A Mellow Saturday Visit To Night Train

It is a sign of a coward who says, “This is my bad luck and I will have to accept it.” A positive thinker would say, “I will decide my fate and my own destiny.”–Richard “Night Train” Lane

Sometimes as you get older you learn to not sweat the small stuff, take life day by day, and how to take ‘er easy. All cliches, I know, but getting older is somewhat tricky, so I just follow the social cues and mind my own business and it seems to work out for the most part. Pious life advice aside, a friend and I decided to check out one of those breweries that also sells coffee and pastries over on the bohemian/east side of town. Idyllic domesticity. You can sit outside at a table and stare at people or dogs or even the band on stage as you sip your beverage of choice. It’s nothing special, but it was a fine-by-me-activity on a delightful, breezy, and sunny Saturday.

Before the festivities, however, we decided to stop by football/Rams great Dick “Night Train” Lane’s grave and pay homage. Dick was known as one of football’s most fearsome hitters, and when he wasn’t knocking your block off, he was picking your quarterback’s pocket as he holds the single-season NFL record for interceptions with 14 set in 1952. The cemetery, being predominantly black, was vandalized a few years back with spray paint, but the community came together and scrubbed away all the offensive garbage. The story made me angry and sad, but I was also proud of the community for their tenacity and how it bolstered their dauntless and bountiful sense of pride. You’ll find that most knuckleheads like the “graffiti artist” don’t have much determination or bravery, so eventually, they just give up until their decrepit brain and unfounded hatred devours their flimsy psyche.

Dick himself had a rather rocky upbringing as he was thrust into the world by a prostitute and her pimp, and after roughly three months they were irritated by the child so he was simply placed in a garbage can amongst newspapers. Discarded like trash.

Lane later recalled, “My father was called Texas Slim. I never saw him – I don’t know if he’s the one that told my mother to throw me away. A pimp told my mother I had to go. They put me in a trash can and took off. Some people heard me crying. They thought it was a cat.”

Our lives are impacted by forces we cannot explain, often changed for reasons we will never totally understand. Can you call it kismet? Dick survived the trash bin and was thereafter adopted and raised by a loving woman, eventually going on to play minor league baseball before joining the U.S. Army. After serving four years he worked in an aircraft plant in Los Angeles but found the work tedious and unsatisfying. He would ride the bus to the job every day and observed that he was passing by the L.A. Rams offices. Fate leads the willing and drags along the reluctant: one fine day Lane waltzed in and asked for a tryout and was almost immediately signed. Imagine the cajones on this guy! Night Train, in the course of time, played in the NFL for 14 seasons, and like most old-school players was charming and urbane on the surface with a fierce, smashmouth steeliness below.

Lane was eventually worn down by complications from diabetes and reduced mobility from numerous knee surgeries. He died of a heart attack at an assisted living center in Austin, Texas on January 29, 2002.  He was 74 years old.

RIP ‘Train. 


18 thoughts on “A Mellow Saturday Visit To Night Train

  1. Double K

    “Fate leads the willing and drags along the reluctant–“. Nice tribute to one of the greatest players and one of the all time best nicknames ever, and per usual, a very well written post.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. retrosimba

    Thanks for the insights, Gary. I am impressed you visited the gravesite. Thanks also for posting the photo.

    As a kid in the 1960s, I was fascinated by him because of his nickname. By the way, he got the nickname from a popular 1950s tune, “Night Train,” by trombonist and bandleader Buddy Morrow.

    A couple of additions to the many fascinating aspects you noted:

    _ Lane was married to blues singer Dinah Washington until she died at age 39.

    _ In a 2002 interview with New York Times columnist William Rhoden, another terrific Rams cornerback, Aeneas Williams, said he was inspired by Lane and sought him out. “I turned to him for his knowledge,” Williams said. “He’s one of the guys who transformed the cornerback position.”

    Liked by 1 person

  3. cheaphill44

    Dick “Night Train” Lane is my second favorite football nickname, with Billy “White Shoes” Johnson edging it out for number one. “Red” Hickey (from the video clip), on the other hand, is quite unfortunate. I believe I would have stuck with Howard or Wayne if I were him. I did not know the adoption story; it’s amazing he even survived. Good stuff.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Alex Diaz-Granados

        “Mean Joe” Greene was one of my fave NFL player nicknames. Alas, my favorite NFL player, Bob Griese…I don’t think he ever had a colorful nickname like “The Zonk” (Larry Csonka), although some people say he was “the Thinking Man’s Quarterback.”

        I met him once – just once – at one of those annual Boy Scouts of America/Miami Dolphins dinner functions. I was a shy kid, but my Scoutmaster encouraged me to ask the players and Coach Don Shula for their autographs. So, I went around the banquet room, politely asking many of the players if they would please sign my program.

        Alas, this was in ’76. In 1977, my mom was convinced by my grandmother to buy a townhouse in a new neighborhood that General Electric’s Trafalgar Homes division was building not too far from where we lived in the Miami suburb called Westchester. The neighborhood was so new that Mom decided to get the property whilst it was still basically an empty plot. Of course, this meant that when we sold our Westchester house, the townhouse was under construction, and almost all my stuff, including my cherished Dolphins-Boy Scouts dinner program with all those autographs, was put in storage, at the mercy of the movers.

        Long story short: When we moved into the townhouse in February of 1978 after spending nearly eight months in a small two-bedroom apartment in Sweetwater, Florida, many boxes were missing, including the one with Bob Griese, Dick Anderson, and Don Shula’s autographs.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Jim Everett Table Toss Post author

        That really sucks. I too have lost a lot of childhood sports memorabilia through moving and just being careless. I guess it’s all just “stuff” in the end. Here’s to hoping your Dolphins have a great year.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Steve Myers

    I’d never heard of Night Train the football player, only the rot gut wine by the same name. Great post Gary. What a life he had! The garbage can and newspapers beginning! Beats moses in the basket myth. And the quote you kicked this post off with…..”deciding one’s fate”… rising above one’s woes. Heroic! words to think about tomorrow morning after the alarm sounds and we gotta do what we might not want to do.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jim Everett Table Toss Post author

      Oh man, Steve. I’ve had my fair share of that awful night train, not to mention the mad dog 20/20. My friends and I used to call it “bum wine.” And I don’t even want to get into the 100’s of 1,000’s of gallons of cheap beer I’ve chugged. Pabst Blue Ribbon and the like. Thank goodness i rarely drink these days. I hope your Sunday was awesome and filled with memories of Paul Molitor (in a Brew Crew uni of course) being awesome as well.

      Liked by 1 person


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