The Kansas City Chiefs have a long history of HBCU talent

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Some Kansas City Chiefs players only require a last name: Buchanan, Thomas, Lanier.

And for them, the organization they played for was run by a family known for giving historically black college and collegiate players a chance.

“The Hunt family was the best family I could have ever imagined playing football,” said former Chiefs linebacker Willie Lanier.

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When the then-Dallas Texans entered the new American Football League, the league had to take a risk.

“This was really the only place where[Black players]could have a really big chance,” Chiefs historian Bob Moore said.

The National Football League, meanwhile, mostly stayed the course.

“As late as 1960, there was one 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 seeking talented black players first from local, larger schools, Moore said.

“They didn’t get a chance to play in the other league. So when a new league starts, there was certainly a lot more when the AFL was formed, even though there were black players in the NFL,” Moore said.

“In 1960, the AFL’s first MVP was a black player, then with the Texans, Abner Haynes. So it was very clear that there were no favorites based on the race.”

And when the team moved to Kansas City, the new chiefs got creative to attract talent, going to places like Grambling, Louisiana; Prairie View, Texas; and even Princess Anne, Maryland.

“There was this huge 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,” said former Chiefs wide receiver Noland Smith. “The mostly black players were really the backbone of the American Football League.”

Hurd knew the mystery started first in the newspapers, black college all-stars in publications like the Pittsburgh Courier. Pick a year and you would see a future Chiefs player.

“At Grambling there was a guy named Collie J. Nicholson. One of the things that Collie did was publicize, and that’s where he built relationships with the black media,” Hurd said. “One of the things he did was send out game stories constantly to newspapers, magazines and scouts across the country, and that’s how a lot of black college talent was spotted.”

The judge

Then Hunt and the Chiefs just had to find one man who could find that talent, a Houston writer named Lloyd Wells. “The Judge,” as he was known, was the first full-time African American professional scout.

“He was able to get players to do a lot of things that he’s done throughout his AFL career,” Moore said. “So he goes to Willie along with a lot of other players and tells them about the money that’s at stake and he wants them to sign right away. This is in the midst of a battle between the two leagues.”

He was instrumental in building the Chiefs’ roster with HBCU talent.

“There weren’t many Lloyd Wells. Well, there’s never been anyone like Lloyd Wells,” Hurd said. “There weren’t any scouts consistently promoting these guys at HBCUs.”

Wells was a scout for the Chiefs in the ’60s. He knew colleges like Grambling, Prairie View, Tennessee State, Morgan State, Maryland Eastern-Shores and more.

Hunt and Stram were more than welcoming of Wells’ contacts.

“And when the AFL came along, he started making connections with Lamar Hunt and the Dallas Texans. And so he started channeling a lot of that black talent to the AFL, and of course a lot of those guys ended up with the Chiefs,” Hurd said.

Premieres in Kansas City

From there, Hunt and Stram took this JBCU talent and set to work.

“He was a very personable person and a believer in his program and one of the things I liked about him was that he knew his players,” said former Chiefs wide receiver Jerrold McRae.

Still, Hunt knew he was taking a risk.

“Lamar Hunt’s father received a lot of opposition from a lot of people in the South who didn’t like the idea that his son’s team had a lot of African American players,” Moore said.

But there was only one mission: win. The players could see it too.

“I felt like 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 while being very aware that all people, all classes, all have equal benefits.”

Hunt, Stram, and Wells scored many firsts together in Kansas City, including first draft pick in 1963, Buck Buchanan.

In the same draft, the Chiefs proved they treated black players better than their NFL peers. Minnesota’s Bobby Bell, 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 big fan of Black College Conference players. Coaches like Stram, when he saw that talent, like wow, like a man, what did we miss,” Hurd said.

“The fact that all these firsts came out of Kansas City and came out of Dallas with them is a pretty significant achievement when you look at race relations in this country, especially in the 1960s when everything was changing,” Moore said.

And the Chiefs brought all of that HBCU talent to the Chiefs’ first Super Bowl title — with a key figure included in the celebration.

“Lloyd’s is the only scout that I know of that was seen at a celebration in the Super Bowl locker room,” Hurd said. “Lamar Hunt and these guys brought him here because he was 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 placed in him accelerated the AFL-NFL merger and let the world know that 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 guys like Otis Taylor and Jimmy Marsalis and Emmitt Thomas, the way these guys got into the league and played as well as they did, really got the NFL’s attention.”

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