As well as inspiring the class of '74 to finish their 22-game tour unbeaten, McBride's wholehearted approach and his refusal to take a backward step, ensured he cemented his richly-deserved place in Lions folklore.
"It was a wonderful experience," said McBride, who made a total of 17 Test starts for the Lions between 1962 and 1974.
"It was amateur days in 1974. We had coal miners, steel workers, farmers, teachers, solicitors and accountants. To bring those people together from all walks of life and to go to South Africa to try and win a Test series was a fascinating experience.
"Not only were the players all different but you had to treat them all differently. There were guys you patted on the head, there were guys you kicked up the backside, and they all reacted differently and they all picked themselves up.
"You've got to find all that out and see how the guys work best. I found that fascinating and I learned a hell of a lot on that tour. It was a tremendous experience."
Willie-John McBride led the Lions to a series win over South Africa in 1974
Throughout his stint as Lions captain, and during his 63 caps for Ireland, McBride was always known as a man who had no difficulty walking the walk. As a player and as a captain he always led by example, allowing his actions to speak louder than his words.
However, that didn't mean the Ballymena lock didn't know what to say and when to say it. In fact, it was quite the opposite. McBride knew exactly what speeches to give, what directions to bellow and the perfect manner in which to deliver his instructions or requests.
For McBride, that rare ability to lead both physically and verbally is still vitally important in the modern game. If the Lions are to repeat their South African successes of '74 and '97 later this summer, those traits will have to come to the fore within whoever Ian McGeechan chooses as his 2009 skipper.
"It's very important to say the right things and to assess things,"explained McBride.
"When you go away on a Lions tour and you get someone saying the wrong things, heads can drop. You've got to keep guys up, you've got to be positive and you've got to keep lifting things all the time, because everyday won't be a good day.
"You've got to have a guy who can come through that bad day and keep heads up."