RB Wray Carlton was a fixture in the Bills' backfield for eight seasons. (photo source)
HB/FB Wray Carlton (1960-1967) | 6'2", 225 lbs.
Notable Achievements: Two-time AFL All-Star Selection (1965, 1966)
Linwood Wray Carlton was born June 18, 1937 in Wallace, North Carolina. He attended Duke University, where he was a first team All-ACC selection in his final two seasons. The Philadelphia Eagles selected Carlton in the third round of the 1959 NFL Draft, but he was unable to come to terms on a contract with the team. He wound up heading to Toronto to play four games for the Argonauts; he then rejected a trade to Vancouver, deciding to head home and work at a bank instead. He soon received a call from Lou Saban, then coach of the Boston Patriots, about joining the start-up American Football League. He signed with the Patriots and played for them during the pre-season. After a game against, ironically, the Bills, he was traded the next day for DT Al Crow. He made the team for the inaugural 1960 season and would become a steady backfield force in the early days of the Buffalo Bills and the AFL. Carlton was a consistent performer whose tough running and receiving skills were a major reason the Bills were able to win a pair of AFL titles in the mid 1960s.
After his short stint in Canada, Carlton would spent eight seasons in the Bills backfield splitting duties between halfback and fullback. Carlton was the top running back for the first-ever Bills squad in 1960 that featured fellow star WR Elbert Dubenion. He finished the season as the leading rusher with 533 yards on 137 carries and 7 TD, and added another 477 yards receiving on 29 catches and 4 receiving TD. His 1,010 total yards was good for ninth in the AFL, while his 11 TD was good for fifth. His first season was best remembered for his first TD, which was also the first touchdown ever scored in Buffalo Bills history. He also recorded the second 100-yard receiving performance in team history with a monster game against the Oakland Raiders, catching 5 passes for 110 yards and 3 TD. In the book Legends of the Buffalo Bills, quarterback Johnny Green attributed his big performance that day to the work of Carlton:
"Running back Wray Carlton is the guy who made me look good that day," remembered Green. "He scored three touchdown passes from me on a day that was very rainy and muddy. And on most of my passes to him, Wray was the secondary target. He would just catch the ball and run with it after he caught it. Wray did most of the work."
His 1961 season was spent splitting carries with Art Baker, as he finished with just 311 yards rushing while the team finished last in the division. Carlton teamed up with Cookie Gilchrist and Wayne Crow the following year to form a great rushing attack for the 1962 Bills. As a unit they combined for well over 2,000 yards rushing, with Carlton contributing 530 yards on just 94 carries. Carlton spent the following two seasons as Gilchrist's backup while fighting injuries. He wound up playing in just eight games total in 1963 and 1964 amassing 68 rushes for 239 yards. His 1963 season was curtailed by a groin injury so severe that Carlton considered hanging up his spikes:
"I was really discouraged, and I considered retirement. I wrote a letter to the Bills and to [general manager] Dick Gallagher in particular, and said, 'I'm not really healing up that well. I don't think I can play anymore. I really don't want to play.' So he announced my retirement, and I was all done. But then I got a call from Jack Kemp, and he said, 'What are you doing? You can't quit now. You're only 25 years old!' I said, 'Well, I'm not sure that I want to play anymore.' He said, 'You've got to come back. We're on the verge here of something really good. With you back, I think we can do something and maybe even win the championship.' So I was thinking about it, and Ralph [Wilson] called, and so I decided to come back." ~p.199; see citation at end
Carlton broke three ribs early in the pre-season and was unable to play for the first month of the season. When he was healthy enough to return, the team was playing quite well, so Saban asked Carlton to 'sit and wait' for a little while longer until he was really needed. Carlton remembers that:
"We started to stall out a little bit toward the end there, and Saban called me into his office and said, 'Are you ready? I think we need you in there. We need your blocking and your power running because of the weather. It's getting cold. I'm going to activate you.' So he activated me for the last three games, and we went on to beat San Diego [in the AFL Championship Game]." ~p.199; see citation at end
Cookie Gilchrist was traded following the 1964 season after a disagreement with Saban, opening the door for Carlton to be the main runner in the Bills' backfield. His hard running and all-around skills helped lead the Bills to their second straight AFL title. As the team's featured running back, Carlton went on to have an All-Pro season, finishing with 592 yards rushing and another 196 yards receiving. His 6 rushing TD tied for the AFL lead that year - with Denver's Cookie Gilchrist, among others. He led the team in rushing against the Chargers with 63 yards on 16 carries, as the Bills shut out San Diego for their second consecutive AFL title. Carlton had another All-Pro season in 1966 as he split rushing duties with Bobby Burnett. He finished second on the team with 696 yards rushing, 6 TD and added another 280 yards receiving as the team lost in the AFL Championship to the Chiefs for the right to go to the first Super Bowl. He finished his career with another solid season in 1967, rushing for 467 yards and 3 TD.
Wray Carlton finished his career as the Bills' all-time leading rusher.
Carlton had a handful of big plays and big games for the Bills, especially as he helped them to back-to-back AFL titles. His most memorable play had to be the first touchdown in Bills history, even if it wasn't all that memorable to him:
"I was listening to the radio a couple years ago, to a Buffalo station, and a trivia question popped up. The guy said, 'Who scored the Bills' first touchdown?' Everybody was saying, 'I don't know. I don't know.' And I'm thinking, 'I don't know who it was'," laughed Carlton. "Then some guy called in and said, 'Wray Carlton'. I said, 'Whoa! That's amazing! I didn't even know that.' I never really thought about it. It never occurred to me that I was the one that scored the first touchdown." ~p.5; see citation at end
Chris Brown believes Carlton's best performance in a game came in 1965 against the Oilers, as he helped lead the Bills to their second straight AFL Eastern Division title with an 11-carry, 148 yard performance, highlighted by an 80 yard touchdown rush.
Member of the Greater Wilmington Sports Hall of Fame
Selected as the RB for the Bills' "Team of the Sixties"
Played in 2 AFL All-Star games
No. 9 all-time AFL leading rusher
Wray Carlton's tough running, lead blocking abilities, and receiving skills helped make him one of the best all-around running backs in team history. He was a mainstay during the Bills' early days and one of the biggest reasons the team was able to win back-to-back AFL titles. Despite not being one of the most athletically gifted players, Carlton was dependable and the perfect compliment for guys like Cookie Gilchrist in the backfield.
Former teammate Charley Ferguson on Carlton:
"Wray didn’t have the best speed, but was a very reliable halfback. He was a very good short yardage back. He could get those short yards for you and was very dependable."
819 attempts (No.6 in franchise history)
3,368 yards rushing (No. 5)
29 rushing touchdowns (No. 4)
110 receptions (No. 32; No. 8 among RB)
1,329 receiving yards (No. 32; No. 6 among RB)
5 receiving touchdowns (No. 38; T-No. 6 among RB)
(Highlighted book excerpts from Then Levy Said to Kelly by Jim Gehman)