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First in line: Boyette becomes pro football's first African-American middle linebacker
Author: Jason Bristol
Published: 4:51 AM CST January 25, 2018
LOCAL 0 Articles

It’s mentioned on the back of his trading cards. All the spots Garland Boyette played on the field during his career. But here’s how Boyette once changed positions and then helped change one position forever.

“Got a lot of hate mail,” Boyette recently recalled.

Got a lot of hate mail?

“It’s crazy the way some people respond to just a game.”

The game back in the 1960s was full of change, including Garland Boyette becoming the first African-American in pro football to play middle linebacker full time.

“Did you think anything of it at the time?” asked KHOU 11 News sports anchor Jason Bristol.

“Oh yes,” replied Boyette, who joined the Houston Oilers in 1966.

He did.

Middle linebacker, Boyette explained, was considered too sophisticated, much like quarterback and center. “Those three positions were kind of off-limits for a black athlete” he said. “I heard so many stories; that you have to be so smart; you got to be this.

“After I played it for awhile; gosh, it was tailor-made (for me); tailor-made for most of the black players to play linebacker because most of us have size, speed and lots of strength.”

Yes, it was a perfect fit, thanks to Garland’s speed, size and strength; much like the middle linebackers who followed him: Harry Carson, Mike Singletary and Ray Lewis. "The position, from the historic point of view, has always been a position of fear," Lewis said on CBS This Morning.

But Garland also proved to be fearless.

He remembers the hate mail and some narrow-minded coaches. “It was matter of time before people come around I figured and basically they did.”

Most historians consider Hall of Famer Willie Lanier as pro football’s first African-American middle linebacker. Lanier debuted with the Kansas City Chiefs in 1967.

But the Arizona Cardinals media guide shows Boyette as one of the St. Louis Cardinals’ two regular middle linebackers during the 1962 season, KHOU 11 has discovered.

Yet helping change the middle linebacker position would have never happened had Garland not changed positions.

It’s pretty incredible: he never played linebacker until he made the pros. In college, he was a guard on the offensive line for Grambling and was so good, in 2016 he was also inducted into the SWAC Hall of Fame. Boyette was also a three-time All-American in track & field.

While every Garland Boyette trading card lists his positions, they’re still missing the most important one: groundbreaker.

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