AFC East: Cookie Gilchrist

Running back rankings and how I do them

March, 15, 2011
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ESPN.com debuted its positional power rankings series last week with wide receivers. The two articles I wrote about my ballot (and my breakdown of the AFC East) sparked lively discussions about my process.

Readers demanded to know my criteria. My explanation seemed to chafe a few. I stated that my ballot simply reflected my personal taste about how they performed last season.

Stats are a part of equation. They must be to an extent. But if I wanted to go purely on stats, then I would post a link to ESPN.com's fantasy leaders.

I steer clear of metrics. You can pick and choose a specific mathematical equation and make it support any case -- even though you might be comparing a slot receiver catching passes from an elite quarterback to a No. 1 receiver who's constantly double covered on a run-oriented offense. Can't do it.

In the end, it comes down to subjective judgment. Feel free to disagree. An exchange of ideas is the whole point. I don't need to agree with you, and you don't need to accept my list as gospel. Agents won't use the AFC East blog in contract negotiations. The Pro Football Hall of Fame won't use my power rankings to determine induction.

In response to a question about underrated Buffalo Bills running back Cookie Gilchrist for the documentary "Full Color Football: The History of the American Football League," legendary runner Jim Brown summed up my sentiments.

"Who gets compared to me and all of that, I couldn't care less about," Brown said. "I don't compare a rose to a petunia. They both have their own kind of beauty. It all depends on what you prefer."

And for those who require statistical reasoning, I share with you a quote another Cleveland Browns Hall of Famer told me a couple months ago for a story about Andre Reed's induction hopes.

"Our game is beginning to resemble baseball in which everyone is looking at numbers," said Paul Warfield, a member of the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins team. "Numbers tell the story to a degree, but I like to look at one's full body of work. You're supposed to be able to do a lot of things.

"As a receiver, catching the ball is primary and important. But I don't think it takes very much skill or maneuverability to step a couple yards off the line of scrimmage and someone pops you with a pass several times."

So, as you peruse my ballots the next several Tuesdays, that's where I'm coming from.

This week's power rankings position is running back.

My ballot:
  1. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings
  2. Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans
  3. Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs
  4. Arian Foster, Houston Texans
  5. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars
  6. Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens
  7. Michael Turner, Atlanta Falcons
  8. Rashard Mendenhall, Pittsburgh Steelers
  9. Peyton Hillis, Cleveland Browns
  10. Darren McFadden, Oakland Raiders

The most obvious omission was St. Louis Rams running back Steven Jackson. I thought long and hard about including him, but I couldn't talk myself into it. Jackson scored only six touchdowns and had little impact in the passing game. Of the 17 backs who rushed for 1,000 yards, his 3.8 yards per carry were better than only Cedric Benson's average.

Some might point out that defenses girded up to remove Jackson from the game, but there are other runners on that list who had worse quarterback situations than the Rams did. I think people still see Jackson as the all-around superstar from 2006.

Hillis was another tough call because of his fumbles. But he was Cleveland's entire offense. Opponents still couldn't stop him. He also added 61 receptions for another 477 yards and a couple touchdowns, numbers that get overlooked.

I'll come back later Tuesday with a ranking of AFC East backs.

Cookie Gilchrist rumbled right until the end

January, 10, 2011
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For those of you unfamiliar with what Cookie Gilchrist was all about, Paul Maguire has a story to share.

It was December 1964. While snow was being cleared from Fenway Park's field, the Buffalo Bills waited anxiously in a spartan locker room for their game against the Boston Patriots to start. They normally would've whiled away this time with card games or other diversions to ease the mood. Not on that day.

The Bills had to win to host the AFL Championship game six days later. The atmosphere was tense, the room quiet.

"Cookie stood up," Maguire recalled, "and said 'I'm going to tell you something. If we don't win this game, I'm going to beat the s--- out of everybody in this locker room.' "

Just then, Bills head coach Lou Saban and assistants Joe Collier, Jerry Smith and John Mazur unwittingly walked into their star fullback's escalating fury.

[+] EnlargeGilchrist
AP PhotoFormer Buffalo Bills star Carlton Chester "Cookie" Gilchrist died Monday morning in Pittsburgh. He was 75.
Maguire continued: "Cookie pointed and said, 'And I'm going to start with you, Coach. I'm going to kick your ass first.' I just sat back in my locker. I knew he meant it."

On the first play of the game, Gilchrist took a handoff from Jack Kemp and trucked helpless Patriots safety Chuck Shonta.

"Cookie ran right over his ass," said Maguire, the Bills' popular linebacker and punter. "Then he went up to Bob Dee, who was the defensive end, and says 'You're next.' Kemp came over the sideline and said 'We've got to get him out of there. He's going to kill somebody.' "

The Bills pummeled the Patriots and then shocked the San Diego Chargers to win their first of back-to-back AFL titles.

"He had so much character he brought out the best in all of us," Bills tight end Charley Ferguson said. "If there's ever such a thing as 110 percent, that's what you got from Cookie. There was no such thing as not being ready."

Carlton Chester "Cookie" Gilchrist died Monday morning in a Pittsburgh assisted living facility.

Cancer finally caught him at 75 years old, but not before he broke another tackle.

Gilchrist's hospice nurse found him dead in a chair Saturday. She phoned his great nephew with the somber news. Thomas Gilchrist arrived and saw his uncle slumped over. Nurses prepared Cookie's bed for him to be laid down one last time. Thomas carried his uncle's 140-pound body from the chair.

And then Cookie woke up.

"He was dead in the chair," Thomas Gilchrist said. "And 30 minutes later he was drinking a root beer with me."

Cookie Gilchrist's family and teammates were laughing at the thought Monday. It was symbolic of how he was: rugged, stubborn and usually unbeatable.

Gilchrist often is overlooked among the game's great running backs because his career was brief and his relationships strained.

Ferguson, who also played with Jim Brown and O.J. Simpson, called Gilchrist "one of the greatest backs to ever play the game."

"These young guys didn't have more of an opportunity to learn about Cookie and see him in action," Ferguson said while mourning at former Bills teammate Booker Edgerson's home in suburban Buffalo. "They may have heard something, may have heard very little, but if they ever had that kind of opportunity it would have meant something to them."

Gilchrist went straight from Har-Brack High School in the Pittsburgh area to the Canadian Football League, where he starred for six years. He played fullback, linebacker and kicked field goals for Hamilton, Saskatchewan and Toronto before he returned stateside with Buffalo.

He played only six seasons in the AFL, but they were brilliant. He's the fullback on the all-time AFL team. In 1962, he became the first AFL back to rush for more than 1,000 yards and also kicked eight field goals and 14 extra points for Buffalo. In each of his first four seasons, he was an All-Star and led the league in rushing touchdowns.

He spent three years with the Bills and one with the Miami Dolphins sandwiched between year-long stays with the Denver Broncos.

"He was so impressive," Maguire said. "He was the biggest fullback in the game and could run and block. When he first came to the Bills he was the wedge buster.

"On the football field, he was one of the nastiest sons a bitches I ever met in my life. There was absolutely no fear in that man."

Gilchrist's 31 rushing touchdowns (in just three seasons) still rank third in Buffalo behind only Simpson and Thurman Thomas. Gilchrist set single-game records with 243 yards and five touchdowns against the New York Jets in 1963.

Gilchrist was a battering ram on the field, but so headstrong that he gave coaches and administrators headaches.

He engaged in several disputes with Saban and Bills owner Ralph Wilson. One of the pivotal moments came in Buffalo's first game against Boston in 1964, a War Memorial Stadium shootout between Kemp and Babe Parilli that didn't involve much running.

"The offense got the ball and he didn't go into the game," former Bills tight end Ernie Warlick recalled. "Saban asked 'Hey, Cookie, why aren't you out there?' He said 'They're not giving me the ball, so why the hell should I play?' So he sat on the bench and told his backup [Willie Ross] to go in."

The Bills placed Gilchrist on waivers after that episode, but Kemp brokered a reconciliation. The club pulled him back for the rest of the campaign. The Bills traded him to Denver in the offseason for Billy Joe.

"He jumped off the curb every once in a while," Warlick said, "but he was with them team almost 100 percent."

Gilchrist was among a group of black players who boycotted the AFL All-Star game over racist treatment in New Orleans. The game was moved to Houston.

He turned down induction into the CFL Hall of Fame, citing bigotry.

"He was very outspoken," said Edgerson, a Bills cornerback for eight seasons. "He understood the economics and the monetary value of a player. He expressed himself, and that got him in trouble a lot.

"But the things he did back in the 1960s was mild compared to what these guys do today. There is no way in the world he would be considered a bad boy today."

The Bills waived Gilchrist during the 1964 season because of his contract demands.

"I wanted a percentage of the hot dog sales, the popcorn, the parking and the ticket sales," Gilchrist said in a 2007 interview with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "[Saban] said that would make me part owner of the team. I was a marked man after that."

Those familiar with the selection process claim Wilson has long refused to consider Gilchrist for the team's Wall of Fame. Gilchrist and Wilson didn't mend their fractured relationship until a phone conversation last week, Thomas Gilchrist said.

Wilson also had a lifelong feud with Saban, the only coach to win a championship for Buffalo, let alone two. Saban, who died in March 2009, isn't on the Wall of Fame either.

"It's very sad that it couldn't be patched sooner," said Edgerson, added to the Wall of Fame in October. "It doesn't make any difference whose fault it is, or who didn't come to the table. Obviously, it was bad blood because they have not been put up on the Wall, and everybody believes that they should have been regardless."

Said Warlick: "It is a shame that those two guys are not even considered to go on the Wall. It's really too bad because they both should be there."

What makes Gilchrist's absence on the Wall of Fame even more disappointing is that players such as him -- stars that burned brightly but briefly -- aren't properly appreciated, particularly by younger generations.

Those who watched Gilchrist play know how special he was.

"Anybody from that era would never forget him," Maguire said. "He was that kind of a guy. When you went on the field with him, you never even doubted that you were going to win because he wouldn't let you think any other way."

Gilchrist is survived by sons Jeffrey and Scott and daughter Christina Gilchrist and two grandchildren.

Calling hours will be held Wednesday at Ross G. Walker Funeral home in New Kensington, Pa. Funeral services will be Thursday.

Thomas Gilchrist asked that any regards be sent to 322 Mall Blvd. Suite 164, Monroeville, Pa. 15146.

Michael Vick can't match two Buffalo Bills

November, 16, 2010
11/16/10
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Inspired by Michael Vick's obnoxious stats Monday night, ESPN.com fantasy columnist Tristan H. Cockroft measured his production against the greatest single-game performances in NFL history.

Cockroft, using ESPN.com's standard scoring format, gives game-by-game recaps of the best games since 2000 and provides a chart of the 28 players who would have accounted for at least 45 points in any era.

Vick, in case you haven't heard, amassed 49 fantasy points for the Philadelphia Eagles in a blowout of the Washington Redskins. Vick was 20-of-28 for 333 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions and ran eight times for 80 yards and two touchdowns.

That game, however, would tie for 11th all-time.

A couple of Buffalo Bills had better days. You probably would have trouble guessing who they are.

Running back Cookie Gilchrist turned in what would rank third among the greatest fantasy days ever -- if they had fantasy football then -- with 54 points on five touchdowns against the New York Jets in 1963.

Bills receiver Jerry Butler would rank 10th with his 50-point performance versus the Jets in 1979. Butler had 10 catches for 255 yards and four touchdowns.

No other AFC East players would have scored 45 or more fantasy points, which goes to show how amazing Vick's game was.

Some names not on the list: Dan Marino, Mark Duper, Jim Kelly, O.J. Simpson, Tom Brady or Randy Moss.

A look back at the Bills' big breakthrough

November, 15, 2010
11/15/10
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Every AFC East game was significant in its way.

The New England Patriots thumped the Pittsburgh Steelers to reassert their presence.

The New York Jets found a way to win in overtime a second straight week and stay atop the division.

The Miami Dolphins lost two quarterbacks and maybe a couple other players while scrapping to stay in the playoff hunt.

Those were the big ones.

But in the AFC East's other game, the Buffalo Bills finally notched The Big One.

While the rest of the division generated national headlines, what transpired Sunday in Ralph Wilson Stadium might not have mattered to the casual sports fan in Des Moines, but it certainly was meaningful to the Bills, as I foreshadowed.

In a game that won't impact the standings in any way other than the draft order, the Bills held on to defeat the Detroit Lions 14-12.

Let's take a moment to salute the Bills for removing the adjective "winless" from their name.

Some notes from the game:
  • Buffalo has been the last team to win a game three times: 1984, 1971 and in the AFL in 1963.
  • Bills running back Fred Jackson scored both touchdowns. It was just his second multi-TD game of his career. He had one rushing and one receiving, the first Bills player to do that since Travis Henry in 20003.
  • Here’s a neat stat. For a franchise that has had a slew of great running backs, Jackson's career average of 4.66 yards a carry is third only to O.J. Simpson and Cookie Gilchrist.
  • Jackson became just the fifth Bills running back to gain at least 150 yards from scrimmage and score a rushing and receiving TD.
  • Ryan Fitzpatrick has thrown as least one touchdown pass in 10 straight games, the most since Drew Bledsoe in had 10 consecutive in 2002. He needs to throw only two more TD passes to match Trent Edwards' career total for Buffalo. Ahem.
  • Steve Johnson needs six receptions to become the 18th Bills player with a 50-catch season.
  • Quote that sums it up, from cornerback Leodis McKelvin: "Relief! We won. We're not going to be talking about being an 0-16 team or nothing like that. It feels great to get a win and get that off our chests."

AFL star Edgerson next on Bills' Wall

May, 3, 2010
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The Buffalo Bills have announced the next name to be posted on their Wall of Fame.

No, it won't be Lou Saban or Cookie Gilchrist.

The Bills will honor cornerback Booker Edgerson at halftime of the Week 4 game against the New York Jets.

While the others probably deserve it more and have been curiously omitted for years presumably because Bills owner Ralph Wilson has prevented it, Edgerson is a worthy selection.

He played eight seasons for the Bills, including their AFL championships in 1964 and 1965. He was named to the AFL's all-rookie team in 1962 and the AFL All-Star team in 1965.

Edgerson recorded 23 interceptions in a nine-year career that concluded with the Denver Broncos in 1970.

Buffalo News reporter Mark Gaughan wrote that Edgerson made one of the greatest defensive plays in Bills history in 1965, when he chased down Lance Alworth from behind and tackled him on the 3-yard line. Alworth fumbled out of the end zone for a Bills touchback in a game that ended in a tie.

Marshawn Lynch headed to Honolulu

January, 29, 2009
1/29/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
  Lynch

The Buffalo Bills lost their lone Pro Bowler when tackle Jason Peters pulled out with a knee injury.

But they're about to get one back. Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson will not play in Honolulu because of the ankle injury he suffered in the playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

That opens the door for first alternate Marshawn Lynch to make his first Pro Bowl roster.

A shoulder injury sidelined Lynch for the season finale against the New England Patriots, but he has been cleared to play in the Pro Bowl.

Lynch will be the ninth Bills running back to be named to a Pro Bowl or the AFL All-Star game. The others were Cookie Gilchrist, Bobby Burnett, Keith Lincoln, O.J. Simpson, Joe Cribbs, Greg Bell, Thurman Thomas and Travis Henry.

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