Albert Lewis was one of the best defensive backs and special teams players in the franchise history of the Kansas City Chiefs.
Lewis’ 6’2″ frame, 35-inch arms, and 38-inch vertical leap allowed him to outplay the NFL’s best wide receivers weekly.
Lewis was so good he once racked up eight interceptions in one season.
Not only that, but he also had an uncanny ability to block punts and gain valuable field positions for the Chiefs.
To nobody’s surprise, Lewis became a four-time Pro Bowl cornerback during his 11-year tenure in Kansas City.
Lewis overcame poverty in his home state of Louisiana to become one of the most celebrated players who ever donned the Chiefs’ Red and Gold.
In the end, Albert Lewis achieved his lofty stature the only way he knew how – through sheer hard work and dedication.
Albert Ray Lewis was born to parents Brad and Vera on October 6, 1960, in Mansfield, LA.
Lewis comes from a large family – he grew up in a dilapidated three-bedroom residence in South Mansfield on Russell Road with his twelve siblings.
The Lewis family could hardly afford electricity, and they didn’t even have indoor plumbing until Albert turned thirteen years old in 1973.
Two to three of the Lewis siblings had to cram themselves into one bed. Whenever there was a downpour, they placed buckets or cans below the leaky spots in the roof and moved the beds to a dry spot in the house.
According to Sports Illustrated’s Jill Lieber, Brad Lewis regularly woke up at dawn and took on jobs that included chopping cotton for 50 cents a day, fishing logs out of a pond, and collecting trash to make ends meet.
Albert Lewis told Lieber in 1991 that his dad wasn’t concerned about the type of work he did – all he cared about was working hard for his family and achieving a sense of accomplishment at the day’s end.
The younger Lewis learned the value of hard work at a young age. He helped his father mow lawns and garden on weekday evenings and Saturday mornings.
Brad and Albert Lewis also filled up the family wheelbarrow with home-cooked tamales, peanuts, candies, and cookies before going around their neighborhood to sell them, per Lieber.
Happy Birthday Albert Lewis, out of Mansfield, Louisiana and @GSU_TIGERS ; 3rd round draft choice, 16 year @NFL career, 225 games played; 832 career tackles with 42 interceptions, 4X Pro Bowl, 2X 1st Team All Pro, @Chiefs Hall of Fame; 60 Today.. pic.twitter.com/o11o7cIMtp
— Larry in Missouri (@LarryInMissouri) October 6, 2020
Brad Lewis wasn’t the typical father who played catch with his sons. Instead, he forged a tight relationship with his son Albert through work.
“He was harder on me than he was on any of my other brothers or sisters because I think he sensed himself in me,” Albert Lewis told Sports Illustrated in December 1991. “I was determined and headstrong just like him.”
The Lewis family feasted on fresh produce from Brad’s immense vegetable garden. His wife Vera ironed and sewed her family members’ clothes – sometimes from flour and chicken and cow feed sacks.
Vera, a devoted Pentecostal, said a prayer for each of her children before they went to bed at night.
For his part, future NFL Pro Bowl cornerback Albert Lewis was introspective even as a child.
Lewis often found solace by fishing in a nearby stream in the woods with his dog. He pondered on his family’s miseries while waiting for the fish to bite.
“It was a way to solve the world’s problems,” Lewis told Sports Illustrated some two decades later. “I wanted to see people, attitudes, and life change.”
Lewis and his family also endured racism in the deep South when he was growing up.
When Lewis was just five years old, a lumberyard owner named Frank Matthews drove his pickup truck along a road he and his father were walking on.
Matthews inexplicably shouted obscene racial gestures at them. He also told them in no uncertain terms to get off his property.
Ironically, Brad Lewis was one of Matthews’ hardest-working employees. He and his other black co-workers all endured Matthews’ racial taunts at some point in time.
A young Albert Lewis couldn’t understand why his dad didn’t fight back. In hindsight, he thought it was his dad’s way of protecting him. He also remembered the look of dejection on the other black workers’ faces.
Regrettably, Brad Lewis’ non-confrontational demeanor created a rift between him and his son.
“For the longest time, it caused an emotional separation between us,” Albert Lewis told Lieber. “I think, for a time, I didn’t respect him.”
Some eight years after the racial confrontation with Matthews, Albert Lewis developed a passion for the gridiron.
However, his parents were against the idea. His father Brad insisted a good education took precedence, per Sports Illustrated.
On the other hand, his mother Vera was afraid her tenth child was going to get hurt on the football field. Had that happened, they couldn’t have afforded steep medical expenses.
Finally, taking Albert to football practice presented another daunting challenge. Only a mule and cart could transport him to the football practice miles away.
Albert Lewis remained undaunted – he pursued his football dream relentlessly.
He moved to the east side of Mansfield, LA to live with his older sister Katherine Jamerson. Her house was a mere stone’s throw away from DeSoto High School, an all-black institution.
Alas, Lewis’ gridiron journey got off to a rough start.
When he tried out for the DeSoto football team as an eighth and ninth grader, head football coach Clyde Washington told him his 5’11”, 146-lb. frame didn’t make the grade.
A distraught Lewis spent the next three years watching football scrimmages in the fall learning fundamentals and hoping he would get another shot at the gridiron.
His homeroom teacher Nettie Pennywell intervened at the perfect time – she spoke with him regularly to boost his confidence.
Lewis decided to take a different route – he tried out for the DeSoto track team and eventually made the roster.
When Lewis was a sophomore, assistant track coach Garland Spivey urged him to go out for football again.
The third time was the charm for Albert Lewis – he took Spivey’s advice to heart and finally made the DeSoto football team.
Lewis didn’t just sit on his laurels when he achieved his goal. In fact, he worked harder than ever.
GREAT DAY at Mansfield Practice today!!!! NFL Great ALBERT LEWIS showed up and encouraged the guys on being ‘great teammates’ and working hard with&for one another!!!!
16yrs in the league, and the 1st thing he said was “Guys you gotta give your ALL for your Team & This Town!!! pic.twitter.com/VyNymEMDtF
— Mike Green (@Coachmgreen9) August 16, 2019
According to Lieber, Lewis lifted 25-lb. flour bags and chopped firewood to improve his upper body muscles. He gorged on raw eggs and drank whole milk to help him achieve his muscle-building goals.
Lewis dragged two car tires with a plow line tied around his waist along Russell Road to boost his speed on the football field.
Lewis’ DeSoto teammate Glen Hall, who did the same drill with him, marveled at his desire to keep going after two hours.
Lewis’ insane work ethic paid off when he became one of DeSoto’s starting defensive backs in the fall of 1977.
One Friday night, he noticed his father Brad, who had heard about his son’s growing reputation as a hard-hitting defensive back, in the stands.
When Albert scoured the stands to look for his dad, the latter had already made a beeline for the exit.
Albert Lewis cried tears of joy when he returned to his sister’s home that night – he knew right then and there that his dad had finally relented to his gridiron wishes.
Lewis built on his momentum on the gridiron in the ensuing months. He became an All-District cornerback as a senior in 1978.
As Lewis’ high school football career wound down, several small black colleges recruited him. He eventually accepted a scholarship to play for legendary Grambling State Tigers head football coach Eddie Robinson.
Albert Lewis’ gridiron career was now in full throttle. His star rose to greater heights at Grambling State before embarking on a memorable pro football career.
College Days With The Grambling State Tigers
Albert Lewis attended Grambling State University from 1979 to 1982.
He suited up for iconic Grambling State Tigers head football coach Eddie Robinson.
According to Lieber, Lewis shared an apartment with his sister Ella who enrolled in summer classes at Grambling State.
Lewis’ college football career with the Tigers got off to an awkward start.
He didn’t have a pair of cleats as a true freshman. Consequently, he had to cover wide receivers wearing nothing but knee-high socks.
However, the slippery field conditions forced Lewis to remove his socks and cover them barefoot.
Several days later, Robinson held up a pair of cleats in the stands and waved them in Lewis’ direction.
Despite getting a new pair of cleats, Lewis remained out of the Tigers’ starting lineup in his first two years of college football.
I remember in The Pro Bowl one year Everson Walls from The NFC and Albert Lewis with the AFC we’re two of the corners. Both from Grambling State University. Proud moment.
— Charley (@charleyrichard) August 15, 2020
Lewis remained undaunted yet again – he ran at the Grambling State track at 5:30 a.m. every day. His hard work eventually bore fruit when Robinson named him one of his starting defensive backs in 1981.
Lewis didn’t disappoint. He recorded a combined 11 interceptions in his final two years at Grambling State. He also earned All-Southwestern Athletic Conference honors at cornerback during that time frame.
Albert Lewis didn’t just excel on the gridiron – he also exceeded expectations in the classroom. He earned his bachelor’s degree in political science and graduated with a B average.
Lewis went on to become one of the best defensive backs and special teams players in Kansas Chiefs’ franchise history.
Pro Football Career
The Kansas City Chiefs made Albert Lewis the 61st overall selection of the 1983 NFL Draft.
In the fall of 2017, Lewis told The Talk of Fame Network that he received a phone call from legendary Oakland Raiders defensive back Willie Brown – his mentor dating back to his college days at Grambling State – during the draft festivities.
At that point, Lewis thought he would play for Al Davis and Co. He eventually did, but it didn’t materialize until after a decade.
When other teams selected twelve defensive backs ahead of Lewis, it fueled his desire to become one of the best players in recent memory.
The 6’2″, 195-lb. Lewis was so gaunt as a rookie his teammates called him “Match” whenever he wore his red helmet and white Chiefs uniform, per Sports Illustrated.
Lewis never accepted anything less than perfection on the gridiron.
Whenever a wide receiver recorded a catch against him in training camp in Liberty, MO, he’d kick the end zone marker into the bleachers.
Sometimes, the Chiefs held two practices daily. Not content with his performance, Lewis did 100-yard sprints after the second practice so he could make the roster.
Not only did Albert Lewis make Kansas City’s roster, but he’d also become one of the franchise’s best defensive backs and special teams players of all time.
— Kansas City Chiefs Clips (@kcchiefsclips) December 4, 2018
Lewis made an immediate impact in Chiefs Red and Gold.
He racked up 20 interceptions in his first four pro football seasons in Kansas City. He recorded eight of those during the 1985 NFL campaign.
Lewis relied on his biggest assets – his height, 35-inch arms, and 38-inch vertical leap – to thwart and pick off passes that came his way.
“Because of his height, instead of jamming you in the chest, he winds up getting you right in the throat,” Los Angeles Raiders wideout Willie Gault told Lieber in the winter of 1991.
Coaches, offensive coordinators, and opposing quarterbacks grew weary of throwing in Lewis’ direction during his rise to prominence in the National Football League.
Lewis was so good he earned Chiefs team MVP honors following the 1986 NFL season.
He had 61 solo tackles, four interceptions, two fumble recoveries, one sack, and a blocked punt for Kansas City that year.
One of Lewis’ most memorable games in 1986 was the Chiefs’ 24-23 comeback win against the San Diego Chargers.
Lewis singlehandedly halted the Chargers’ offense in the fourth quarter – he had two interceptions and a forced fumble on three straight San Diego possessions to seal the improbable victory.
The Chiefs averaged barely seven wins in Lewis’ first three pro seasons.
They won ten games and finally ended their 14-year postseason drought during Albert Lewis’ breakout campaign in 1986.
Unfortunately, they lost to the New York Jets in the AFC Wild Card Game, 35-15.
For his part, Lewis earned four consecutive Pro Bowl berths from 1987 to 1990. He was also a First-Team All-Pro selection in 1989 and 1990.
Not only was Albert Lewis an exceptional defensive back, but he was also an exemplary special teams player.
Lewis’ elasticity allowed him to block punts on special teams plays – at the time of his induction into the Chiefs Hall of Honor in 2007, he blocked a franchise record 10 punts during his eleven-year tenure in Kansas City.
13. 🏈 Albert Lewis, 3ª Ronda Pick 61 (Grambling State). Espectacular CB de los Kansas City Chiefs, 4 veces Pro Bowl y 2 veces First-team All-Pro pic.twitter.com/JLqaNazElH
— Victor Hasbani (@VictorHasbani84) April 27, 2021
Behind Lewis’ exploits on special teams, the Chiefs returned four of his ten blocked punts for touchdowns from 1983 to 1993.
Albert Lewis came up big again in crunch time two years after his epic fourth-quarter display against the San Diego Chargers.
Lewis displayed his full special teams arsenal against the Cincinnati Bengals in the 1988 NFL season.
With the Chiefs trailing 28-19 with 6:06 left in the game, Lewis blocked a punt in the end zone for a safety.
Kansas City knotted the count at 28 apiece with a touchdown on its ensuing possession.
The Bengals inexplicably fumbled on their 28-yard line moments later.
Lewis recovered the loose pigskin to set up Nick Lowery’s game-clinching field goal. Kansas City prevailed, 31-28.
Lewis’s exceptional play on defense and special teams earned him a spot in the Kansas City Chiefs 25-Year All-Time Team in 1987 – his fifth year in the National Football League.
Lewis had a setback in his personal life when he divorced his wife in 1988. He told Lieber some three years later his relentless dedication to football was one of the main reasons for the split.
Lewis seldom took vacations during his pro football career – he was a stickler for discipline in every sense of the word.
He did two-hour kickboxing sessions, ran six to twelve miles wearing a weighted vest, and rode his bike for 25 miles every day during the NFL offseason.
Lewis also pulled a weight sled that carried 75 pounds of iron with a harness twice weekly. He also practices martial arts because of their physical and mental benefits, per Lieber.
When the football season kicked off in the fall, Lewis rarely went out or watched television. He was fast asleep by 10 p.m. and woke up at 5:30 a.m.
Lewis regularly worked out at Arrowhead Stadium at 7:00 a.m. Once he finished his last repetition, he settled in the whirlpool to study game tapes.
Lewis took plenty of notes during team meetings. He also habitually asked secondary coach Tony Dungy and special teams coach Kurt Schottenheimer to chime in on his ball-hawking techniques.
Lewis continued poring over notes and video tapes at his home after supper. His extensive collection included 400 video cassettes and 75 film reels of the opposition.
“My focus is hypnotic,” Lewis told Lieber in late 1991. “I put myself in a trance. When I’m in total focus – absolutely there – I can meet my fears head-on and defeat them.”
Lewis’ father Brad passed away due to a stroke the same year the former went through a divorce. His mother Vera moved into a new home on Nancy Street he purchased for her shortly afterward.
Lewis traveled south to visit his family in Louisiana several times yearly when he played for the Chiefs. One of his pit stops was a 310-acre farm in Centerville, MS he and former college teammate Trumaine Johnson owned, per Lieber.
Lewis made it a point to visit his father in the cemetery every time he visited his family down south.
Lewis confided to Sports Illustrated in 1991 he shared whatever was on his mind – problems, achievements, and goals – with his father.
Unfortunately, Kansas City regressed during Lewis’ Pro Bowl years – the Chiefs averaged just five wins per season from 1987 to 1989.
The Chiefs turned a corner when they hired new head coach Marty Schottenheimer in 1989.
Let it be known that as a member of the @Chiefs, Albert Lewis beat the #AtlantaFalcons at their own game. As his career-best of 3 INTs set in '85 (Dec. 8) and then tied in '91 (Sep. 1) vs them, proves that in #ATLvsKC gms, he was the one that rose to the occasion. #ChiefsHistory pic.twitter.com/2b1n9DNdXT
— Chiefs Facts (@ChiefsFacts) December 27, 2020
One of Albert Lewis’ most memorable performances during the Marty Schottenheimer era was Kansas City’s rousing 14-3 triumph against the Atlanta Falcons in the 1991 season opener against the Atlanta Falcons.
Lewis racked up three picks, four pass deflections, and two tackles in the win.
Unfortunately, Lewis tore his left knee’s posterior cruciate ligament when he recorded his third interception. Although Lewis had to sit out the next weeks, he didn’t have to undergo surgery.
Under Schottenheimer’s leadership, Kansas City averaged an impressive eleven wins per year from 1990 to 1993.
Regrettably, the Chiefs couldn’t advance past the AFC Championship Game during that memorable stretch.
Nonetheless, Albert Lewis savored another monumental achievement off the gridiron.
Before long the towns of Mansfield and South Mansfield declared May 11, 1991, as “Albert Lewis Day.” Festivities included a parade and a testimonial dinner at Lewis’ alma mater DeSoto High School.
The highlight of that day was South Mansfield mayor Dessie Lee Patterson presenting Lewis with a key to the city and announcing Russell Road was renamed “Albert Lewis Way.”
Vera Lewis cried tears of joy.
Albert Lewis declared the street sign isn’t just his – he told Lieber seven months later it was also a fitting tribute to his late father Brad.
After Albert Lewis’ 11-year career in Kansas City ended following the 1993 NFL season, he signed with the Chiefs’ hated rivals, the Los Angeles Raiders.
Lewis’ premonition of playing for the Silver and Black during the 1983 NFL Draft had come true a decade later.
While Lewis loved his time in Kansas City, he considered signing with the Raiders a business decision. The lure of playing for the team associated with two people he had the utmost respect for – Al Davis and Willie Brown – was too good to pass up.
Davis promised Lewis he’d start him immediately. However, it never happened.
A disgruntled Lewis reached out to Davis, who never liked the Chiefs’ socks.
“He looked at me and said, ‘Aww, shut up. Just be happy I got you out of those ugly socks.’ That was Al Davis,” Lewis told The Talk of Fame Network in October 2017.
Lewis never came close to the stature he attained in Kansas City when he played for the Raiders from 1994 to 1998.
He recorded just four interceptions, six forced fumbles, and one fumble recovery in five seasons in the Black Hole.
The Raiders averaged just seven wins per season during Lewis’ tenure with the franchise. They never made the postseason from 1994 to 1998.
• 4 Pro Bowls
• 2x First-Team All-Pro
• 2x PFWA All-NFL
• NFL all-time leading punt blocker (11 – unofficial)
• Shutdown CB w/ 42 career INTs
• Became oldest player w/ defensive TD in NFL history (38) pic.twitter.com/vYyXJwMrpt
— Kevin Gallagher (@KevG163) October 6, 2020
Albert Lewis retired from the National Football League following the 1998 NFL season.
He finished his 16-year pro football career with 42 interceptions, 242 solo tackles,12.5 sacks, 13 forced fumbles, 13 fumble recoveries, and one defensive touchdown.
Albert Lewis officially became a member of the Chiefs Hall of Honor in 2007.
According to a report from KSLA (via ArrowheadAddict.com’s Matt Conner), Lewis spent time in a Shreveport, LA critical care ward due to an undisclosed illness in the summer of 2018.
Fortunately, Lewis remained responsive to tests and eventually recovered.
Lewis was one of 108 nominees for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2018. Regrettably, he didn’t make the cut.
Albert Lewis became a finalist for induction into the Black College Football Hall of Fame in October 2020.