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When We Were Champions: Bobby Bell

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This write up is courtesy of IISaiNtII, posted here for your reading pleasure. - Chris

Robert Lee Bell (aka Bobby Lee) played for the Kansas City Chiefs in their more illustrious time period from 1963-1974. He played linebacker and defensive end in those 11 years, and was an integral part of the Chiefs getting to Superbowl I, and winning Superbowl IV. As a professional football player of the Chiefs, Bell recorded 26 interceptions (6 returned for touchdowns), 40 sacks, and 8 touchdowns. Tackles weren’t recorded in his timeframe, but he made a lot of them.

Bell was known as a punishing hitter in the league, and it’s not surprising. His physique is that of an inverted triangle, broad shoulders sitting on a small waist. Bell consistently ran 4.5 40’ times at 6’4" 225lbs. To put that in perspective, the top linebacker of the 2008 draft Keith Rivers ran a 4.51 at 6’2" 241. If you were to ask anyone who knew Bell, they would tell he was an athlete, pure and simple. So let’s take a trip down memory lane and see just what made Bobby Bell what he is today, a Hall of Fame linebacker that arguably was the best at his position, ever.

Bell was born in Shelby, North Carolina in 1940 the son of a cotton worker who didn’t graduate high school. While growing up, Bell became interested in sports, and excelled at them. He played baseball, basketball, and football at his segregated school. Bell jokes that "football was my third-best sport." He started playing high-school football on a six-man team as the halfback, and during his junior year they started playing eleven-man football where he was the quarterback. He graduated as an all-state quarterback with such a reputation that North Carolina University’s head coach Tim Crawford segregated all-white team didn’t want to face him, so Crawford got the University of Minnesota to accept him, sight unseen.

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It was in Minnesota where Bell was converted to an offensive lineman and people realized what an athlete he was. Bell is fabled to have the ability to be coached to play any position. Bell’s records prove that having been a half-back, quarterback, offensive lineman, defensive end, and left linebacker; receiving honors at almost every one of those positions.

His introduction to professional football was definitely a curious one, albeit largely beneficial to the Chiefs. The NFL and the AFL both had drafts, and Bell was drafted in the second round by the Minnesota Vikings and the seventh round by the Chiefs. The Chiefs organization was convinced Bell would sign with Minnesota, but drafted him anyway. When contract time came around, Bell was hounded by the Vikings organization, while the Chiefs talked to him only once, one-upping the Vikings contract by $500.

Bell started for the Chiefs as a defensive end, and when Hank Stram recognized his ability to play the game, they installed the first 3-4 defense in professional football to allow Bell to drop back into the linebacker position. He also served on special teams, and as the long snapper.

"The most important question was not where Bobby could play," Stram, who coached Bell throughout his pro career, remembered. "He could have helped us at a number of positions, even on offense. The real question was where we needed him most."

In 1983 Bell was elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. His list of accomplishments and honors include:

  • All-state prep quarterback and All-American tackle at Minnesota

  • All-AFL/AFC from 1965-1971

  • All-time AFL choice in 1969

  • Played in the last six AFL All-Star games

  • Played in the first three Pro-Bowls

Mug1175_medium Bell currently spends his time telling his story as motivation for others to pursue their dreams. He has closed his restaurant in Kansas City to travel around, tell his story, and help others. Alongside this, he still attends the Hall of Fame dinners and induction ceremonies held in Canton, where he is still regarded as one of the best to ever play the game. For new Hall of Fame inductees, they aren’t able to talk when they’re inducted, only listen. One of my favorite quotes about Bell was in an article I found from Ray Little:

"There are two people in this [Hall of Fame] group who you are always going to hear first before you see them," the former Miami Dolphins all-pro guard says. "Deacon Jones and Bobby Bell."