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My week with an NFL Hall of Famer

posted Jun 17, 2019, 1:02 PM by Dan Whenesota   [ updated Jun 27, 2019, 2:21 PM ]

(More photos at the bottom)

When I was a teenager, I was a really good bowler.  Many weekends were spent at bowling alleys around the state competing in tournaments for scholarships.  One of the tournaments that I competed in was sponsored by the NFL, the NFL Alumni as well as Brunswick.  I won at the state level and advanced to the regionals which were held in Ames, Iowa.  The top 4 finishers at that tournament advanced to the finals and would bowl as a team in Honolulu, Hawaii.  I finished 3rd. 

There were 12 regionals held around the country.  Each regional team was paired with an NFL alumni bowler to compete for scholarships.  My region was paired with Willie Lanier.  For those of you who don’t remember that name, he was a linebacker for the Kansas City Chiefs.  The same Kansas City Chiefs that beat the Vikings in Superbowl IV, 23-7.  He was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 1986. The other NFL players that attended were:

Babe Parilli, Dick Szymanski, Tommy Nobis, Otto Graham, Lem Barney, Elroy ‘Crazy Legs’ Hirsch, Bobby Bell, Ollie Matson, Tom Fears, and Bobby Mitchell.  Kenny Stabler was originally scheduled to attend but something happened at the last minute that he couldn’t, and I don’t remember who ended up replacing him.

I remember thinking when I met Lanier that he was the biggest man I had ever seen.  But I also remember him being very friendly, kind, funny, and ALWAYS smiling.  He seemed to tolerate us kids more than some of the other NFLers. 

We all were housed at the Sheraton Waikiki hotel.  The word 'housed' probably isn't accurate.  The hotel was right on the beach.  My room had a view of the ocean and Diamond Head.  Not only did the bowlers and their families stay there, the NFL players and their families stayed there as well.  We spent a lot of time together.  It wasn’t a one-day event.  This was a week-long affair.  They had a schedule for us every day, we ate meals together, did site seeing etc. 

Because it was sponsored by the NFL, we were there during the Pro-Bowl.  We got to attend a practice session as well as the Pro Bowl game itself at Aloha Stadium.  We were competing at the Bowling alley on Hickam Air Force Base.   Because of that we did a group excursion to Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona Memorial.  They had a luau for us every night with food and music.  Apparently at one of the luaus my dad was watching some attractive female Hula dancers with Elroy ‘Crazy Legs’ Hirsch.  Hirsch said to my dad, “Isn’t it amazing how their feet barely move when they’re dancing?”  My dad replied, “You're looking at their feet?”   My dad.  What a guy.

After round one of bowling our team was in first place.  Lanier was a pretty good bowler even if his score didn’t count towards us winning.  Its too bad it didn't.  He may have been the best bowler out of all the NFLers.  In the end we finished third.  How Minnesotan is that, not being able to hold a lead?  Like most Minnesota teams, I've never been 'clutch'. 😊  Finishing third wasn’t too bad.  I got a $300 scholarship for it.  I also got an incredible experience with memories to last a lifetime and a great story to tell.   Apparently the tournament cost so much that they couldn't justify having the event the following year.  Therefore, my experience truly was once in a lifetime. 

Most of my free time in Hawaii was spent running around with the other kids and goofing off.  I was 14.  I didn't have the appreciation for sports history that I do now.   I regret not getting to know Lanier better or even asking him more about that Superbowl and beating the Vikings.  Although part of me thinks maybe he appreciated being treated like a regular person and not having to talk football all the time.  Maybe he’d let me interview him for the film?  It would be great to see him again and look at pictures of the event together. I also regret not speaking more to Bobby Bell.  He was also a Hall of Fame linebacker on that Chiefs team in addition to being a member of the 1960 Gophers National Championship team. 

Andy Worhol once said “In the future, everyone will be world famous for 15 minutes.”  I don’t know that I’ll ever be famous. Sometimes when I'm in the grocery store, a student sees me and says hello.  That's probably about as close as I'll get.  But I’ve been extremely fortunate.   As an average kid who loved sports, I’ve had some really unique experiences with professional athletes that most people don’t.  I’ve written about a few of those experiences already (Mahorn, Nanne, Steinbauer) and I have a few more yet to tell.  But this one might be the most unique.  How many people can say they spent a week in paradise bowling with an NFL Hall of Famer?  I’m very appreciative for having more than 15 minutes.  I’m also appreciative that these athletes have given me some of their time and been a part of my life.  That week with Willie Lanier was just like him. Legendary. 

If you missed it:

Rick Mahorn blog  click here

Lou Nanne blog click here

Ed Steinbauer blog click here


Scroll down for pictures


Football card Lanier autographed for me (It's really faint. You can see it if you click on it)




Willie Lanier and Bobby Bell at the Luau




Willie, the Mrs and Bobby at dinner




Our team




Bobby Bell photo bomb. 




Entire Group: Bowlers and NFLers at the Air Force Base




I'm pretty sure this is Scott Studwell.  My mom had a crush on him. 




Sweetness himself, Walter Payton signing autographs at practice




Dad with some Rams Cheerleaders.  Doesn't he look happy?




Dad and Otto Graham.  Not 'as' happy, but still happy. 




Aloha Stadium




Ticket Stub









                   
 








 






   

































      
              













  




















































































































































































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