KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Buck Buchanan, one of the great defensive tackles of the modern era of the NFL, died Thursday after a battle with lung cancer that began the week he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
A spokesman for the Kansas City Chiefs said Buchanan, 51, died at his home.
Drafted No. 1 out of Grambling in 1963, the 6-foot-8, 300-pound Buchanan helped the Chiefs reach the first Super Bowl and win the fourth.
"He revolutionized the game," former Raider coach John Madden once said. "Guys that size usually played on the outside. Buck was the first tall guy to play the inside."
A six-time All-Pro, the quiet, soft-spoken Alabama native spent most of his career with the Chiefs and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in August of 1990, days after doctors discovered cancer. After retiring in 1975, Buchanan became one of Kansas City's most esteemed civic and business leaders.
Willie Lanier, an All-Pro linebacker on the Chiefs' Super Bowl teams and fellow member of the Hall of Fame, was with Buchanan during the ceremony in Canton, Ohio. Like almost everyone else, Lanier had no inkling of the news that had dropped on Buchanan.
"Just imagine the conflicting emotions he must have been dealing with," Lanier said. "He chose to spare his friends and associates the painful news. Being around him all that weekend, then the next week learning what was going on, what had been going on, it was mind-boggling."
As his condition worsened, a parade of friends and teammates trekked to Buchanan's home.
"I talked with Buck two days ago," said Hank Stram, who coached the Chiefs in two Super Bowls and was with Buchanan at his induction in 1990. "I went away thinking that it would probably be the last time I'd see him. Even though you know you're about to lose somebody, you're never really ready when it happens."
The son of a steelworker, Junious Buchanan was born Sept. 10, 1940, in Birmingham, Ala., and almost followed his father into the mills. Despite his brilliant high school career, few scholarships were available to black kids in the late 1950s. But a relative contacted Grambling Coach Eddie Robinson, who offered one.
The Chiefs took him with the overall No. 1 choice in the AFL draft in 1963, a pick obtained from the Oakland Raiders in the only trade owner Chief Lamar Hunt ever personally made.
The Raiders' Al Davis paid Buchanan the ultimate compliment by drafting Gene Upshaw in the first round in 1967 for the express purpose of neutralizing Buchanan.
Upshaw, a Hall of Fame guard, says he didn't always get it done.
"I was big, but Buck was bigger and stronger and turned me every which way but loose," Upshaw said. "You don't imagine a guy 6-8, 300 pounds being so quick. You'd go to hit him, and it was like hitting a ghost."
A funeral is scheduled Monday at Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church in Kansas City.