The former Ireland international toured on five separate occasions with the Lions, earning the respect of team-mates, coaches, opponents and supporters alike.
In 2009, it is two of his fellow Irishmen heading the list of contenders for the captain's armband when Ian McGeechan names his squad to travel to South Africa. Both Brian O'Driscoll and Paul O'Connell appear to have the complete faith of everyone involved in Ireland's Grand Slam winning set up and McBride believes that it is vital for a Lions skipper to be held in such high regard.
"I think the role of captain is still very important," said McBride.
"It was certainly very important in the days that I played in the amateur game. The captain was, first of all, the guy that took the team on to the field. He literally led. If things were going wrong, he could stop the game in some way and say 'what's the problem? Let's sort this out.'
"That maybe doesn't happen today because the plan is there and you stick with the plan and the guys understand that this is the way you play, but the captain today still has to be a man of stature."
Willie-John McBride led the Lions on their unbeaten 1974 tour of South Africa
For McBride, a successful captain needs to be able to assert his authority both on and off the pitch. Whoever eventually gets the nod to lead the Lions into battle against the Springboks this summer will need to be both admired by those around him and feared by those who will be facing him, as well as know how to deal with pressure situations throughout the heat of the battle.
"The captain has got to have the respect of the players around him," added McBride, who appeared in 17 Test matches for the Lions between 1962 and 1974.
"He would certainly have to have the respect of the opposition.
"He would have to have the ability to see the game and make the right decisions. I'm talking now about kicking and the sort of things that can change the game - do we kick at goal or do we put it in the corner and hope for a try? In many cases, all those little decisions decide whether you win or lose.
"One of the things that confuses me in the professional game is that they actually take the captain off sometimes. I don't understand that. But he's certainly still an important man from a respect point of view and making the right decisions."