The Buffalo Bills inducted former running back Cookie Gilchrist into their Hall of Fame in 1971, but it took 46 years for his name to appear where it belongs — on the Hall-of-Fame (now called the Wall of Fame) wall at New Era Field, formerly Ralph Wilson Stadium.
Fortunately, that happens Sunday during the Bills’ game with Oakland. And, fortunately for Bills’ fans, former star defensive back, Booker Edgerson, a teammate and close friend of Gilchrist, will be there to speak on behalf of Gilchrist, who died in 2011.
Gilchrist’s name would have been up long before had he and Wilson, the Bills’ original owner, not had a falling out. But they did, and it prevented Wilson from doing the right thing — which was to have Gilchrist’s name join others — including Edgerson — on the Wall of Fame at the stadium.
But with the sale of the Bills to Terry and Kim Pegula in 2014, the improbable became possible — and now it can and will happen this weekend. Edgerson is as delighted as he is relieved, describing Gilchrist on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast, as one of the greatest players he eve witnessed.
“He was something else, he said. “He was very vocal, charismatic and all of the aboves. To me, he was the franchise, the first franchise player in Buffalo as far as I was concerned. He established himself here, and he established the Buffalo Bills.”
A former CFL all-star running back and all-star linebacker, Gilchrist made an immediate impact with the Bills. He was the first AFL player to rush for 1,000 yards. He set an AFL record with 243 yards rushing in one game. He was an AFL MVP, two-time rushing champ, Grey Cup champ, AFL champ and member of the all-time All-AFL team.
He could block. He could catch. He kicked field goals. And, of course, he was a back who could run over, around and through defenses.
“Like he said one time,” Edgerson recalled, ” ‘If they gave me the chance to play quarterback, I’d be good at that too.’ ”
So how good was Gilchrist? Well, he’s not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, though he could be. But he was so accomplished, so talented and so superior to his peers that Edgerson put him in the rarest of company — comparing Gilchrist with Hall-of-Famer Jim Brown.
“I would put Cookie in the same category as Jim Brown,” he said, “but also I would put Cookie in a separate category because Cookie not only was a helluva runner; he was an outstanding blocker. And he had speed. But he also kicked field goals and extra points and kickoffs on the kickoff team.
“So he was a multi-ballplayer in those days when we didn’t have them. That was something Jim Brown didn’t do. Not saying he couldn’t have done it, but that wasn’t what the Cleveland Browns brought him in there to do.
“Cookie was an outstanding individual who was on the same stage Jim Brown was on, and they fought about it — not fistfight about it — but they talked about it all the time about who was the better guy. And, to me, obviously, I had to give Cookie the edge because I played with him, and I saw the damage he did on the field. I saw the leadership in the practices and everything. So I always gave Cookie the edge.
“Looking at the records … he ran for five touchdowns in one game … he scored 30 points … he ran for 243 yards … he was the first AFL player to go for 1,000 yards. He was a trailblazer. He was the MTV of the 1960s. He was fast, and he was furious. And he was feared by most of the players on the field of our opponents.”