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Carlton Chester 'Cookie' Gilchrist


       Carlton Chester "Cookie" Gilchrist came from the Canadian Football League and took American Professional Football by storm.  With the Buffalo Bills in 1962, his first year in the league, he became its first thousand-yard rusher, gaining (in a 14-game season) 1,096 yards on 246 carries for a 5.1 yards-per-carry average and 13 touchdowns, an all-time league record.  He also caught 24 passes for 319 yards and two touchdowns, and kicked 14 extra points and seven field goals, the longest a 42-yarder.  His feats earned him the United Press International and Associated Press selections as the American Football League's Most Valuable Player.  He is in my American Football League Hall of Fame.
      The following brief story of Cookie's life is my take on it, as I have learned of it, and observed it as a fan.  Others may interpret it differently, and this article is followed by some of Cookie's own words.
        Cookie was a phenomenally gifted high school football player in Brackenridge, PA, and a good prospect for stardom at Michigan State, when Paul Brown illegally signed him to a contract, promised him he would play for the NFL's Browns, then ren
éged and told Cookie to go to Canada.  Cookie thus missed out on a college education as well as the chance to be drafted by both the NFL and AFL during the AFL-NFL signing wars.
       Gilchrist tore up the Ontario Rugby Football Union, then starred in the Canadian Football League, then went to the Bills for his MVP year, an AFL Championship, and American Football League immortality.  Always outspoken, he did not hide his revulsion of the way he felt players in general and blacks in particular  were used by the system.  Just after the 1964 season, this resoluteness  led to one of the AFL's finest hours, when Cookie was a leader in the AFL All-Star team's boycott of New Orleans, after black players were demeaned and refused service there.  This was one of the first successful actions under the nation's new civil rights laws.
         But Gilchrist's refusal to tone down his criticism of treatment he felt was unfair, and in some cases his own pride, likely led to his exclusion from the CFL Hall of Fame and the Buffalo Bills' Wall of Fame.
        The sketch above was drawn by Murray Olderman, one of the first full-time Professional Football writers, for his 1969 book, The Running Backs.  In it, Olderman picked the ten top running backs ever, and he had Gilchrist at number eight, ahead of Pro Football Hall of Famers Marion Motley and Lenny Moore.  Not only Motley and Moore, but every one of the other ten, except for Cookie, are members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
         Cookie belongs in the CFL Hall of Fame, and on the Buffalo Bills' Wall of Fame, and in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
        In 2006, Gilchrist, a non-smoking, non-drinking vegetarian, nevertheless contracted throat cancer.  After surgery, he was down to 175 pounds and is now undergoing treatment.  He has looked death in the eye, and as it was when he played against the best, he did not blink.
         His close encounter, and the outpouring of support he received from friends and fans across North America have led him to write the letters reproduced below.  One is to Larry Felser, who recently described Cookie's fight with cancer; one is to the fans who supported him; and one is to Ralph C. Wilson Jr., the owner of the Bills.
          I always thought Cookie was a special person.  Now I know it.

......Ange Coniglio, April 29, 2007   

Note:.See the Gilchrist family's tribute at


Dear Larry:

I just wanted to take a few minutes to provide an update on my health.

With humility and gratefulness to so many, I am happy to say that while I still have a long way to go, my doctors have told me that my cancer is in remission and the long-term prognosis is for a full recovery. Not only my words, but theirs as well; my recovery has been nothing short of a miracle. From death's door, and that is not an exaggeration, I am now looking forward to a full, healthy and long life.

My personal faith in Christ, the skilled doctors at Alle-Kiski Medical center and my guardian angel Gale Hazlett have all been major factors to this remarkable turnaround. This letter is to tell you of another major contributor to my recovery.

Throughout my career, the Buffalo Bills fans have always supported me. But in the past 32 years, through my own fault, Cookie Gilchrist had been a forgotten name. Or so I thought!

Since the article March 18th article that you wrote about my health, I have been blessed by an outpouring of support. Literally hundreds of letters have poured to my door since the article was written. Each time I think about this, my eyes fill with tears. Though I would love to do so, it would be impossible to thank each and every one of these people by myself, so I am asking you to do so for me.

When you are given a second chance at life, it causes you to reflect and to want to give back. My cancer has done exactly that in my life. I am not exactly sure how or when, but I want to do something to thank the people of Buffalo for their contribution to my recovery.

About all I can add is to say,

Thank you, thank you, thank you!


Dear Friend:

Let me begin by thanking you for your letter of support.
Your kind words, and those of so many others, have been a major factor in my recovery. You will forever be in my heart and in my prayers.

When somebody experiences a life-changing event as I have, you realize how blessed you are. Though I am not sure the form it will exactly take, I want to somehow give back for the many blessings that I have received.

In 2000, I formed the Chester Carlton Gilchirst Foundation with plans to give back. Until today, that foundation was unfunded. With your permission, I am going to use your kind gift of funds, along with others that I have received, as seed money to begin the work of the foundation.

Please continue to keep me in your prayers.

Chester Carlton (Cookie) Gilchrist


Mr. Ralph C. Wilson, Jr., President
Buffalo Bills Football Club, Inc.
One Bills Drive
Orchard Park, NY 14127

Dear Mr. Wilson:

As you may be aware, I have been blessed with a second chance at life due to a miraculous recovery from throat cancer.  Along with my strengthened faith, it has caused me to reflect on many things.

Would you please be kind enough to read my long over due letter? It is one of many that I have written to you over the years, but never mailed.

Mr. Wilson, it has always been an honor for me to be a Buffalo Bill. It was an easy decision for me the day Harvey (Stud) Johnson and Jack Horrigan came to my apartment at 110 Rosedale Valley Road, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, to see if I would join your club over going to the LA Rams. Everything about that meeting made me feel that it was the right decision and one that I have never regretted.

While as a member of the Buffalo Bills, 1962-1964, my teammates and I did everything we could to play as a team in order to win a championship. With the God given talents of our team, combined with the help and full support of you, your administration, coaching staff, and our fans; working together we were able to accomplish that tremendous feat in 1964 and 1965. Your leadership, the entire staff and the many great teams that have worn the Bills uniform have contributed to making the Buffalo Bills one of the most solid, lucrative, and respected franchise in all of Pro Football.

Mr. Wilson, a lot of water has flowed over Niagara Falls since you and I parted company. For some reason, you and I have been estranged and I would like to change that. It is said "to err is human, but to forgive is divine." For what ever part my actions played, I humbly ask your forgiveness.

You may not remember, but you once paid me a great compliment. "He could be an All -Pro today. He had size, 2501bs, but could run like Thurman Thomas. He only had a high school education, but he could be very, very entertaining. He was smart, but he was hard to control. He gave us three years and he was very instrumental in our success back in those days." They are words that I will always treasure.

One of the many blessings that I have received has been the concern of the fans when they learned of my illness. Though I have never stopped being a Buffalo Bill, the many words of encouragement that I read on the various Bills message boards have renewed my desire to once again be an active member of the Bills family. In the near future, I hope to visit Buffalo to personally thank the fans for the outpouring of support.


Mr. Wilson, with your blessing, it would be an honor for me to once again be a member of the Buffalo Bills family.  It is my sincere hope that we work together to provide that championship atmosphere to ourselves and the many thousands of Bills fans. As we all say, "Once a Buffalo Bill, always a Buffalo Bill". 

My love, respect and prayers go out to you, your family and the entire Buffalo
Bills family. I would love to hear from you. 

In Christ I trust.


Chester Carlton "Cookie" Gilchrist 

cc: Mr. Jack Kemp


Cookie has received many well-wishes from fans and former AFL team-mates and adversaries.  Below is an example.

Hi Cookie, ... just wanted to be remembered to you as a former member of the Texans and Chiefs that played against you at Buffalo and Denver ... you were a truly great player and one of the most entertaining people I ever met.
...your friend,  Chris Burford


Tuesday, January 11, 2011
Copyright 2011 by the Buffalo News

Gilchrist put Bills into city's soul
Team's first superstar died Monday at 75

January 11, 2011

No athlete in Buffalo history ever had such a short-lived run in Western New York while making such a big impact on the community's sporting consciousness as Cookie Gilchrist.

Gilchrist, a man who ran like a freight train on the field and was larger than life off it, died early Monday of cancer in an assisted-living facility near Pittsburgh. He was 75.

Gilchrist was the first superstar of the Buffalo Bills. His tenure lasted only from 1962 to 1964, but his exploits in helping the Bills to their first American Football League championship helped ingrain the Bills as part of the fabric of the society.

"Of all the football players I've seen over my years, he'd be in the top five, there's no question about that," said Joe Collier, a former Bills head coach and one of the most respected defensive minds in football."


Gilchrist played in Buffalo for three seasons, from 1962 to 1964.   The late Jack Kemp considered Gilchrist to be the greatest football player ever.

Cookie Gilchrist, to my way of thinking, was one of the greatest professional football players who have ever played the game, either NFL or AFL," said the late Jack Kemp, in an interview with The Buffalo News in 2002.

"Cookie was better than Jim Brown," Kemp said, referring to the Cleveland Browns' runner widely considered the greatest player ever. "Jim Brown is a good friend of mine, but Cookie in my opinion was better all around. He could block. He could catch passes. He could tackle. He could kick field goals. Jim Brown was the greatest runner. Cookie was greater all-around."

"If he had played his whole career in the NFL, absolutely, he'd have been a Hall of Famer, no doubt about it," said former Bills tight end Ernie Warlick.

Gilchrist came to Buffalo as a 27-year-old "rookie" in '62 after spending the previous six seasons in the Canadian Football League. Over the next three seasons he combined for 3,931 yards rushing and receiving and scored 35 touchdowns. He set a single-game pro football rushing record with 243 yards in a 1963 game against the New York Jets at War Memorial Stadium. He rushed for 122 yards in the Bills' 20-7 victory over the San Diego Chargers for the AFL championship in 1964.

At 6-foot-3 and 251 pounds, Gilchrist was one of the most powerful runners the game had seen, but he also had enough speed to get around the corner against defenses.

"There was none any better than Cookie in hitting the hole from tackle to tackle," said Bills Hall of Fame guard Billy Shaw. "He would punish linebackers and defensive linemen. He would hit the blocker in front of him if he didn't get out of the way. I have scars in my back from when someone would stalemate me at the line, and here comes Cookie from behind me. He didn't care what color jersey you had on, he was going forward."

Gilchrist was not as fast as Brown, but he was about 15 to 20 pounds heavier.

"I don't know if he had the type of quickness Jim Brown had," said Collier from his home in Colorado. "Jim Brown could wiggle in the open field. Cookie was not a wiggle guy. He was a straight-ahead type guy. But in those days he was the perfect guy."

Gilchrist's outspoken nature got him embroiled in a controversy in the 1964 season that led to his departure from the Bills.

The Bills were riding a nine-game winning streak and playing their arch rivals, the Boston Patriots, in Buffalo. Gilchrist, mad about the Bills' pass-oriented game plan, took himself out of the game late in the first half and refused to go back in. The Bills lost, 36-28. Coach Lou Saban waived Gilchrist two days later. Kemp brokered a reconciliation, and Saban took Gilchrist back after the big fullback apologized on live television.

Four weeks later, the Bills played an all-or-nothing regular season finale at Boston. On the first play from scrimmage, Gilchrist set the tone with a 9-yard run off tackle.

"We ran a slide play," Bills back Wray Carlton told The News in 1997. "Cookie broke it to the outside, and he ran straight at Patriots cornerback Chuck Shonta. Cookie ran right over him and knocked him out cold. Shonta was laying on the field, and Cookie walked back to the huddle and said to the Patriots standing around him, 'OK, which one of you [so-and-sos] is next?'"

The Bills won, 24-14. However, Saban had seen enough of Gilchrist's nonconformist nature and traded him to Denver after the season. Gilchrist played three more seasons before retiring.

Gilchrist had a chip on his shoulder his entire adult life over the fact he did not get a fair shake from the football establishment.

He was born Chester Carlton Gilchrist, named for a black physician, Dr. Chester Harris. Gilchrist was not sure where his nickname came from but did not mind it because he said "there's never been a bad cookie."

Gilchrist was a high school football star at Har-Brack High School in Natrona Heights, Pa., near Pittsburgh. His junior season was his last because he was going to turn 19 before his senior season, too old under the scholastic regulations.

Along came Paul Brown, great coach of the Cleveland Browns, who offered Gilchrist $5,500 to try out for the National Football League NFL team. Gilchrist accepted but before he ever collected, the NFL decided it was not going to allow signing of underage players. By Gilchrist's count, more than 100 universities were recruiting him. But even if he had sat out a year before going to college, he would have been ineligible; the colleges decided his pro deal violated his amateur status.

Brown sent Gilchrist to play rugby in Canada. Gilchrist played two seasons in the Ontario Rugby Football Union, then jumped to the CFL's Hamilton Tiger-Cats. He tore up the CFL for six seasons, two with Hamilton, one with Saskatchewan and three with the Toronto Argonauts before Bills scout Harvey Johnson lured him to Buffalo. He still holds the Argos' single game record of 27 points.

Gilchrist enjoyed his time in Canada, but having to spend some of his best years in obscurity north of the border -- and losing out on NFL salaries -- rankled him.

He refused induction into the CFL Hall of Fame due to what he felt was exploitation by league owners. He resisted most offers to return to Buffalo for appearances due to what he felt was unsatisfactory compensation.

"He couldn't get that out of his craw," said Bills great Booker Edgerson, a loyal friend of Gilchrist. "He felt if he had been able to go to college he'd have been a better person for it. But he was a bright guy. ... I told him, 'Cookie, you came out on your own because you were ineligible to play [in high school].' He never got over it. He talked about it and talked about it. He didn't take advantage of so many good opportunities he could have had. The people of Buffalo and Western New York loved him."

Gilchrist also fought injustice off the field during the '60s. In 1965, he led a group of 21 black players to boycott the AFL All-Star Game, which was to be held in New Orleans. The AFL players encountered segregation at hotels and restaurants upon their arrival in the city.

"The next morning," Warlick said, "all of the guys got a call from Cookie saying we were going to have a meeting because we ran into segregation and I think we need to talk about it. All the black players were there, and a couple of white guys attended the meeting. Cookie was the one who spearheaded it. We voted not to play."

The game subsequently was moved to Houston, and the embarrassment had at least some impact on changing some segregation practices in New Orleans, which led to the city getting an NFL franchise.

Gilchrist overcame throat cancer in 2007, but cancer returned in more aggressive form in September and he had been in the hospital since.

Bills owner Ralph C. Wilson Jr. released this statement:

"The Bills were very lucky to have procured the services of Cookie Gilchrist who was one of the greatest fullbacks I have ever seen in all of my years in professional football. ... He was the greatest extemporaneous speaker that I have ever heard. At a banquet, he could get up and talk on any subject no matter what it was.

"I had the opportunity last week to speak with Cookie by telephone and we had a good conversation. Today is a sad day for me, the Bills and all of the community that Cookie is no longer with us and I want to offer my deepest sympathies to his family and friends."

Gilchrist is survived by two sons, Jeffrey and Scott, and a daughter, Christina, all of Toronto. Visitation is Wednesday in Ross G. Walker Funeral Home, New Kensington, Pa. The funeral is Thursday.



day, January 11, 2011
Copyright 2011 by the Buffalo News

Cookie was outspoken, ahead of his time
Gilchrist had a personality that was every bit as big as his talent


January 11, 2011

There are times in this business when you envy the older guys, when you wish you could look back fondly to a simpler, earlier time. One of my few regrets is I never got to see Cookie Gilchrist play football. From what I'm told, he was one of those players you had to see up close to appreciate his rare combination of power, size and skill.

Larry Felser, who covered the Bills from the start, has called Gilchrist the best player, pound for pound, he ever saw. The late Jack Kemp, who played in the same backfield, said Cookie was a better all-around player than Jim Brown.

But it goes beyond Gilchrist's raw athletic ability. Even more so, it would have been a treat to know and interview Cookie back in his playing days, when he was young and defiant, a constant thorn in Ralph Wilson's side. Gilchrist had a personality that was every bit as big as his talent, and a chip on his shoulder that was worthy of his 6-foot-3, 251-pound frame.

Gilchrist, who died at age 75 on Monday of cancer, was ahead of his time as a player and a man. He was the progenitor of the big, bruising featured back. In other ways, he was a throwback. During his six years in Canada, Gilchrist played both ways. He kicked and played special teams. He kicked field goals one year for the Bills. Harvey Johnson, who scouted Gilchrist in Canada and later coached the Bills, felt he was better on defense.

Cookie thought so, too. In his later years, Gilchrist had his own website, where he would expound on all manner of subjects. Even football:

"This iconoclastic football player played every position except quarterback," he wrote. "And he would have done that too, if he could have handed off to himself."

That was classic Cookie, no stranger to self-promotion and hyperbole. He would call Wilson late at night to ask for a new contract. He would walk up to the owner and ask for a personal loan. Once, Wilson opened his wallet and pulled out $100. He said that was all he had. Gilchrist turned it down. It was beneath him to accept so piddly a sum.

Gilchrist never felt he was paid enough. He was right, of course. This was a time before player unions, when the typical professional athlete had scant leverage with ownership. But Cookie was no typical athlete. In the spring of '64, he wrote a letter to Wilson, coach Lou Saban and the rest of Bills management. It began: "Gentlemen, it unfortunately becomes necessary again for me to formally request that you make efforts to trade me to some other football club."

He got a raise. The Bills won their first nine games. In the 10th game against Boston at War Memorial Stadium, the Bills lost a game in which Kemp and Daryle Lamonica combined to throw 53 passes. Gilchrist was so upset with his lack of work, he sent his rookie backup, Willie Ross, into the game without telling Saban.

The Bills put Gilchrist on waivers two days later. Gilchrist went to practice that week and apologized to his teammates, many of whom had been furious with his actions. Saban met with Cookie and took him back. He said he did not think Gilchrist was capable of humbling himself that way. Still, the Bills traded Gilchrist to Denver after the season.

Gilchrist was a complicated man, a tortured soul. Paul Brown signed him when he was 18 and brought him to the Cleveland Browns' camp. The signing was later deemed illegal by the NFL. Brown pulled back his promise that Gilchrist would make the team. He was no longer eligible to play college ball. So he left for Canada, where he played for eight years before joining the Bills in 1962.

Imagine how good Gilchrist must have been for a sainted figure like Brown to attempt to circumvent the rules for him! Evidently, people were trying to take advantage of gifted high school athletes long before Cam Newton and Reggie Bush came along. Gilchrist never got over it. From then on, he was suspicious of the men who ran the sport.

"He held that grudge all his life," said Ang Coniglio, the Amherst resident and AFL historian.

At the time of that Boston game in '64, Gilchrist was being profiled by a Sports Illustrated piece by Edwin Shrake. It's a fascinating piece of journalism, elevated by Shrake's writing and his subject's rambling, profound and often outrageous comments.

"People think I'm an oddball because I'm a Negro who speak up," Gilchrist said in the article. "But I have a lot on my mind. It's an internal disease, and it'll eat me alive if I don't get it out of my system what I think about things."

You can go years without hearing such a quote from an athlete these days. Most pro athletes are practiced in the art of saying nothing. They need to watch the film before admitting they made a bad throw. Few of them ever dare express a provocative or political thought. It's bad for business to have real opinions, as any player agent could tell you.

Gilchrist was open about the question of race. Remember, this was before the Civil Rights Act was passed in July of 1964. Black athletes were still housed separately from their white teammates in some southern cities. After the '64 season, Gilchrist led a group of 21 black players who boycotted the All-Star Game in New Orleans, because they could not get service or respect in some of that city's establishments.

They won. The game was moved to Houston. Gilchrist later said his role in the boycott was "better than anything I did playing football."

I spoke with Gilchrist for the first and only time in June 2005. The Bills were celebrating their championship teams. Members of the AFL champions and Super Bowl teams showed up. Cookie, as usual, did not. He wanted a special appearance fee. By then, the Bills had stopped asking, because the answer was always the same.

"I played football for one reason," he told me. "To get paid. I didn't get paid what I was worth when I played for the Buffalo Bills. It's impossible for you to even comprehend the full magnitude of my contribution, not only to the Bills or Toronto Argonauts, but the economy of America."

Gilchrist then launched into a 15-minute rant on slavery, the Bible, racism, the Constitution and what he considered a "curse" placed on black people. I couldn't tell if I was dealing with a crackpot or a genius, or something in-between. I wrote a column about his rift with the Bills. The next time I contacted him, he said he never wanted to speak to me again.

Old friends and teammates pleaded with Gilchrist to soften his position and reap some of the rewards that were available to him. Booker Edgerson tried to help. The late Jim Peters, who covered the Bills in the AFL days, spoke to Gilchrist regularly and wanted him to write a book.

Felser urged Cookie to do an interview with ESPN. He told him the network had seen his game films and been floored. He said there might be a book or a movie in it. Gilchrist told Felser he'd do it. A week before the scheduled taping, he backed out.

It was true what he said in the old SI piece. He never quite got his resentments out of his system. "The division between Ralph Wilson and myself is not going to be resolved," he said in our '05 interview. "What is he, 87? I think he'll be 87 on October the 17th, if I'm not mistaken."

He had Wilson's age and birthday exactly. That's the sort of memory Gilchrist had. He would call the children of friends on their birthdays. When he was diagnosed with cancer in 2007, he reached out to friends and said he was happy just to be alive.

Toward the end, Gilchrist found some kind of peace. Wilson, speaking in a press release, said he and Cookie had a good talk over the phone last week. Let's hope they made amends, the way Wilson and John Butler did when his former general manager died in '03.

Wilson once told me he has no problem putting Gilchrist on the Wall of Fame. He worried that he wouldn't show up. Well, the Bills can finally put Cookie on the Wall, where he belongs, and give Buffalo fans one last chance to cheer one of the best ever to play the game.



Chester Carlton 'Cookie' Gilchrist  
May 25, 1935 ~ January 10, 2010

Rest in Peace


Sports Editor, USA Today
January 10, 2011

Dear Editor:
I am disappointed that you could spare little more than three lines  on the death of American Football League superstar Cookie Gilchrist.  When Jim Brown goes to his just reward, will you devote more than three lines to his career?

         The AFL was the genesis of modern Professional Football, and Gilchrist was as important to the AFL as Brown was to the NFL, if not more so.  Gilchrist once held Pro Football's single-game rushing record, and was instrumental in a seminal civil rights action, the boycotting of New Orleans after racist incidents led to a change of venue for the 1965 AFL All-Star Game.  These are but two of his accomplishments.

           Seems you could have used a bit more space to record his passing.

Angelo F. Coniglio


June 25, 2011
Sports Editor
The Buffalo News


          Recently, News columnist Jerry Sullivan called for Cookie Gilchrist to be put on the Buffalo Bills Wall of Fame.

           Buffalo sports media, along with Ralph Wilson, seem to have forgotten that in 1971, Gilchrist was the first enshrinee in the "newly created" Buffalo Bills' Hall of Fame. This fact was reported in newspaper articles of the day.  Wilson presented Cookie with a small plaque commemorating the induction, and promised that when the Bills moved to the Orchard Park stadium, a "larger, 4-foot by 8-foot plaque" would be enshrined there.

          This was obviously before the present "Wall of Fame" was conceived or instituted. However, Cookie had passed the requirement of being retired for three years, and was the first to be selected for the Bills' Hall of Fame. Seems to me that nothing more need be done except to put his name on the Wall, where it should have been since the stadium was built.

NOTE: A copy of a 1971 article about the induction is shown below, entitled "Gilchrist Enshrined in Bills' Hall of Fame".


Angelo F. Coniglio



On August 30, 2017, FORTY-SIX YEARS after Cookie was told he was the first member of the 'Bills Hall of Fame', the team announced that his name would go on their Wall of Fame at the game against the Oakland Raiders on  October 29, 2017.


Thursday, August 31, 2017
Copyright 2017 by the Buffalo News

Cookie Gilchrist's Wall-of-Fame honor rights oversight
August 31, 2017

Fans of the Buffalo Bills' "original glory days" can rejoice.

The two long-standing oversights on the Bills' Wall of Fame now have been corrected with Wednesday's announcement that Cookie Gilchrist has been given the team's highest individual honor.

Cookie's name will go up on the wall on Oct. 29 and join that of great coach Lou Saban, who was inducted to the wall in 2015. Good for the Pegulas on both counts.

Gilchrist was the original superstar of Bills football. He was larger than life, a 1,000-watt personality. He captured the city's imagination by leading the AFL in rushing with 1,096 yards in 1962, his first Bills season. He set the pro football record for rushing yards in a game when he ran for 243 on the Jets in the Rockpile on Dec. 8, 1963.

Cookie Gilchrist played with the Buffalo Bills for three seasons in the AFL years. (Buffalo News archives).

At 6-foot-2 and 248 pounds, Cookie was a physical freak of nature who would have been great in any era. He was greatest at running between the tackles. However, he had more speed to get around the corner than most big backs -- better speed around the corner than Jerome Bettis, not as much as Earl Campbell. And Cookie ran like "a bad man."

"I have scars in my back now where someone would stalemate me and here comes Cookie," Bills Hall-of-Fame guard Billy Shaw once told me. "He didn’t care what color jersey you had on, he was going forward."

The greatest Cookie anecdote ever, one which late News columnist Larry Felser loved to tell, came in the 1964 regular-season showdown in Fenway Park between the Bills at Boston Patriots. The Bills were 11-2, the Pats were 10-2-1.

The Pats had beaten the Bills in the first meeting, a game in which Gilchrist took himself out, mad that he wasn't getting enough carries. An irate Saban waived Gilchrist, then pulled him back off the waiver wire after quarterback Jack Kemp brokered a peace.

On the opening play from scrimmage of the rematch, Gilchrist ran around end and plowed over Pats safety Chuck Shonta, knocking him out cold. Then Gilchrist looked at the Pats sideline and said: "Which one of you (bleeps) is next?"

The Bills won, 24-14. Then Gilchrist rushed for 122 yards in the AFL title-game win over San Diego.

Felser called Gilchrist "pound for pound the greatest football player" he ever saw. Not better than Jim Brown as a running back but the best as an all-around player.

"Cookie Gilchrist to my way of thinking is one of the greatest professional football players who have ever played the game, either NFL or AFL," Kemp told me in a 1994 interview.

"Cookie was better than Jim Brown," Kemp said. "Jim Brown is a good friend of mine, but Cookie in my opinion was better all around. He could block. He could catch passes. He could tackle. He could kick field goals. He was really one of the greatest all-around football players. Jim Brown was the greatest runner."

This actually is the second time Gilchrist was named to a Bills "Hall of Fame." In 1970, owner Ralph Wilson brought Gilchrist back to Buffalo and presented him with a "hall-of-fame" plaque at a downtown luncheon.

But the Bills moved to a new stadium and the Wall of Fame idea was mothballed until 1980 when O.J. Simpson became the "first" honoree.

Why no Cookie until now?

The real reason is the Bills knew that Gilchrist probably would not show up for the ceremony. It's a long story. But Gilchrist thought, with justification, he never was properly compensated by pro football owners, including Wilson. And this goes way back to 1954, when he got a raw deal from Browns owner Paul Brown, who signed him out of high school only to get the deal nixed. As a result, Gilchrist was barred from both the NFL and a college opportunity because he had violated his amateur status. He was banished to Canadian football until the Bills signed him in '62.

Gilchrist played with the Bills only three seasons. There had been some debate over the years whether that was enough tenure. There are no concrete guidelines for the Wall of Fame (although the Bills are working on that). But like the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the honor is about impact, not just numbers. Cookie didn't even start his AFL career until age 27 and he gained 4,293 yards in four and a half seasons. If he had played in his young prime, he would have gained 10,000 yards or more. Gilchrist died in January 2011.

No Bills player, not even Doug Flutie, had the impact Gilchrist made in those three great years in the Bills' early days.

Better late than never. Hail to Cookie.

Note: Cookie gained 4,911 yards rushing in the CFL, for a total of 9,211 yards in his Professional Football career, averaging an even five yards per carry.  In addition, he accumulated 1,068 yards receiving in the CFL and 1,135 in the AFL, making his total offensive production 11,414 yards.  Add to those achievements 65 touchdowns rushing, 11 TDs receiving, 27 field goals and 78 PAT conversions.


, October 29, 2017
Copyright 2017 by the Buffalo News

Bills Wall of Fame: Cookie Gilchrist's great career ... should have been greater

Ex-Bill was cheated out of prime
Pro Football years


    Cookie Gilchrist played only three seasons for the Buffalo Bills and four full seasons in the American Football League.
       He should have played a lot more.
  That's why Sunday's halftime ceremony to place Gilchrist's name on the Buffalo Bills' Wall of Fame is a small measure of justice.  
      Had he not been exploited by the Cleveland Browns as an 18-year-old, he might well have gone into the Pro Football Hall of Fame a long time ago.
       Instead, he got exiled to Canadian football and cheated out of at least four prime years in the NFL. Yet his impact on pro football still was great.
       Gilchrist, who died in 2011 at age 75, was the Bills' first superstar. He was a two-time AFL rushing champion and he was the best player on the Bills' first AFL championship team in 1964.
       His name – he was born Carlton Chester Gilchrist – should be remembered. The Wall honor ensures it will be a little better remembered.
       "I think the Pegulas are doing a good job wanting to fulfill that legacy," said Gilchrist's son, Scott, referring to the Bills' owners.
       "I think for an older generation, it's a great rectification," Gilchrist said.

"For the younger generation, they're going to say I never heard of Cookie Gilchrist. But now they will."
       "It would be much nicer if he was there, but better late than never," Scott Gilchrist said.
       Cookie's name should have been on the Wall a long time ago.    
 In September 1971, the Bills honored him at their season-kickoff luncheon and named him the first member of the team's "Hall of Fame." He got a plaque from the mayor and owner Ralph C. Wilson Jr. The luncheon was held in the midst of the Bills' push for a new stadium, and Cookie's appearance was considered a positive public relations event in that effort.
      When the Wall of Fame was created at the Orchard Park stadium in 1980, Cookie's plaque was more or less forgotten. He was approached by the team about another "induction." But his attitude was he already received the honor. If he was going to make another appearance to help the team, he wanted some payment. Gilchrist told me in the early 2000s it would have been to help inner-city programs that he supported.
       As time went on, Wilson did not want to put Gilchrist's name up if he wasn't going to show.
      Gilchrist had good reason to be wary of being used by the NFL.
      He scored 189 points as a junior halfback and
place-kicker on a 9-0-1 championship team.  He was named to a 77-man high school All-America team.        He was a phenom at Har-Brack High School on the outskirts of Pittsburgh in 1953. He was certain to get a scholarship to a top college program. 


Cookie Gilchrist, shown with Lou Saban and OJ Simpson, is about to go on the Bills Wall of Fame. But could he have been a Pro Football Hall of Famer had not his career been undermined after he signed with Cleveland as an 18-year-old?

    Gilchrist's plan was to transfer to a private school for his senior yearbecause he was going to turn 19 in 1954. He would not be eligible under public school rules.
     That spring, he was visited by
Cleveland assistant coach Ed Ulinski, who had been directed by owner Paul Brown to offer Gilchrist a pro contract. Cookie signed for $5,500 on May 8, 1954. He spent eight weeks in training camp that summer with the Browns.
       Not surprisingly, other NFL teams did not like the idea of signing players out of high school. Steelers owner Art Rooney filed a grievance with NFL Commissioner Bert Bell. Paul Brown released Gilchrist, who never saw a dime of the $5,500.

       Brown wanted Gilchrist to go to the Canadian league's
Winnipeg franchise, which had a relationship with the Browns. Gilchrist opted to go to Canada on his own terms. Because he had signed a pro deal, even though he never got paid, his college eligibility was over.
      "My dad was always mad that he never got any money from signing the stinking contract," said Scott Gilchrist from his Toronto home. "An 18-year-old signed a contract that changed his life. And it took a lot of things off the table for him."
     Gilchrist spent eight years in Canada, his first two in the Ontario Rugby Football Union and his last six in the Canadian Football League.

     He was one of the greatest players in CFL history, producing 996 yards from scrimmage a year on just 155 touches a year. (He averaged 251 touches a year with the Bills.)    

      While Gilchrist played in obscurity, he made good money for the times – in the $20,000-a-year range in his last couple years with the Toronto. And he met his wife, Gwendolyn, while playing in Hamilton.      The Bills signed him in 1962. One of the Bills' assistants, Harvey Johnson, had coached Gilchrist in Kitchener in 1955, and the Bills needed a running back.
      Gilchrist's impact was immediate. At 6-foot-2 and 250 pounds, he was one of the most dynamic big backs in pro football history.
     "Cookie stood out like a giant," said Bills great Booker Edgerson in the book "The Cookie That Did Not Crumble," co-written by Cookie and Chris Garbarino. "He looked like the Greek god Zeus had chiseled him out of the Rock of Gibraltar."

     Gilchrist's running style was about halfway between Jerome Bettis (slower than Cookie) and Earl Campbell (faster than Cookie).

    In three seasons with the Bills, Gilchrist rushed for 3,056 yards and scored 35 touchdowns. His
AFL yards from scrimmage total was 5,428 yards and 43 TDs in just 65 games (four seasons by today's standards).      
     That's why Gilchrist is unquestionably worthy of the Wall of Fame honor.     Scott Gilchrist will be at New Era Field Sunday with his two children (Cookie's grandchildren), ages 15 and 13.  Scott said his father felt a strong connection to Buffalo. 



 "I was happy he was corresponding with Bills fans when he was going through cancer," Scott said. "He really appreciated that."
      Scott also said his dad reconciled with Wilson over the phone about being slighted for the Wall of Fame.
      "Just before my father passed, he called me at 2 o'clock in the morning saying he resolved his issues with Ralph," Scott said. "And I thought, 'OK, why are you calling me at 2 o'clock in the morning?' Little did I know, he would die about a week later. He felt good that he had finally put his dispute with the Bills aside. At least I know in my heart he had put it aside."
     Let's say Gilchrist never signed that Browns deal. He would have gone to college and entered the NFL in either 1957 or 1958.
      Let's give him four years of
AFL action, from 1958 to '61. If he averaged 1,000 yards from scrimmage (realistic, considering he averaged 1,331 with the Bills), he would have ended his pro career with about 9,500 yards from scrimmage.
      That would have placed him fifth all-time among running backs at the time of his retirement and 1,000 yards ahead of the No. 6 running back.
    The Bills' posthumous Wall of Fame honor is the least Professional Football can do for him.




Please click HERE for more columns about Cookie's life.


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