In August, 1974, Willie Lanier announced that the upcoming football season would be his last as a player. At 29, he was retiring to take a job with the Philip Morris Corp. He was still one of the best middle linebackers in pro football, but he was quiting.

"Philip Morris had a couple of projects they wanted me to work on that would take time," Lanier remembered. "I felt I was ready to do other things. I still enjoyed playing football but I also enjoyed wanting to do other things."

Thursday night at RFK Stadium, Lanier - who will turn 32 Sunday - will take the field, in uniform, with the rest of the Kansas City Chiefs when they meet the Washington Redskins. He continues to play despite the fact that his team has suffered through three straight 5-9 seasons. He still enjoys the game and has no regrets about his decision to unretire.

"It's more of a challenge now to try and compete with guys who are 22 and 23," said Lanier, who is reportedly having his best training camp in several years.

"I know I have to be completely ready at all times, both physically and mentally. It's been frustrating the last couple of years losing. When you've climbed the heights, it's harder to accept struggle.

"But I don't look back at my decision to keep playing. It wouldn't do any good, anyway. Maybe these next 18 games will be my last. But who knows? I don't want to think about it until I have to. Right now, I'm just enjoying training camp."

Few football players are even heard to say that they enjoy camp. But Lanier, who is involved in labor relations for Philip Morris in Richmond, called it a vacation.

"Not physically, of course," he said, laughing. "It's just that in business you're under a kind of pressure every day all day that is my way of getting away from all the meetings and things. It's a nice change."

Lanier is one of three starting Kansas City linebackers entering their 11th NFL season. Jim Lynch and Billy Andrews are the other two.

Lanier graduated from Morgan State in 1967 and became the Chiefs' starting middle linebacker three games into his rookie season. Two years later, he was one of the key members of the 1969 Super Bowl champions.

"That was something special," Lanier said, his gravelly voice softening. "I'll never forget the people involved, the whole thing. Sometimes when I look up now and find us 0-3 or 1-4, I remember back to when we were on top and try and get myself to think we can do it again.

"I've had to try and develop a much stronger positive outlook the last few years. I still look to try and improve myself and at the same time hope the team improves."

Last winter, Lanier's positive outlook was tested severly. He applied for membership in a Richmond Country club and was turned down. The reason: he is black.

"No, I wasn't shocked by it," Lanier said. "Perhaps that was an overt example of the way some people still think but it isn't unique.

"The vote against me was 7-4. I think the community at large felt the board was wrong and many of them said so. There will be a revote and I think this time it will be different. I'm not negative about it. These people just have to take a look at themselves and a their consciences."

Lanier said if he is voted into the club, he will join despite the initial snub. "The facilities are there. Why shouldn't I take advantage of them?"

Lanier is infeitiously optmistic. At 6-foot-1, 245 pounds, he is still one of the quicker linebackers in the game and has 27 career pass interceptions to prove it. Ask him about his look-at-the-bright-side attitude and he replies quickly.

"Hell I better be positive. When you have been in this league for 11 years you have to be positive, otherwise you won't last.

"You have to believe in yourself and in others if you're going to play this game. There's just no room for negative feelings.

"When I graduated from Morgan State, I never dreamed I'd get to see and do the things I've done. So sometimes things don't work out just right. I've still been lucky; it's still been fun. I don't have any complaints.

He added after a brief silence, "George Allen would love that, wouldn't he?"

Allen would probably love to have Lanier marching around in burgundy and gold. "He's been like a kid all summer," one Chief observer said. "You would never believe he's been doing it 11 years."

The Chiefs, who beat the Steelers, 23-21, Saturday to even their record at 1-1, break camp today, heading for Kansas City after Thursday's game. It may be Lanier's last camp.

"When I quit, I quit; it's that simple," Lanier said. "I don't even know what it's like to be 32 yet. I still have to find out about that. I don't think I'm any less enthusiastic now than 10 years ago.

"I don't think about what has happened or worry about what's going to happen. I don't have time for that. It doesn't do any good, anyway, so why do it?"