by Larry FELSER
Reprinted with permission from 2004 Buffalo Bills Alumni Yearbook
I can't assume anything when I write about the Bills' American Football League
champions of 1964-65. The youngest fans in War Memorial Stadium in those years are about
to become eligible for the AARP.
No kidding. The age when most young kids get fully "into" the Bills is about 10 years old. A 10-year-old in 1964 would be 50 this year. Anyone younger would know those great teams only by word of mouth.
|FRONT ROW: Booker Edgerson, Hagood Clarke,
Oliver Dobbins, Ed Rutkowski, George (Butch) Byrd, Joe Auer, George Saimes, Ray Abruzzese,
SECOND ROW: Ed Abramoski (Trainer), Wray Carlton, Walt Cudzik, Ernie Warlick, Harry Jacobs, Daryle Lamonica, Head Coach Lou Saban, Jack Kemp, Dick Hudson, George Flint, Cookie Gilchrist, Tony Marchitte (Equipment Manager).
THIRD ROW: Assistant Coach John Mazur, Tom Keating, John Tracey, Ron McDole, Billy Shaw, Tom Sestak, Tom Day, Al Bemiller, Bobby Smith, Glenn Bass, Assistant Coach Joel Collier.
FOURTH ROW: Assistant Coach Jerry Smith, Willie Ross, Paul Maguire, Joe ODonnell, Hatch Rosdahl, Jim Dunaway, Mike Stratton, Elbert Debenion, Stew Barber.
MISSING FROM PHOTO: Charley Ferguson, Bill Groman, Dudley Meredith, Gene Sykes, Charley Warner.
To most of today's fans, those teams coached by Lou Saban are legends, not memories. Nevertheless, they still know a lot about the legends. For one thing some of their greatest names are up on the Wall of Fame at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
One of the most frequent questions I get from younger fans is, "How would those guys do in today's football?"
My answer usually begins, "It depends upon their position and maybe their playing size at their prime, but most of them. The AFL champions were that good."
|Rookie kicker Pete Gogolak and holder Daryle Lomonica.||Cookie Gilchrist.||1964 team captains Tom Sestak and Billy Shaw.|
The player most asked about is Cookie Gilchrist. My answer to that question is different: "Any time. Any place. Any brand of football. Cookie was, pound for pound, the greatest all-around player I ever saw. He would be a superstar in today's football."
A few of those Bills would be better in this era than they were in their actual era. Mike Stratton is one of them. Stratton was a tight end at the University of Tennessee, but Saban drafted him with the idea of switching him to linebacker. He signed John Tracey as a free agent with the same idea. Lou liked the idea of having skilled and mobile athletes at the outside linebacker positions.
Stratton' will always be remembered for the "tackle heard round the football World" on San Diego's Keith Lincoln, turning around the '64 championship game, but he was superb in pass coverage, too. In today's football, where blitzing and coverage is far more sophisticated and utilized, he would have been a millionaire.
Another who would have excelled in today's football is Booker Edgerson, signed as a college free agent from Saban's own Western Illinois college team. Edgerson may have been the most underrated Bill of all-time. In the 1965 AFL title game in San Diego Booker ran down Hall of Famer Lance Alworth, considered the fastest man in football at the time. It saved a touchdown and a possible shift in momentum.
|Front four - Tom Day, Tom Sestak, Jim Dunaway and Ron McDole.||The secondary - (l to r): Butch Byrd, George Saimes, Hagoog Clarke and Booker Edgerson.|
A good tackler as well as a shut-down coverage guy, Edgerson would have been a first-round draft choice and another man in the big money in today's football.
One area in which immense size is an infatuation of today's coaches would make most of the old Bills obsolete is the offensive line. The trend today is for gigantic men with the size and lack of mobility associated with sumo wrestlers.
Joe DeLamielleure, the Hall of Fame guard who played for the Bills a decade later, says "in today's football I'd have to be an H-back." That's probably true of another Hall of Fame guard, Billy Shaw, the captain of the AFL champions. Stew Barber, the left tackle, was used as a starting linebacker in his rookie season with the Bills. That's probably where he would have played today.
|The AFLs top defense - (Front l to r): Tom Day, Tom Sestak, Jim Dunaway and Ron McDole. (Standing l to r): Butch Byrd, Mike Stratton, George Saimes, Harry Jacobs, Hagood Clarke, John Tracey and Charley Warner.|
Defensive lines are bigger today, too, but the Bills were way ahead of the curve with three of their four starters. Tom Sestak, the all-time AFL tackle, played at 272 pounds. It was a lean 272, so bulking up another 10 pounds or so would have been no problem for him. Jim Dunaway, the other starting tackle, was in the same category. Both
Ahead of his time was Ron McDole, the 300-pound defensive end with enormous quickness. In the '65 title game, defensive coach Joe Collier used a defensive alignment which had McDole dropping off the line, sometimes into coverage, sometimes rushing the passer. When McDole was dealt to Washington five years later ("Best trade I ever made," said Hall of Fame Redskins coach George Allen), quarterback Sonny Jurgensen nicknamed him "the Dancing Bear."
|GM Dick Gallagher holding championship banner.||1965 AFL championship ring.|
It's only my guess, but I think Butch Byrd, then an all-AFL corner back, would have had an entirely different career in this era. Byrd was fast, but he weighed 212 pounds and excelled at the bump-and-run coverage which nullified receivers before they even got off the line of scrimmage. Rough housing was eliminated from the bump-and-run years ago. My guess is that Byrd would be a running back today, a position he played often at Boston University.
In the '65 championship game, the Bills, having lost their top wide receivers, Elbert Dubenion and Glenn Bass, to injury, used a double tight end formation with Ernie Warlick on one side and Paul Costa on the other. The Bills' game plan was to play defense and run the ball. They ran 36 times and completed just nine passes. Costa and Warlick caught five between them, with Warlick breaking a scoreless tie in the second quarter with and 18-yarder from Jack Kemp.
|QB Jack Kemp and FB Wray Carlton.||Coaching staff - seated: Lou Saban, standing (l to r): Joe Collier, John Mazur, Harvey Johnson and Jerry Smith.|
Dubenion and Bass, in their prime, would fit right into today's pass-intense style. "Golden Wheels," in his own words was "fast enough so that nobody caught me." In' 64 he caught 10 touchdown passes and Bass another seven. Charley Ferguson, the third receiver, was what the NFL scouts look for today, a big guy with speed who creates mismatches with smaller corner backs.
How would Kemp and his backup, Darryl Lamonica, fare today? Passing philosophies have come and gone since their day --- from wide open, to sparing, to wide open again, to West Coast possession style, back to a growing trend toward the vertical passing game again. Jack and Darryl each had the big arm most NFL teams look for today.
|Owner Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. and Vice President Bob Lustig watch a game.|
At tight end Warlick was finished before the full use of tight ends developed. He would have been dynamite around the goal line today. Costa started as a huge running back at Notre Dame, had some spectacular games as a Bills tight end, then switched to offensive tackle in the last part of his career. At his size and mobility, plus his soft hands, he would have be a tight end from start to finish these days. It would be a few years before all pro teams would emphasize the tight end as a receiver. Warlick once came to practice with a sign hung around his neck. It read "I am an end."
The element which made the AFL Bills champions would be tough to copy in any other era: Team chemistry. Those teams had just the right players doing the right things in the places in which they were most effective.
That's where Saban came in. His days in Buffalo were his masterful moments in a long career.
1964 Buffalo Bills Roster
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