Bills finally honor AFL great Cookie Gilchrist

Getty Images

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.

23 responses to “Bills finally honor AFL great Cookie Gilchrist

  1. I just got notified by Bills mobile that Cookie Gilchrist is being put on our Wall of Fame!! About frigging time! He is why I became a fan since 1963. Rode his shoulders after a practice in July that year. 2 runs of 20 yards each. 2nd run like in a game with the zigging and zagging. The earliest, happiest day of my life. 54 years later and I still bleed for this team.

  2. So, now I know why he wasn’t recognized with a place on the Bills’ Wall of Fame. What I still don’t understand is why he hasn’t gotten the recognition from fans, media, and historians around the League. Gilchrist belongs in the conversations and on the lists of the all-time greats. He earned it.

  3. This is simply a charade by the Pelugas….Next up… The long snapper from the 4 time losing super bowl… Ahem “Dynasty”…

  4. Wow he sounded like a bad dude. That was a very interesting bio and I’m glad he is getting his due. 6-3 251 back in the 60’s? He must have been a monster. If he said he was going to beat my —, I would’ve been scared to death.

  5. This Bronco fan loved watching the Cookie Monster play. He was old school, when football was about butting heads, not head lines and endorsements.

  6. Nice move by the new owner. Cookie Gilchrist is the epitome of what was called back in the day a “race man”. His stance at the AFL all star game with other players of color stands as a measure of putting yourself on the line for what you believe in. Now young kids can look at that wall and read the story of a hero.

  7. tylawpick6 – easy on the comment unless you know the details. Cookie played on the Bills for only 3 years – winning one of our 2 Championships. He as an excellent runner and receiver. John Madden called him the greatest blocking running back of all time. Cookie was also controversial in his day – a stout activist in the 60’s. He was a leader on the boycott of the AFL All Star game in New Orleans in 1965. This is partially created with eliminating segregation in New Orleans and getting them an NFl team in 1967.Cookie WAS on the Bills Wall of Honor at their original War Memorial Stadium downtown in 1970. However, with the building of the new stadium those names were not transferred. Cookie clashed with owner Ralph Wilson over his contract and the Bills let him go. Incidentally, Ralph Wilson clashed with several people over his 50+ years as the original Bills owner – including Cookie Gilchrist, Lou Saban and Wade Phillips.

    In summary – Cookie Gilchrist was a great player in his 3 short years in Buffalo. He won an AFL Championship and was League MVP. His was considered controversial in his time and clashed with the owner who died a few years ago. The new Bills owner has decided to honor him.

  8. Cookie Gilchrist was a Beast. He could run over you or around you. One of the few players to play in the NFL who never went to college or play college football.
    He definitely deserves this honor.

  9. Gilchrist, Jack Kemp and the Bills were a team to be feared in the fledgling AFL. My Pats led by Babe Parilli, Gino Capelletti and a line with Houston Antwine and Larry Eisenhower had some terrific games in a struggling league….they were really fun games if not all that athletic or artistic.

  10. “Cookie Gilchrist was a Beast. He could run over you or around you.”

    Here’s a scary thought. He’s 6’3″ over 250. He tells you he’s going to kick your butt. You take off running. He can catch you. A monster and a great ballplayer.

  11. Way overdue. I thought he ran just as good as Jimmy Brown. Cookie also played once in a while,linebacker and placekicker. He had the guts to lead a boycott of an AFL ALL STAR game in New Orleans. The black and white players stuck together because of the way black players were discriminated against by the city. He should be also in the NFL Hall of Fame. One tough football player.

  12. orangedestroyer says: Jim Brown before the real Jim Brown
    Sorry, no cigar. Jim Brown joined the NFL in 1957, Cookie Gilchrist (who was a beast)joined the NFL in 1962…Jim Brown was already Jim Brown…

  13. joetoronto says:

    August 30, 2017 at 11:38 am

    Buffalo’s claim to fame, the 1964 AFL championship.
    Better than Toronto’s claim to fame, the Maple Leafs when they won the Stanley Cup in the 60s where there were only 2 or 4 teams. Somebody had to win.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Not a member? Register now!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.