensation. Opponents, figuring the rookie for a soft touch, kept throwing into his territory, and Night Train kept making them pay. The rookie set the all-time interception record with 14 in a 12-game season, and no one has topped that number in a 16-game schedule.

Lane played two years for the Rams and six for the Cardinals before going to Detroit in 1960. Six of his best seasons were with the Lions. Over 14 years, he intercepted 68 passes.

Although he was an exceptional cover man, Lane was even better known for his rough handling of ball carriers and receivers. "Train" was an artist of the blind-side smash, the clothesline maneuver, the neck-high tackle, and the face mask grapple. Interceptions were only one reason to avoid his turf.

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