Bills running back Cookie Gilchrist was one of the greatest players in the history of the American Football League, and he led that league in rushing as Buffalo won the 1964 AFL championship. But the team hasn’t honored Gilchrist with a place on its Wall of Fame.
That will change on October 29, when Gilchrist is honored as the Wall of Fame’s latest member. Unfortunately, Gilchrist, who died in 2011, won’t be there to enjoy it.
So what took so long? Gilchrist had a decades-long feud with former Bills owner Ralph Wilson, and Wilson reportedly refused to consider Gilchrist for the Wall of Fame, even though he was an AFL MVP who twice led the league in rushing. Only with Wilson dead and Terry Pegula owning the Bills is that wrong being righted.
Gilchrist has a unique history with personal issues getting in the way of honoring his on-field accomplishments: Before he played in the AFL he played in the Canadian Football League, and he’s the only person ever to decline induction into the CFL Hall of Fame. His reasoning then was that he had butted heads with the CFL’s commissioner, wouldn’t agree not to criticize the commissioner in his induction speech, and felt that he had been subjected to racial discrimination by the CFL.
A character in the locker room, Gilchrist was remembered in Buffalo for a speech he gave before the Bills won the 1964 AFL Championship Game, telling his teammates and his coaches he’d “beat the s— out of everybody in this locker room” (starting with Bills head coach Lou Saban) if they lost. Gilchrist did his part, carrying 16 times for 122 yards and adding two catches for 22 yards as the Bills beat the Chargers to win the title.
Gilchrist was so good in high school that Paul Brown tried to sign him to play for the Cleveland Browns as a 19-year-old in 1954, a signing the NFL rejected. That led Gilchrist to head north and play two years in the now-defunct Ontario Rugby Football Union. He then moved on to the CFL, where he was a five-time All-Star, and then finally to the AFL’s Bills in 1962. He later played for the Broncos and Dolphins.
At 6-foot-3 and 251 pounds, Gilchrist was a running back who was bigger than some linemen in those days. In addition to leading the league in rushing twice, he set a pro football record with a 243-yard rushing game in 1963 and led the AFL in touchdowns in every season he played in Buffalo. He was a great Bill, and it’s long past time that he’s recognized as one.