‘NIGHT TRAIN’ LANE: ‘SWEATING A LOT’

Redlands Connection is a concoction of sports memories emanating from a city that once numbered less than 20,000 people. From the Super Bowl to the World Series, from the World Cup to golf’s U.S. Open and the Olympics, plus NCAA Final Four connections, NASCAR, the Kentucky Derby and Indianapolis 500, Tour de France cycling, major tennis, NBA and a little NHL, aquatics and quite a bit more, the sparkling little city that sits around halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs on Interstate 10 has its share of sports connections. – Obrey Brown

When I got hold of him around the summer of 1993, Richard Lane was living in Detroit, where he’d once worked for the Lions and, eventually, with city youth programs.

“Whew,” said Lane, who died in 2002, 28 years after he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

“Red-lands! You’re talking about a long time ago. All I can remember about Redlands was that I needed a ride to get out there. I didn’t know how to get there.”

Dick “Night Train” Lane knew what to do when he arrived. Redlands was the spot he had to prove his value to Rams’ coaches. He wasn’t yet known by his nickname, “Night Train.”

Dick_Lane_1962 (wikipedia)
Dick “Night Train” Lane remembered trying to make the Los Angeles Rams at his first NFL training camp in Redlands, 1952 (photo by Wikipedia Commons).

My job was to track as many “Redlands” Rams as I could. For a 12-year period, the Los Angeles Rams trained at the University of Redlands. This was historical. Imagine such an event taking place today.

Years later, Lane remembered the tiny little city.

“I got out of the service,” said Lane, who was 6-feet-2, 210 pounds. “My first connection, my first real connection with the Rams was in Redlands. I had to make the team there.”

Not drafted. Not scouted. Just signed. In Redlands.

Lane attracted the attention of Rams’ coaches. He played receiver. Split end? Not with the Tom Fears and “Crazy Legs” Hirsch tandem still operating as the NFL’s top pass-catching duo in what was considered one of the most potent attacks in league history.

“You know,” Lane said, “I hate to say this, but I think I could’ve been a little better (receiver) than what they had there” – referring to Fears and Hirsch.

“I covered them in practice. That’s how they noticed me on defense. That’s their thinking then: If I could cover Tom and ElRoy, then I deserved a place on the team.”

In one of Joe Stydahar’s final moves as Rams’ coach, one perhaps aided by defensive coach Hampton Pool, Lane was switched to defensive back. It was in that season that Lane picked off a record 14 passes over what was then a 12-game NFL schedule.

“Joe quit a game into the season,” said Lane. “I didn’t really get to know him that well. Both guys … I give credit to for my making the team.”

Which enemy QBs did he fleece?

“I intercepted Johnny Unitas,” said Lane. “Otto Graham was another guy. Uh, Bobby Layne … (Y.A.) Tittle … got a long (return) against (Babe) Parilli when he was with the Packers … (Charlie) Conerly. A lot guys.”

By 1954, Lane, who came up with 68 career interceptions, was traded by the Rams to the Chicago Cardinals. “I don’t know why I was traded. It’s hard to have the kind of season like I had that first year. I’m pretty sure they felt I slacked off somewhat.”

While Lane’s career was just beginning, another was concluding.

Coming off a National Football League championship one season earlier (1951), the Rams seemed to be the hot team. It would be the final season for quarterback Bob Waterfield. Norm Van Brocklin, another Hall of Fame QB, had been drafted out of Oregon.

Lane, the incoming wide receiver, had little chance of making this team. By 1952, Hirsch and Fears were the best tandem of split ends in the NFL.

“Don’t ask me to pick between them,” said Lane, referring to the QB tandem. “Bob retired after my rookie season, though. Both men were great. Both were great quarterbacks. I couldn’t pick between them.”

It was all taking place right in Redlands; the scheming of Lane, who kept his split end jersey No. 81 when he went to cornerback. History was being set on the old field at the University of Redlands.

“I was only with the Rams for a couple years,” he said. “I moved on.”

These were just a portion of the stories engaged at the Rams’ pre-season training camp.

“Night Train,” he said, referring to his nickname. “Ah, man. It was that song (by Buddy Morrow). No, not Buddy Morrow. It was Jimmy Lester. Tom (Fears) gave it to me. Started calling me that.

“No one called me Dick or Richard,” he said. “I had the Necktie nickname, too. I got guys by their necktie. They outlawed that kind of tackle, the clothesline.”

Night Train Lane, however, stuck – all the way to the Hall of Fame.

Night Train was the hot song.

There were plenty of hot nights in the Redlands dorms, Lane recalled.

“I swear, if they’d invented air conditioning back then,” he said, “they wouldn’t have given it to us. They wanted us to sweat.

“Ha-haaaaa,” he said. “That’s what I remember about Redlands. Sweating a lot.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PART 1 – A REAL REDLANDS CONNECTION

Tiger Woods
Image credit: Tour Pro Golf Clubs

Redlands Connection is a concoction of sports memories emanating from a city that once numbered less than 20,000 people. From the Super Bowl to the World Series, from the World Cup to golf’s U.S. Open, plus NCAA Final Four connections, Tour de France cycling, major tennis, NBA and a little NHL, aquatics and quite a bit more, the sparkling little city that sits around halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs on Interstate 10 has its share of sports connections. – Obrey Brown

There seemed to be no master plan. Redlands has produced athletes. Coaches. Dramatic moments. Memorable moments. Historical moments. Connections beyond belief. Tennis & golf. Baseball & soccer. World Cup & the Olympics. Football & basketball. Bowling & auto racing. You name it. Children born to Redlands parents launched careers in various sports.

Sometimes, even outside legends came to the local area.

Think of Tiger Woods playing golf at Redlands.

Or these “connections”:

  • Pete Sampras played in a junior satellite tournament in Redlands.
  • Muhammad Ali never boxed here. But did he come to Redlands?
  • Former World Boxing Council welterweight champion Carlos Palomino did show up.
  • A couple of area second basemen – one from Redlands and the other from Colton – played against each other in the 1983 American League playoffs.
  • A Hall of Fame bowler once showed up once to roll a few practice frames en route to a PBA Arizona tournament.
  • Former NBA players John Block and Cazzie Russell, basketball’s overall No. 1 draft pick by the New York Knicks in 1966, brought in small college teams to coach against the University of Redlands.
  • Two years before Villanova won the NCAA Division 1 men’s college basketball championship, the Wildcats played on the same court at Redlands.
  • Landon Donovan, pro men’s soccer. A homegrown.
  • Heather Aldama, pro women’s soccer. Another homegrown.
  • A future NBA coach brought a horrible Pomona-Pitzer College team to beat Redlands, then launched a Hall of Fame career in San Antonio.
  • A former baseball Hall of Famer watched his grandson play center field at the University of Redlands.
  • One of college basketball’s greatest coaches spent two seasons in Redlands.
  • The original “Lucky Louie” learned to drive in Redlands around 1919 – then won three times at the Indianapolis 500.
  • Redlands produced a track & field Olympian in 1920. Eighty years later, there was a men’s soccer Olympian, a female high jumper, plus a male cyclist.
  • For a dozen years, a professional football team launched its season from the local university. The nostalgia was surreal. Names like Ollie Matson, Les Richter, Norm Van Brocklin, ElRoy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch, Tom Fears, plus Jane Russell’s husband, Bob Waterfield, were among those that showed up on local turf. The numbers of Hall of Famers attached to that group, which includes Pete Rozelle, Tex Schramm and Joe Stydahar, is off the charts.
  • A veteran baseball player scouted Oakland so effectively that the scouting report he turned over to 1973 New York Mets’ manager Yogi Berra nearly helped topple the A’s dynasty in the World Series.
  • Wimbledon entries. Golf’s U.S. Open. PGA Championship. A Harlem Globetrotter? An area tennis coach once tended to a world-ranked star. Local photographers that shot Ben Hogan and Wayne Gretzky.
https://www.flickr.com/photos/slgc/21462832908/in/photolist-yGACtf-21QZTjP-am2XuR-am2ThR-am5AsJ-am2Ubz-am5FA7-am5TMu-am2UZa-am5Bfh-am5WXf-am5NoL-am2QEM-am2DpK-am5qTS-am5JSu-am38Ga-am5M5G-am5w3U-am5urq-am3842-am37mg-am2WCR-am2RWc-am5t8G-am38W4-am339p-am5LLG-am2Qz6-am2EDt-am5TvW-am2YUV-am2VVH-am2SGz-am33HV-am2YAr-am5qm3-am5P5A-am2VPM-am5EU5-am5CP9-am2LoH-am5x2G-am2YnH-am5Lg3-am2LPg-am5rvJ-am32Dz-am5HTq-am2M2k
Image credit: “Yogi Berra at Shea Stadium Closing Ceremonies” by slgckgc licensed, CC BY 2.0.

Heaven forbid, there’s so much more.

There is a good chance that most Redlands athletes aren’t included in this book. In fact, count on it.

There’s a Hall of Fame at Redlands High and another one at the University of Redlands. That’s good enough for multiple all-league, all-conference, All-CIF or NCAA Division 3 All-Americans in any sport.

There are great soccer midfielders, tremendous water polo goalies, ball hawking safeties on a football field, along with some catchers and pitchers, hurdlers and pole vaulters, hitters from both the gridiron and diamond, rebounders, shooters and great glove men, plus swimmers and tennis stars who won’t make it into these blogs.

Let’s not forget the golfers.

In over 100 years at Redlands High School and over a century of athletic tradition at the University of Redlands, some of sports’ most cherished and respected names have touched the lives of local spectators. Played memorable games. Won league or conference championships. Or barely missed. Many of those accounts made the local daily newspapers.

These blogs aren’t intended to list each All-American, every all-leaguer, local all-star, league MVPs, conference players of the year, or even the kids that had All-Pro or All-Star aspirations, only to hit a bump in the road. It’s not even to pay tribute to the mainstream coaches that have conceived, trained, managed, and inspired teams to impressive championship seasons.

The exceptions, of course, are these: If they reached the pro ranks, or major colleges, Olympics, World Cup, an All-Star game, a professional draft, or something of note beyond just their local community, well … They’re in! Hopefully. We’ve researched a ton.

It’s a long, arduous task to corral all the Redlands greats. We’ve got most of them.  I think.

MOTOR RACING, FOOTBALL, SOCCER,

AND SCARY VOLLEYBALL BANQUET

Would it occur to anyone that Redlands High product named Jim Weatherwax could count himself as one having been coached by both Vince Lombardi and Jerry Tarkanian?

Or that Redlands High’s Brian Billick can claim as onetime employers Bill Walsh, Tom Landry and Lavell Edwards?

Gary Nelson, a classic grease monkey, got his start in auto racing working for a local legend, Ivan Baldwin, later serving as crew chief for NASCAR legends Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison.

That’s noteworthy.

As a Sports Editor whose time measured from 1981-2002, one of my biggest pet peeves was against pushy parents. Throughout the life and times of area news media, parents of even the top athletes fought for respect given to their much-decorated sons or daughters in print.

A classic example: Hours before the season-ending banquet for a CIF-Southern Section championship volleyball team, no less than three parents of athletes from that team contacted me by telephone at the local newspaper office.

They were upset about the way their daughters were “coached” by the author of this championship team. Their feelings was that he had been unfair. This coach, Gene Melcher, substituted their daughters in and out of matches, replacing their daughters with someone else’s daughter.

These telephone calls were made to reflect the fact that “something” might happen at the banquet, if not an actual boycott, casting a gray cloud over this championship banquet.

Wow! These parents waited until banquet night to settle a score with a coach? Settle a score with a coach who guided their team to the championship?

Talk about pushy parents. See? This is what you deal with on the sports desk of any newspaper – small, mid-size or major daily publication.

Since I was invited to attend, and speak, at the banquet, I could hardly wait to see what would take place. There could be an actual story for the newspaper. Imagine the headlines: “Parents disrupt team banquet!” I couldn’t wait to see if these parents had the bitterness to pull it off. It would have been off the charts for sheer gall. Imagine undermining an event at which they were celebrating the ultimate goal – a championship.

More than one observer has uttered the now-cliché phrase: “These parents wouldn’t be happy if God were coaching their team.”

During each of those phone calls, I gently tried calling out these parents, making a game attempt to talk them out of their funk. Believe me, there’s nothing worse than a parent who thinks their kid has been wronged.

Thankfully nothing out of the ordinary occurred. During my remarks, I was nervous over the fact that something might take place. In fact, the banquet went perfectly fine. Parents of these high school-aged athletes sat in complete celebration about the achievements of their daughters’ team.

Pushy parents can’t get their kids’ names into these blogs.

I can just hear some of those parents: “We’ll see about that.”

Read Part 2 here.