AFC East: Lou Saban

Hall of Very Good an interesting club

June, 14, 2011
6/14/11
4:06
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When a debate over whether or not an accomplished player belongs in the Hall of Fame ensues, the cynic almost inevitably will say something along the lines of "Well, if there was a such thing as a Hall of Very Good, he'd be in it. But not the Hall of Fame."

Eight years ago, the Pro Football Researchers Association formed a Hall of Very Good.

The Hall's mission statement is "to honor outstanding players and coaches who are not in the Hall of Fame and are not likely to ever make it." A handful of players have made the Hall of Very Good and later been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton.

The PFRA has announced its 20 nominees for this year's class. Prototypical examples include Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Ken Anderson, Oakland Raiders receiver Cliff Branch and Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Andy Russell.

Three AFC East names also are in this year's group: Buffalo Bills head coach Lou Saban, Bills defensive tackle Tom Sestak and New England Patriots receiver Harold Jackson.

You can see the list of inductees by visiting ProFootballResearchers.org. Honorees with AFC East ties are Dolphins safety Jake Scott, Patriots receiver and kicker Gino Cappelletti and Patriots running back Chuck Foreman.

Cookie Gilchrist rumbled right until the end

January, 10, 2011
1/10/11
8:32
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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.

AFL star Edgerson next on Bills' Wall

May, 3, 2010
5/03/10
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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.

Around the AFC East: Fins now tackling title task

April, 5, 2009
4/05/09
12:44
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

Miami Dolphins

Buffalo Bills

New England Patriots

  • The Boston Globe's Mike Reiss leads off his Sunday notebook with an entry about left tackle Matt Light taking over for linebacker Mike Vrabel as the NFL Players Association rep.

New York Jets

Around the AFC East: Cutler watch begins in N.Y.

April, 1, 2009
4/01/09
9:43
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

New York Jets

  • New York Post columnist Mike Vaccaro writes "There is nothing at all complicated about" the Jets' interest in Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler.
  • Gary Myers of the New York Daily News writes it's "a rare opportunity for the Jets to trade for a young, established quarterback who made the Pro Bowl in his third year and is not nearly as good as he's going to get."
  • Brian Costello of the New York Post takes a look at what should be a fast-developing Cutler derby.

Buffalo Bills

Miami Dolphins

  • Miami Herald columnist Armando Salguero writes the Dolphins have committed a club-record $136 million to free agents this offseason.

New England Patriots

Around the AFC East: Bills-Saban rift can end now

March, 30, 2009
3/30/09
12:34
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

Buffalo Bills

  • Rochester Democrat & Chronicle columnist Bob Matthews laments the Bills' refusal to honor Lou Saban on the team's Wall of Fame while he was alive. Saban died Sunday at 87.
  • Buffalo News reporter Mark Gaughan looks back at Saban's remarkable life, which included two stints as Bills coach.

Miami Dolphins

  • South Florida Sun-Sentinel reporter Harvey Fialkov serves up a report on Illinois cornerback Vontae Davis, who could be a Dolphin in a month.
  • Palm Beach Post reporter Brian Biggane sniffs around Sunday night's Jason Taylor Foundation event to see where the former Dolphins defensive end might land.

New England Patriots

New York Jets

Patriots, Bills mourn Saban's passing

March, 29, 2009
3/29/09
10:42
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The New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills have released statements on Sunday's passing of legendary AFL coach Lou Saban at 87.

Saban was the first head coach in Boston Patriots history.
"On behalf of the New England Patriots organization and my entire family, we are deeply saddened by the news of Lou Saban's passing and extend sincere sympathies to the entire Saban family," Patriots owner Robert Kraft said. "As the Patriots' first head coach, Lou helped kick off a new era of football in Boston. As a result, a part of his football legacy will forever be linked to many of the firsts in our franchise's history.

"This season, we will be celebrating the Patriots' 50th anniversary and reflecting back on that inaugural season. It should give us all cause to appreciate Lou's many contributions during the Patriots' formative years."

Saban's next job was with the Bills, who he led to AFL championships in 1964 and 1965. His record in four seasons was 36-17-3. He then coached the Denver Broncos for five seasons before finishing his career with four-plus years in Buffalo.
"Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson Jr. and the entire Bills organization is deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Lou Saban. Coach Saban's knowledge of the game and unique personality were the perfect fit for the early years of the American Football League. Talented, enthusiastic and colorful, Coach Saban's style of coaching left an indelible mark on the AFL and professional football. As our organization prepares to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the American Football League and our franchise, we are sad today that Lou Saban will not be here to share it with us. But his spirit will be remembered long after the celebration is over.

"Mr. Wilson and the Bills organization pass along their deepest sympathies to Coach Saban's wife, Joyce, and their entire family during this difficult time."

40 years ago, Briscoe broke QB barrier

October, 6, 2008
10/06/08
4:52
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Darryl Norenberg/Getty Images
In 1968, Marlin Briscoe became the first black quarterback in the modern era to start a game.

Forty years have passed -- a long time, but not a lifetime.

What a big moment it was then. Now it's a weekly occurrence in multiple NFL stadiums.

A black quarterback starting in the NFL is no big deal these days. A couple generations have grown up with Doug Williams and Warren Moon and Donovan McNabb and Daunte Culpepper and Michael Vick running offenses.

But when Marlin Briscoe broke the Denver Broncos huddle and surveyed the Cincinnati Bengals defense as he walked to the line of scrimmage Oct. 6, 1968, he became the first black quarterback in the modern era to start a game.

"It's come a long way," Briscoe said from his home in Long Beach, Calif. "They thought a black man could not think, throw and lead at that level."

Now the United States could be on the verge of electing its first black president.

Willie Thrower was the first black quarterback to get into an NFL game in 1953, but stereotypes and small-mindedness prevented coaches from providing a real opportunity until Lou Saban, partially out of desperation, handed the job to Briscoe.

(Read full post)

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