Chiefs great Willie Lanier was a special guest at the final practice of rookie minicamp Sunday afternoon, taking in most of the session from midfield next to GM Scott Pioli.
Lanier was one of five Pro Football Hall of Famers in town this weekend for the Chiefs 2012 Rookie Class Luncheon, but made it a point to attend practice as well. He’s known defensive backs coach Emmitt Thomas for more than 40 years and has developed a friendship with Pioli over the past several seasons.
“When you’re out there you see the product that is now the opportunity for 2012,” Lanier said. “It’s the beginning of a reality.
“You’ve thought about the plan, but now you’re starting to see the product that will actually become that plan. I have hopes just like they do as to how it may all unfold. It’s good to be here spending time with everyone and catching up on things.”
Lanier traveled from Richmond, Virginia for the opportunity to meet and speak with Chiefs rookies.
He joined Bobby Bell, Deron Cherry, Willie Davis, Len Dawson, Danan Hughes, Will Shields, Jan Stenerud and Thomas as special guests at the luncheon.
“We want to expose the rookies to some of the tradition and the history of the Chiefs,” head coach Romeo Crennel explained. “We have some pretty good guys that are coming by to have dinner with them and say a few words to them. I think that’s an appropriate way to introduce them to the Chiefs and to the history, this being the 50th anniversary of the Chiefs being in Kansas City. I hope it leads to something good for us.”
“I may just speak about the ethics of sports, sportsmanship and fair play, and how that applies everywhere,” Lanier said after watching the rookies practice. “If you use that as a basis for how you perform your task athletically, hopefully that gives you a guideline for how you perform the other things that you do professionally. That gives you a good chance when you start your journey.”
Formerly the Chairman and CEO of Syncreon US, a supply chain management corporation, Lanier has carved out a post-playing career that rivals his on-field success. He now serves as a motivational speaker, philanthropist and the President of Lanier Group, an acquisition company.
Though Lanier made an immediate impact for the Chiefs as a second-round draft pick in 1967, and made in the first of six all-star appearances as a second-year player in 1968, the Class of 1986 HOF inductee recalled the struggle of transitioning from college to pro ball.
“It is much more different than what you are used to,” Lanier remembered. “The quality of performance and expectation is much, much higher and the error rate that you might have deemed acceptable is no longer acceptable. Really, what you’re doing is you’re taking your whole essence of what everything is to a much higher level.
“You realize that there is no one on your schedule that is an automatic and that any wins you get is a great compliment. So the whole critical nature of what you’re doing is changing dramatically and you have to alter your mindset or you’re journey might be shorter than you planned for it to be.”
The advice of legends didn’t go ignored by this year’s crop of rookies. Several draft picks tweeted about the luncheon Sunday night.
“That was such an honor to be in the same room,” added second-round selection
The NFL game has seen sweeping changes since Lanier roamed the middle of the Chiefs defense, but several things will never change.
“At the core its execution and efficiency, that has not changed and it won’t change,” Lanier said. “If you execute and you’re efficient, you have a reduced error rate and you will maintain a positive impact. That just gives you chance, but it doesn’t guarantee an outcome.
“It takes everybody to have that kind of view to be a successful team.”