AFC East: O.J. Simpson

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.

Undrafted RBs put needs in perspective

December, 6, 2010
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No team has drafted more running backs in the first round than the Buffalo Bills, and what do they have to show for it?

They've taken a running back nine times with frustratingly inconsistent success. O.J. Simpson was transcendent. The likes of Terry Miller and Booker Moore were forgettable. Greg Bell, Ronnie Harmon, Antowain Smith, Willis McGahee and Marshawn Lynch merely passed through, failing to last beyond three or four seasons.

In fact, the five teams to draft the most first-round running backs -- Bills and Minnesota Vikings nine each, Chicago Bears, St. Louis Rams, Detroit Lions eight apiece -- have two Lombardi Trophies among them.

Why do I bring this up?

It underscores an interesting weekend item by Wall Street Journal and Pro Football Talk writer Michael David Smith. He noted six teams are led by undrafted running backs this year, most since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970.

Two AFC East teams are among them, including the Bills. Fred Jackson has performed well after the Bills traded Lynch (12th overall in 2007) to the Seattle Seahawks for a fourth-round draft choice and rookie C.J. Spiller (11th overall this year) has struggled.

Jackson has 851 yards from scrimmage and seven total touchdowns. Spiller has 281 yards from scrimmage and one touchdown.

For the New England Patriots, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead have been integral contributors and fan favorites. The Patriots traded Laurence Maroney (21st overall in 2006) and a sixth-round pick to the Denver Broncos for a fourth-round choice.

Green-Ellis and Woodhead have combined for 971 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns entering Monday night's game against the New York Jets.

The NFL's leading rusher, Arian Foster, wasn't drafted. The Houston Texans star has 1,230 yards and 13 touchdowns.

Michael Vick can't match two Buffalo Bills

November, 16, 2010
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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
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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."

Debate NFL's top 100 players of all-time

November, 5, 2010
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The NFL Network on Thursday night concluded its persuasive series "The Top 100: NFL's Greatest Players" by revealing the best 10 in league history.

As expected, no AFC East players made the top 10 because all of the big names already had been revealed. Some New England Patriots fans probably would argue about their three-time champion quarterback being listed 21st compared to a certain Indianapolis Colts quarterback being eighth.

Here's the rundown of players from the AFC East (with the fan ranking):
  • 11 (17). Ronnie Lott, Jets safety
  • 20 (6). Brett Favre, Jets quarterback
  • 21 (20). Tom Brady, Patriots quarterback
  • 24 (--). John Hannah, Patriots guard
  • 25 (7). Dan Marino, Dolphins quarterback
  • 31 (33). Bruce Smith, Bills defensive end
  • 40 (44). O.J. Simpson, Bills running back
  • 49 (--). Mike Haynes, Patriots cornerback
  • 61 (31). LaDainian Tomlinson, Jets running back
  • 65 (24). Randy Moss, Patriots receiver
  • 71 (--). Paul Warfield, Dolphins receiver
  • 100 (42). Joe Namath, Jets quarterback

What do you think of the list?

Who is missing? Who is overrated? Who isn't high enough?

Reviewing the list made me think back to a phone call I had with Moss two springs ago. In addition to forecasting better offensive numbers in 2009 than the Patriots posted in their record-breaking 2007 season, Moss proclaimed himself the greatest receiver -- and maybe player -- in NFL history.

"I'm the best wide receiver of all-time, hands down," Moss told me.

"I don't really like to judge people or other athletes. I know what I'm able to do on the field, but the things I'm able to do to dictate how a defense plays the game, I don't think there's no other receiver but myself and Jerry Rice to be able to do that."

Moss later added: "To hell with wide receiver. I think I go down as one of the greatest players to ever play this game."

The NFL Network rated Rice as the greatest player of all-time and Don Hutson ninth. Moss was ranked the third-best receiver on the list.

SI.com rates Tom Brady the greatest No. 12

August, 25, 2010
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Who was the greatest NFL player to wear a specific jersey number?

SI.com decided to find out and produced a list sure to create debate. The package, which includes plenty of vintage photos, was published Wednesday.

SI.com's Richard Deitsch explained the process:
A team of SI.com's finest numerologists crunched the data on jersey numbers to come up with the best performers in professional football at each number from 00 to 99. We based our decision on a combination of impact on the game, statistics and team success during the player's time wearing that number.

Here are the AFC East fellows who made the rundown from 00 to 99 ...

4. Brett Favre, Jets quarterback: Hey, he spent a season there.

12. Tom Brady, Patriots quarterback: Deitsch called this the toughest call over Terry Bradshaw. There's also Joe Namath and Roger Staubach.

13. Dan Marino, Dolphins quarterback: This selection was listed among the eight simplest to make.

23. Troy Vincent, Patriots and Bills defensive back: Next runner-up was Mel Gray.

39. Larry Csonka, Dolphins running back: Selected ahead of Hall of Famer Hugh McElhenny and Patriots fullback Sam Cunningham.

55. Junior Seau, Dolphins and Patriots linebacker: Willie McGinest and Joey Porter mentioned as "worthy of consideration."

57. Dwight Stephenson, Dolphins center: Thin crew when Bart Scott was in the all-time mix.

62. Jim Langer, Dolphins center: Name another No. 62. Quick!

67. Reggie McKenzie, Bills guard: Member of O.J. Simpson's famed Electric Company, but ahead of Dolphins guard Bob Kuechenberg?

73. John Hannah, Patriots guard: Other AFC East runners-up include Joe Klecko and Bob Baumhower.

Double Coverage: An 18-game schedule

July, 2, 2010
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Double CoverageUS PresswireLongstanding records would likely fall if the NFL moved to an 18-game regular season. But does that matter in the long run?
Who's up for more football?

The NFL would like to expand the regular season to 18 games and eliminate two preseason games by 2012. Seems like a no-brainer.

But at such a politically charged time, the NFL Players Association isn't willing to concede anything. There are reasons against lengthening the regular season. Injuries are prominent in the discussion, and players would like to be paid for playing additional games.

If the NFL wants an "enhanced season," as it's calling the proposal, then the players would like "enhanced compensation."

Beyond that, however, there are many reasons to debate the idea. That's why ESPN.com's Tim Graham and Bill Williamson are squaring off over it.

Tim Graham: Let's waste no time here, Bill, and get to a fundamental aspect about the proposed expanded season. We can deliberate on injuries and tradition and whether the NFL needs to increase revenues -- and we will. But the root of the 18-game concept is that fans want more meaningful action and less preseason silliness. Season-ticket holders must pay full price to watch undrafted rookies and retreads with no shot of making the roster run around in exhibitions. Those games are irrelevant. What matters is the enthusiasm NFL fans have for getting the season started as early as possible. Take a look at the message boards and listen to the talk shows. They're frothing in anticipation of the upcoming season. More and sooner is better.

Bill Williamson: OK, slick, let's get this right: We're supposed to see the greatest sport of mankind completely change its world because fans shouldn't have to pay for parking during the preseason? I totally agree the preseason is a waste of time after the first two games. But cutting back the preseason to add two games to the regular season -- risking further injury and mucking up the tradition of the game -- just doesn't make any sense. Cut the preseason to two games, keep the 16-game regular-season slate and be done with it. That's a win-win to me.

TG: You know darn well lopping off two preseason games won't cut it with the owners, especially guys like Jerry Jones and Robert Kraft and Woody Johnson. Those games are moneymakers for the individual teams because they can sell local broadcast rights and advertising without having to share with the Buffalo Bills and Jacksonville Jaguars. That kind of cash grab can't evaporate without a trade-off. Two more regular-season games increase revenue streams for all 32 teams. As for your contention it would completely change the greatest sport of all time, I disagree. The fact the game is so remarkable is why we should be able to watch more of it.

BW: Tim, you hit on two points that are going to be the reasons we ultimately end up seeing an 18-game regular season: revenue and fan base. Roger Goodell is a fine commissioner. He is a visionary. He is going to capitalize on the country's absolute rabid desire for the NFL. Fans will jump at the chance to see an 18-game regular-season slate (two more weeks of beer and chicken wings is admittedly appealing), and the owners will bathe in more money. But that doesn't make it right. Sometimes, enough is enough, and Goodell is going to be messing with a good thing. The players are the product, and they are going to suffer because of this. Then, in turn, the game is going to suffer. Who wins there?

[+] EnlargeNFL Fans
Brian Spurlock/US PresswireSundays during the regular season have become an event for NFL fans.
TG: You just mentioned chicken wings and beer. I can think of two winners already.

BW: Tim, I think we can both agree the toughest task for any NFL team to navigate a 16-game season is staying healthy. Nothing ruins a Super Bowl dream like a couple ripped-up knees. Going to an 18-game season will only increase season-ending injuries. Look, it's a month before training camp starts and there already have been several players lost for the season, including Willie Colon, Limas Sweed and Thomas Davis. It's a nasty game. Why make these guys risk further injury and further dampen their teams' Super Bowl hopes by playing two more games in the regular season?

TG: I agree additional games will escalate the likelihood a given player gets seriously hurt. But some injuries are going to happen no matter what. New England Patriots receiver Wes Welker, for example, crumpled to the Reliant Stadium turf while making a cut in the regular-season finale. He wasn't touched. Who's to say he wouldn't have suffered the same injury the following Wednesday at practice?

BW: Right, injuries happen all the time. That's my point. Why increase the season by 14 days and give players 14 more chances to get hurt in a game or in a practice? In an 18-game world, a team would have to play a minimum of 21 games to win a Super Bowl. It's currently 19 games. It may be only two more games, but that is a big difference down the stretch. It would be physically and mentally draining for players to wake up Dec. 1 and realize they have two extra games to play to reach their ultimate goal.

TG: Wake up on Dec. 1 and then realize they have two extra games? Will the expanded schedule make comas more prevalent? The players, coaches and training staffs will prepare their players for the extra games from the start of the offseason conditioning program. Maybe, for once, organized team activities will become truly voluntary. Subtract some of those workouts. But there are possible in-season remedies too. I understand players will get beaten up with the accumulation of hits and strains. So return to a two-bye schedule, increase the roster size or do away with game-day inactives to give a team more players to use. The NFL also is talking about another developmental league to replace NFL Europa. That would help improve the quality of substitute players.

[+] EnlargeChris Johnson
Don McPeak/US PresswireChris Johnson eclipsed 2,000 yards in 16 games. What would his target be in 18 contests?
BW: The 16-game slate has been in play for 32 years, and it's working great. Every Sunday in the NFL is an event. Even in Detroit and Oakland, where the losses have been suffocating, game day is a cherished occasion. That's because there are only 16 game days a year. An NFL Sunday is a rarity. I love baseball. But if I miss my San Francisco Giants (who are killing me these days, by the way) on a busy Tuesday night, I know I'll have Wednesday to catch them. That's not the case with the NFL. Sundays in the fall are must-see NFL days. It also makes the season more urgent for the participants. "Don’t mess up one of these 16 chances" is often the message from NFL coaching staffs to players. Increasing the number of games would take away from the game. What's next? Twenty games? Twenty-four games? Stop the madness. The football season is compact and intense. Why change it?

TG: NFL games are events not because of how many there are, but because your team plays once per week. Fans revel in or grouse about the last game from the final whistle until about Wednesday morning, when they start looking forward to the upcoming opponent. The tension rises steadily as they talk trash about what's going to happen, they set their fantasy lineups, they maybe wager a few bucks, they attend a tailgate party and then settle into their seats for the opening kickoff. It's an unfailing routine. That's why fans go through a hangover the moment the season is over, and why they can't wait for the next season to commence. NFL games would remain an event if we had a 52-game schedule.

BW: Let's not underplay the value of records. There are some stirring records out there that will be broken by the virtue of two extra games. That's not cool. Let baseball corner the market on asterisks. Why should the NFL have to play that game? It's just one more reason why moving to an 18-game slate would damage the integrity of the game. It's just not worth it. My message to Roger Goodell is this: Be happy with what you got. It’s perfect.

TG: Records, schmecords. NFL milestones stood up when the schedule was lengthened to 16 games in 1978. Running backs still target 1,000-yard seasons, but they stopped being special a long time ago. Last year, Fred Jackson hit quadruple digits. He'll be called a 1,000-yard rusher for the rest of his life. Chris Johnson rushed for 2,000 yards, and he was lumped in with O.J. Simpson, who did it in 14 games. Besides, records don't mean nearly as much as they used to because the game itself has changed. Steve Largent retired as the NFL's all-time leading receiver in 1989. Derrick Mason and Larry Centers, a fullback, have more catches, for crying out loud. Eighteen games. Bring it on.

The day O.J. took America on a surreal ride

June, 17, 2010
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Sixteen years ago today, one of the most surreal and flabbergasting moments unfolded in front of the world.

O.J. Simpson -- Hall of Fame running back, luggage-hurdling Hertz pitchman, Officer Nordberg, beloved sports icon -- was a fugitive, accused of murdering his wife and her friend.

Simpson was crouched in the back seat of a white Ford Bronco. His USC and Buffalo Bills teammate, Al Cowlings, was at the steering wheel, leading a low-speed police chase and potential suicide run along Southern California freeways.

"This can't be happening," former Buffalo News sports editor Howard Smith recalled the reaction of a stunned newsroom glued to the television. "O.J. killed his wife? O.J.?!

"Today, it would be like hearing Peyton Manning killed his wife. How can this happen? It's the Juice! All those funny cop movies and the nicest guy on television and, of all people, our guy?"

"June 17th, 1994" is the latest installment of ESPN's "30 for 30" documentary film series. Oscar-nominated director Brett Morgen revisits a colossal time in sports history.

President Bill Clinton presided over World Cup opening ceremonies in Chicago. Arnold Palmer cried at the end of his final round at the U.S. Open. The Houston Rockets and New York Knicks played Game 5 of the NBA Finals in Madison Square Garden -- when NBC wasn't interrupting with O.J. updates. The New York Rangers held their ticker-tape Stanley Cup parade through the Canyon of Heroes. A Major League Baseball strike loomed.

The most indelible images, however, are the overhead footage of a white Bronco being pursued by a fleet of squad cars, with gawkers cheering along the median and on bridges spanning the freeway. The chase ended at Simpson's driveway.

Back in Buffalo, an entire city was stunned.

"O.J. Simpson is the first guy whose autograph I got when I was 7," said Chris "Bulldog" Parker, co-host of the afternoon drive show on Buffalo sports-radio station WGR. Parker watched the Bronco chase while managing a pizzeria.

"That's the beginning of me growing up as a sports fan and not loving it like I used to," Parker continued. "The reality is we don't know these people at all. You can trace a pretty lengthy trail of bread crumbs from there to where we are now about an automatic assumption of guilt over any athlete -- Tiger Woods or whoever -- and what he has been accused of. The Bronco chase was a tipping point."

Simpson was the most revered athlete the city had seen. Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas and Bruce Smith still were active and not yet etched into legendary terms.

"O.J. was the most famous athlete ever from Buffalo," Howard Smith said. "He was still a prominent national figure because he was on television a lot and on NBC with Bob Costas. He was still our spokesman. He was a Buffalo guy and would talk about the Bills. He was an icon.

"Bruce and Kelly and Thurman were viewed as keys to the Super Bowl-slash-pains in the ass. There was a lot of aggravation. It was a bittersweet ride for a while."

That day in Los Angeles, the ride was surreal.

"What everybody thought they were doing was watching this guy take a ride to go kill himself," Parker said. "That's what it felt like. And this was our most famous athlete. Him getting arrested at the end of this ride was a good outcome."

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AFC Easterners dominate no-title list

June, 13, 2010
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NBCSports.com recently compiled a slideshow of the top 52 athletes in any sport never to win a championship.

A healthy chunk of them have AFC East links, and most of them are former Buffalo Bills. The list was presented in alphabetical order.


Moss, Tomlinson and presumably Owens still have chances to remove themselves from the list.

Byrd deserved top rookie award

May, 7, 2010
5/07/10
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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- There was discussion in the Buffalo Bills' media workroom Friday about whether the Pro Football Hall of Fame should remove Lawrence Taylor if the distressing charges against him prove true.

Buffalo News reporter Mark Gaughan, a member of the Hall of Fame's board of selectors, explained that can't happen. Once a player has been inducted -- even if it's O.J. Simpson -- he's in for good.

The NFL doesn't have a history of stripping players of their honors. But in this age of performance-enhancing substances, what if a player earned an award while on steroids?

Last year's defensive rookie of the year, Houston Texans linebacker Brian Cushing, has been suspended the first four games of the upcoming season for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs.

Cushing was voted the top defensive rookie ahead of Bills safety Jairus Byrd, who was named to the Pro Bowl and tied for the league lead with nine interceptions despite playing most of the season with a sports hernia before bowing out the last two games to have surgery.

While we don't know if Cushing violated the policy during the 2009 season or after, it's hard to imagine anybody voting him rookie of the year if they were aware of the transgression.

He entered the league amid suspicions he was juicing, but without a positive test, everybody had to assume his performances were legitimate.

I didn't have a vote, but I agreed Cushing deserved the award ahead of Byrd.

It's possible Cushing broke the rules after he won the award. The NFL tests playoff teams as long as they keep playing, but the Texans didn't qualify. It also conducts offseason drug tests, but Cushing's suspension was handed down in February (the appeal was denied Friday), creating a small window for the violation to have taken place after the 2009 regular season.

As for Byrd, I spoke with him momentarily in the Bills' field house Friday. He looked like he was in good shape. Byrd watched the morning rookie camp session -- head coach Chan Gailey's first practice -- from the sidelines with cornerback Terrence McGee and linebacker Nic Harris. Byrd then went through a running workout inside the field house.

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AFC East's biggest draft busts

May, 7, 2010
5/07/10
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In honor of the Oakland Raiders dumping quarterback JaMarcus Russell three years after they drafted him No. 1 overall, I've put together a list of each AFC East team's biggest busts.

These are my picks, and they’re open for debate. Add your picks in the comments section below.

Kenneth Sims
George Gojkovich/Getty ImagesNew England drafted Kenneth Sims with the first overall pick in 1982.
Buffalo Bills

1. Walt Patulski, defensive end (first overall, 1972): Who? Exactly the point. He played four uninspiring years for the Bills and one more for the St. Louis Cardinals.

2. Mike Williams, tackle (fourth overall, 2002): A good case can be made for Williams to be at the top of this list. He spent four mediocre seasons at right tackle, not even making it over to the blindside.

3. Tony Hunter, tight end (12th overall, 1983): In arguably the greatest first round in NFL draft history, the Bills managed to find a dud two slots ahead of the pick they used on Jim Kelly. Hunter lasted two seasons in Buffalo, starting 12 games and catching 69 passes.

4. Terry Miller, running back (fifth overall, 1978): It's tough to replace O.J. Simpson, but the Bills thought they had their man with Miller. He rushed for 1,060 yards and seven touchdowns as a rookie. Over his next -- and final -- three seasons combined, he rushed for 523 yards and one touchdown.

5. Perry Tuttle, receiver (19th overall, 1982): In two seasons with the Bills, he managed four starts and 24 receptions. Taken one slot after him was Mike Quick.

Miami Dolphins

1. Eric Kumerow, defensive end (16th overall, 1988): Three seasons, zero starts, five sacks.

2. Billy Milner, tackle (25th overall, 1995): He lasted two NFL seasons, starting nine games at right tackle as a rookie. In his second season, the Dolphins traded him to the St. Louis Rams for Troy Drayton. The Rams cut Milner, who retired.

3. Sammie Smith, running back (ninth overall, 1989): He showed promise here and there, rushing for 831 yards and eight touchdowns in his second season. But he was hated by Dolfans for his costly fumbles.

4. Jason Allen, defensive back (16th overall, 2006): He has made a dozen career starts and contributes most of his time to special teams.

5. Yatil Green, receiver (15th overall, 1997): I nearly listed Ted Ginn here, but he added value as a return specialist and actually won a game for the Dolphins last year. Green's career lasted eight games.

New England Patriots

1. Kenneth Sims, defensive end (first overall, 1982): Sims played a full season just once in his eight seasons and played three games or fewer three times. He recorded 17 sacks

2. Eugene Chung, offensive lineman (13th overall, 1992): Chung started 14 games as a rookie and all 16 as a sophomore, but that was all. Chung played three games in 1994 and was gone.

3. Chris Singleton, linebacker, and Ray Agnew, defensive tackle (eighth and 10th overall, 1990): I couldn't pick one without the other. The Pats traded the third overall pick to the Seattle Seahawks for these two. The Seahawks took future Hall of Famer Cortez Kennedy. In between Singleton and Agnew, the Dolphins drafted potential Hall of Fame tackle Richmond Webb.

4. Hart Lee Dykes, receiver (16th overall, 1989): Two seasons, 18 starts, 83 receptions, seven touchdowns, out of football.

5. Andy Katzenmoyer, linebacker (28th overall, 1999): A neck injury was at issue, but he left the team without permission and was cut after his second season. He made 14 starts.

New York Jets

1. Blair Thomas, running back (second overall, 1990): Over four seasons with the Jets, he rushed for five touchdowns.

2. Johnny "Lam" Jones, receiver (second overall, 1980): He finished his career with 138 receptions for 2,322 yards and 13 touchdowns. Art Monk might've been the better choice.

3. Dave Cadigan, guard (eighth overall, 1988): He spent six seasons with the Jets, but he totaled 13 starts through his first three seasons. The Minnesota Vikings found Hall of Fame guard Randall McDaniel with the 19th pick.

4. Reggie Rembert, receiver (28th overall, 1990): A triple whiff. The Jets couldn't sign Rembert and were forced to deal him. They sent him to the Cincinnati Bengals for offensive lineman Scott Jones and linebacker Joe Kelly. Rembert finished his career with 36 catches and one touchdown.

5. Alex Van Dyke, receiver (31st overall, 1996): I considered Vernon Gholston here, but went with Van Dyke based on his 26 career catches and three receivers taken soon after him. Amani Toomer, Muhsin Muhammad and Bobby Engram did OK.

NFL's top 75 draft picks down to top 10

April, 21, 2010
4/21/10
1:30
PM ET
NFL.com's unveiling of the 75 greatest draft picks resumed Wednesday with picks No. 11 through 25. No AFC East teams made selections in this group, but a couple are in the division now.

The top 10 selections will be named during Thursday's draft telecast on the NFL Network.

Here are the players with AFC East ties on the list so far:

16. Randy Moss, Vikings receiver (1998, first round)

22. LaDainian Tomlinson, Chargers running back (2001, first round)

33. Joe Namath, Jets quarterback (1965, first round)

35. Bruce Smith, Bills defensive end (1985, first round)

42. O.J. Simpson, Bills running back (1969, first round)

45. Jim Kelly, Bills quarterback (1983, first round)

47. Junior Seau, Chargers linebacker (1990, first round)

55. Thurman Thomas, Bills running back (1988, second round)

61. Terrell Owens, 49ers receiver (1996, third round)

67. Larry Csonka, Dolphins running back (1968, first round)

More of 75 greatest draft picks revealed

April, 20, 2010
4/20/10
6:57
PM ET
NFL.com's unveiling of the 75 greatest draft picks resumed Tuesday with picks No. 26 through 50.

Picks No. 11 through 49 will be announced Wednesday, and the top 10 will be named during Thursday's draft telecast on the NFL Network.

Here are the players with AFC East ties on the list so far:

33. Joe Namath, Jets quarterback (1965, first round)

35. Bruce Smith, Bills defensive end (1985, first round)

42. O.J. Simpson, Bills running back (1969, first round)

45. Jim Kelly, Bills quarterback (1983, first round)

47. Junior Seau, Chargers linebacker (1990, first round)

55. Thurman Thomas, Bills running back (1988, second round)

61. Terrell Owens, 49ers receiver (1996, third round)

67. Larry Csonka, Dolphins running back (1968, first round)

AFC East influential in top five draft classes

April, 16, 2010
4/16/10
4:11
PM ET
This must be some sort of record.

In three straight posts, I mention NFC West blogger Mike Sando.

The guy's all over the place.

Sando has completed a project to determine the five greatest draft classes since 1967, when the NFL and AFL combined for a common draft.

Sando, using a criteria that sorts through individual awards and championships, concluded the best were 1983, 1996, 1981, 1969 and 1985.

A lot of AFC East stars played roles in making those drafts great.

Jim Kelly, Dan Marino, Ken O'Brien and Tony Eason were among that glorious quarterback class of 1983. Miami Dolphins receiver Mark Clayton and Buffalo Bills outside linebacker Darryl Talley also were selected that spring.

Dolphins linebacker Zach Thomas, found in the fifth round, was a highlight of the 1996 class.

The 1981 class included New York Jets running back Freeman McNeil, New England Patriots tackle Brian Holloway and outside linebacker Hugh Green, who later played for the Dolphins.

Bills running back O.J. Simpson was the first pick if the 1969 draft. Ten picks later, the Dolphins took defensive end Bill Stanfill.

Another notable No. 1 Bills pick started off the 1985 draft: defensive end Bruce Smith. The Bills also snagged receiver Andre Reed in the fourth round. Special-team ace Steve Tasker was a ninth-round pick for the Houston Oilers before making seven Pro Bowls for Buffalo. Another big name that year was Jets receiver Al Toon.

Sorting through all-time draft polls

April, 10, 2010
4/10/10
1:33
PM ET
I have a few problems with the NFL's attempt to determine the 75 most valuable draft picks of all-time.

The project was created to celebrate the 75th draft, which will begin April 22. Fans can vote through April 18.

On Thursday, the NFL provided a rundown of the 20 who've received the most votes so far. The list indicated a popularity contest, not an actual consideration for draft value. One player among the list of 20, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, was taken later than 82nd overall.

Not in the top 20? Pro Football Hall of Famers Deacon Jones, Roger Staubach, Ken Houston or Rayfield Wright, who were selected in the 14th, 10th, ninth and seventh rounds.

Also absent were former league MVPs Mark Moseley (14th round), Brian Sipe (13th round), Larry Brown (ninth round) and Terrell Davis (sixth round). Six-time Pro Bowler L.C. Greenwood (10th round), five-time Pro Bowler Tom Nalen (seventh round) and Bo Jackson (seventh round) weren't there either.

So I set out to post my own list on the blog.

I didn't get far.

Soon after I began sketching out my list, I noticed the ballot doesn't offer Wright as an option to begin with.

NFL.com set up the project by creating the pool, 10 players from each team. Wright didn't make the cut. Another omission was Steve Largent, a fourth-round selection who retired as the all-time receptions leader.

The Houston Oilers drafted Largent. The Oilers/Tennessee Titans' list did, however, include Derrick Mason. And for those who might think Largent shouldn't qualify because he didn't play for the Oilers, know that kicker Gary Anderson is listed for the Buffalo Bills, tackle Leon Gray for the Miami Dolphins and punter Craig Hentrich for the New York Jets.

I gave up on the endeavor, but needed to expunge that draft-ranking jones from my system.

Thankfully, I found an outlet at BuffaloBills.com. It's running a satisfactory all-time draft poll that instructs visitors to "Select the 10 players you feel provided the team with the most value." So Anderson isn't an option.

Here's my Bills list:

1. Thurman Thomas, second round

2. Andre Reed, fourth round

3. Bruce Smith, first round

4. Jim Kelly, first round

5. O.J. Simpson, first round

6. George Saimes, sixth round (AFL)

7. Tom Sestak, 17th round (AFL)

8. Howard Ballard, 11th round

9. Darryl Talley, second round

10. Joe Ferguson, third round

Now I feel better.

The Bills' official list will be revealed April 22 at a season-ticket holder draft party.

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