Friday, February 18, 2011

In Memoriam: Cookie Gilchrist (1935-2011)

For longtime football fans, one of the legendary names is pro-football is that of 'Cookie' Gilchrist.

In the brouhaha over the Super Bowl XLV, the news of his death was apparently lost in the shuffle. But he was a special personality and a great, great football player, whose sense of dignity and pride, led to one of the significant events in the history of professional sports - the 1965 boycott of the American Football League All-Star Game.

"Before there was a Jerome Bettis, before there was an Earl Campbell, before there was even a Jim Brown, there was Carlton Chester "Cookie" Gilchrist, the outsized running back with an outsized personality to match -- a star player whose political views and temperamental nature put him at odds with coaches and teammates."

"Mr. Gilchrist, the Brackenridge-born runner who played for the American Football League's Buffalo Bills and in the Canadian Football League, died on Monday of cancer at Sterling House of Penn Hills, a personal care home."

"He was 75."

"At a playing weight of 251 pounds, Mr. Gilchrist often outweighed the linebackers trying to tackle him and the offensive linemen trying to block for him. His crashing style later led to comparisons with Mr. Brown, the Cleveland Browns' Hall of Fame back who was born the year after Mr. Gilchrist and played for the team that offered Mr. Gilchrist his first pro contract.

the Bills in 1962. His first season in the AFL, he was named player of the year, rushing for 1,096 yards and 13 touchdowns."

"He helped lead the team, along with quarterback-turned-politician Jack Kemp, to two consecutive AFL titles, and he was a four-time AFL pro-bowl selection. Cornerback Booker Edgerson, a former Bills teammate, said Mr. Gilchrist was "just as good and maybe even better" than Mr. Brown. "He and Jim had the same outstanding abilities to play the game," he said, according to the AP...."

"Following the 1964 season, having already clashed with his head coach in Buffalo, Lou Saban, Mr. Gilchrist cemented his reputation for boat-rocking -- and for civil rights engagement. In segregated New Orleans, Mr. Gilchrist (according to his own account) helped organize a player boycott of AFL East-West All-Star Game."

"Mr. Gilchrist was one of 21 black players selected to play in the game. But when white cabbies refused to drive Mr. Gilchrist and other black players into the city -- and after French Quarter businesses wouldn't let his black teammates in the doors -- he and others decided to boycott the event."

"Ron Mix, Hall of Fame tackle for the San Diego Chargers, befriended the running back as a result. "The truth is, New Orleans should erect a statue to Cookie," Mr. Mix said in the 2003 profile of Mr. Gilchrist. "The city wanted an NFL team, but it was not going to get it unless it desegregated. The boycott led to a change in the laws.""

"And the AFL All-Star Game was moved to Houston."

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