Willie Lanier looked out the windows of the bus he rode back to the Orlando Citrus Bowl for the first time since 1966.
He let his mind wander back, trying to remember what used to be. A lot had changed in the last half century, some catalyzed by a game he played in all those decades ago.
"It was interesting to think about the fact that you've actually been here before," said Lanier, an NFL Hall of Fame linebacker. "You've seen these neighborhoods before, you've gone down these streets before and you walk in and try to remember what it was."
Lanier, an eight-time Pro Bowler who played 11 seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs, watched Michigan beat Florida 41-7 in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl on New Year's Day with 10 other members of the 1966 Morgan State football team. They were honored during the game for making history as the first historically black team to win a college bowl game.
The Bears, led by College Football Hall of Fame coach Earl Banks, defeated West Chester (Pa.) State 14-6 in the Tangerine Bowl that year, claiming the 18th win in what became a 31-game win streak. It was the first integrated college game Orlando hosted.
"You knew that it was the first time that you individually had played an all white team," Lanier said. "Most of us grew up playing in segregated school systems. You were aware that our country was going through change, that our country was having its own upheaval, in terms of how race was being dealt with in the South, in Birmingham, in Mississippi. But it was still a football game you came to play, against a team that just happened to be all white.
"It's really [a feeling] of joy to see an event that you participated in now being much bigger than it was. You have people who really appreciate that there has to be a change to create other change. A step in that direction occurred based on what we did, and it's just great to see that it's acknowledged and appreciated by many who might not have thought about it then."
Former teammate Harvey Palmore, who was drafted by the Bengals in 1968, sat in a wheelchair next to Lanier, gazing out at the turf field surrounded by an announced crowd of 63,113 fans.
"It's a great experience," Palmore said. "I'm sitting here and I'm watching, and remembering that we were at like a 10,000-seat capacity when I was [playing] here, like one row around the stadium. It's amazing the production."