Top 50 All-Time Bills, No. 28: DT Jim Dunaway

DT Jim Dunaway was one of the most imposing defensive forces in Bills History. Photo Source

DT Jim Dunaway (1963-1971) | 6'5", 277 pounds

Notable Achievements: Four-time Pro Bowl selections (1965-1968), First-team All-Pro (1966), Member of AFL Hall of Fame

James Kenneth Dunaway was born on September 3, 1941 in Columbia, Mississippi. After graduating from Columbia High School, Dunaway stayed in-state to attend the University of Mississippi, where he went on to have a storied career for the Rebels. During his first season in 1960, the team went 10-0-1, including a 14-6 win over Rice in the Sugar Bowl. The team was also named national champions by the Football Writers Association of America, the Dunkel System, and the Williamson System that season. Dunaway became a staple of the program, earning All-SEC and All-American honors in 1961 and 1962. The Rebels also won a share of the National Championship in 1962 after defeating Arkansas 17-13 in the Sugar Bowl to finish the season undefeated and untied. That undefeated season was all the more remarkable as it came during the fall of the Ole Miss riot of 1962, a very pivotal moment in the history of civil rights in this country. Following his exceptional career and the team's incredible season, Dunaway played in the Senior Bowl, Chicago All-Star Game and the Coaches All-America Bowl. He was named to the Ole Miss Athletic Hall of Fame in 1990 and the school's All-Century team in 1992.

The Bills made Dunaway the fifth pick of Round 2 during the 1963 AFL Draft. The Vikings had also drafted Dunaway third overall in the NFL Draft that year. In a surprise move, Dunaway spurned the NFL for the Bills and the still-developing AFL. He signed with the team on January 2, 1963, and thus began a long, illustrious career spanning a decade. Dunaway would spend nine seasons in Buffalo before finishing his career playing six games and winning a Super Bowl ring with the undefeated Dolphins in 1972.

Career Highlights

Dunaway began his career as a backup, but quickly moved into the starting lineup during his rookie season. In the fifth game of the 1963 season, Lou Saban inserted Dunaway into the starting lineup, and the team saw immediate results. The Bills ended up blanking the Raiders 12-0 in the franchise's second ever shutout. Those Bills would go on to finish in a tie for the Eastern Division title with the Boston Patriots before losing the team's first ever playoff game to those same Patriots.

Dunaway helped the Bills to their first of consecutive AFL Championships the following season. With a standout defensive line led by Dunaway, Ron McDole, Tom Sestak and Tom Day, the Bills defeated the Chargers 20-7 in the AFL title game. That defense also prevented a rushing touchdown for a professional football record of 17 consecutive games over the 1964 and 1965 seasons. 

The following year, the Bills again won the AFL Championship, while Dunaway earned the first of four consecutive Pro Bowl selections. He was also named first-team all-pro in 1966. Pairing with Sestak to form a massive, impenetrable wall, Dunaway had helped the Bills of the 1960s develop into a difficult unit to run against. During his first four seasons in the league, the Bills' defense had finished first or second overall in run defense each year. Like fellow linemen Sestak and McDole, Dunaway was unusually large and agile for the position in that era. These physical gifts helped him develop into one of better defensive linemen in AFL history, as well as in the history of our beloved Bills.

Unfortunately, Dunaway did not ride quietly into the sunset. Like his former teammate, O.J. Simpson, Dunaway will forever be remembered for something he did after his playing days were complete. Dunaway's wife, Nonniel, divorced him in 1995 and was awarded 800 acres in land the couple owned, $1,800 in alimony payments per month, and half of his NFL pension following a divorce judgment. In the summer of 1998, Nonniel was found dead in a half-empty swimming pool. An autopsy later proved she had been knocked unconscious by a blow to the head, fracturing her skull, and had been placed into the water unconscious where she later drowned. Dunaway would be charged with her murder, although he was not indicted on the charges by the grand jury, despite the fact that his own children were willing to testify against him. They filed a wrongful death civil suit against Dunaway, and were awarded $579,000 in 2002 by a Purvis, Mississippi jury. The NFL All-Criminal Team is, indeed, where Dunaway belongs.

Best Moment

Like McDole, it's difficult to pinpoint a specific moment for Dunaway. His play alongside Tom Sestak during the Bills' AFL title runs was as significant a factor as anything during those championship seasons. His stout play during those seasons helped make those Bills' defenses some of the best in team history. Dunaway had a huge hand, both literally and figuratively, in the Bills' second AFL Championship, the 23-0 shutout of the Chargers:

So dominant was the Buffalo defense that the Chargers never advanced past the Bills' 24-yard line. San Diego did mount a second quarter drive, moving from their own 11 to the Buffalo 28, but Dunaway got a hand up to block Herb Travenio's field-goal attempt. ~The American Football League: A year-by-year history, 1960-1969, by Ed Gruver, p. 153

Parting Shot

Jim Dunaway was an imposing presence along the defensive line during some of the Bills' greatest seasons. He was a player whose talents were ahead of his time, blending a combination of size and agility that weren't seen in too many players of his era. Helping the Bills win consecutive AFL Championships, Dunaway has been remembered as one of the team's key cogs alongside fellow linemen Sestak, McDole and Day. As for his on-field presence, he was always a guy that stood out:

"Jimmy was a really strong guy," said former Bills linebacker Harry Jacobs. "He was a big guy, bigger than Tom (Sestak). He was a solid mass in the middle."

Unfortunately, nowadays Dunaway will always be remembered for what transpired over a quarter century after his playing days ended.

Career Stats

126 games with the Bills (3rd most in franchise history for a DT)
Holds the franchise record for most career fumble recoveries
1 career interception

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