Late, great Bills star Cookie Gilchrist got an "official" place in Buffalo sports history Wednesday when he was honored as an inductee into the 2011 Class of the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame. Gilchrist only played three years and 44 games in Buffalo - 1962 through 1964 - but he arguably was the Bills' first "superstar," and his presence on the Buffalo sports consciousness remains large and out of proportion to the short length of time he played here. That speaks to what a great player he was and the impact the first great Bills era had on Western New York sports fans.
So why did it take so long? It's complicated, and it requires an understanding of Cookie's career path to appreciate it. The short, oversimplified answer: Gilchrist was denied a chance to have a college football career and a shot at the NFL because of an unfortunate deal with Cleveland Browns legendary coach Paul Brown. Gilchrist singed a pro deal with the Browns out of high school; the NFL voided the deal; the door to the college ranks was thereby closed because Gilchrist had signed a pro contract; Brown tried to stash him in Canada; Cookie never got any money out of the proposition. Gilcrhist believed, with justification, that he had been used, and he spent the rest of his life being wary - if not somewhat paranoid - of being used for financial gain. So Gilchrist probably would not have showed up to accept an honor such as the Buffalo Sports Hall or the Wall of Fame.
Now he's going in, and Bills fans from the 1960s likley are very happy about it. Will a Wall-of-Fame induction follow? That's debatable. The rules for his candidacy are gray. When the wall was created in 1980, former Bills PR chief L. Budd Thalman decided a candidate must have played five seasons in Buffalo to qualify. The Bills' media guide says the requirement is three years. Regardless, Gilchrist has been discussed at length by the wall committee on several occasioins but has not had enough support to date to outrank other candidates.
Gilchrist and Ruben Brown, the other Bills inductee in the Buffalo sports hall class of 2011, make it 29 Bills in the GBSHOF. Phil Hansen is the 2011 Wall of Fame inductee. He will be the 27th WOF member.
Those in the GBSOF but not on the WOF are: Gilchrist, Brown, Butch Byrd, Steve Christie, Shane Conlan, Paul Maguire, Bill Polian and Lou Saban.
Those in the WOF but not the GBSOF are: Hansen, Robert James, Bob Kalsu, Pat McGroeder, Jim Ritcher and "the 12th Man."