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Top 50 All-Time Bills, No. 35: TE Ernie Warlick

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TE Ernie Warlick (1962-1965) | 6'3", 235 lbs.

Notable Achievements: 4-time AFL All-Star Selection (1962-1965), Member of Bills 25th Anniversary Team, Member of the AFL Hall of Fame

Ernie "Big Hoss" Warlick was born on July 21, 1932 in Washington, DC.  He starred in college at North Carolina Central University from 1949-1951, where they participated in the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association, the Division II conference for the historically African-American institutions.  In his final two seasons with the Eagles, Warlick earned All-CIAA honors and was named first team All-American.  He was also a star basketball player for the school, and was a teammate of future NBA Hall of Famer Sam Jones.  Warlick finished his career as the top scorer and leader in field goals and free throws made (since passed) in school history.  Because of his athletic success at NCCU, he was inducted into the school's Hall of Fame in 1984 and the CIAA Hall of Fame in 2005.

Warlick went undrafted in the NFL, but was drafted into the military following college (Warlick info starting on page 26).  He had signed a contract with the Rams for $3,500, but had to join the Air Force.  He spent some time on his Air Force base playing football with 13 other future pros on the team, including future Bills teammates Tommy O'Connell and Don Chelf.  Upon his discharge, an executive from the Canadian Football League went to him and offered him $8,000 to play up in Canada, which he happily accepted over the Rams deal.  An NFL rule didn't allow him to sign with any other team, so after proving himself in Canada, Warlick signed with the Bills in the AFL for $10,000 and a $500 signing bonus.  Lou Saban had gone to Washington to recruit Warlick to the Bills and Warlick signed on the spot, despite having never met Saban before.

It was obvious that Saban knew plenty about Warlick - that he was a good receiver, a good blocker and a good man - even though they had never met.  Part of his deal called for him to work an off-season job, which he ended up getting at the Iroquois Brewery.  Warlick signed with the Bills prior to the 1962 season and was a big part of the offense, helping lead the team to the 1964 and 1965 AFL titles.

Career Highlights
Following four years of duty serving our country, Warlick spent four more with the Calgary Stampeders.  He was named a CFL All-Star in 1958, 1959 and 1960 and was one of the league's best players during that time.  His American Football career started much later than most as he was 30 years old when he signed with the Bills in 1962.  His addition helped give the Bills a quality receiving option and a very good blocker in the running game.  At a time when the tight end position didn't produce big numbers or earn the respect that other positions got, Warlick was one of the best, maybe even the best, tight ends in the AFL. 

Warlick's "rookie" season ended up being one of the best in team history for a TE.  He wound up leading the team with 35 receptions, finished third on the team with 482 yards and added a pair of touchdowns.  Considering the team completed just 150 passes that year, his receiving numbers were excellent.  Warlick was part of a blocking unit that lead the way for Cookie Gilchrist to achieve the first 1000 yard rushing season in franchise history, to go with 13 touchdowns.  The Bills lead the AFL in rushing that year with 2,480 yards (in 14 games).  For comparison's sake, the 2008 Bills rushed for 1,842 yards and only the Giants surpassed the 1962 Bills' total with 2,518 yards.  Warlick's addition (as well as Gilchrist's) really helped solidify a strong running game for the Bills.  He was named to the AFL All-Star team, along with six other Bills.

Warlick proved to be a downfield threat for the Bills offense during the 1963 season.  He finished the year third on the team with 479 yards and 24 receptions for a ridiculous 20 yards per reception.  For a tight end, that's amazing.  Again, the Bills had a strong rushing offense, finishing second in the AFL for the year.  The team made the playoffs for the first time that season losing to the Patriots in the Divisional Round. Warlick had 3 receptions for 33 yards in the loss.  Once again, Warlick was named to the AFL All-Star team with six other Bills.

Just like he proved the previous season, Warlick was again a legit downfield threat for the Bills offense.  He finished the season with 478 receiving yards, good for third on the team, on 23 receptions for another ridiculous 20.8 yards per reception. The team lead the league in rushing once again, en route to the franchise's first AFL Championship.  Warlick added 2 receptions for 41 yards during the Bills 20-7 victory over the Chargers.  He was joined by nine other Bills on the AFL All-Star Team that year.

In his final season of pro football, Warlick saw a dip in his receiving output, but he continued his stellar play.  Despite finishing the season with just 8 catches for 112 yards and one touchdown, Warlick was named to his fourth consecutive AFL All-Star Team.  No doubt, his blocking ability attributed to his selection.  That run blocking came in handy during the 1965 AFL Championship game.  After offensive linemen Billy Shaw and Dave Behrman were injured, Warlick gave a major boost to the Bills run blocking in a double tight end offense.  The Bills were able to grind out 108 yards on the ground, along with 23 first downs in a shutout of the Chargers 23-0.  Warlick scored the first points of the game on an 18-yard pass from Jack Kemp.  Joining Warlick on the 1965 AFL All-Star team were an incredible 35 other Bills, including the entire starting offenses and defenses.  No wonder they won the title again.

Beyond his on-field accomplishments, Warlick was an outspoken and important figure in the fight against discrimination and segregation in the South for athletes.  The 1965 AFL All-Star game was scheduled to be played in New Orleans in mid-January.  After the players had arrived in the city, the game's 21 African-American players were insulted and faced a barrage of racist remarks and slights.  The players voted not to play in the game, and appointed Warlick as their spokesman.  Warlick bravely put together a brief statement on behalf of his fellow players:

"The American Football League is progressing in great strides, and the Negro players feel they are playing a vital role in the league's progression. They are being treated fairly in all cities in the league," Warlick wrote. "However, because of adverse conditions and discriminatory practices experienced by Negro players while here in New Orleans, the players feel they cannot perform 100 percent as expected in the All-Star Game and be treated differently."

The game was moved to Houston soonafter.  The brave stand by the players was one of the greatest, and almost forgotten moments in AFL history.  Having been annointed the group's leader shows the type of man that Ernie Warlick was.  After his football career Warlick would become the first African-American sportscaster on Buffalo television when he joined WGR-TV (Channel 2).  He was inducted into the Buffalo Broadcast Pioneers Hall of Fame in 1998.  He also received the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Distinguished Service Award in 2000.

Best Moment
Besides being a part of the 1964 and 1965 AFC Champs, Warlick's best moment probably came in his 1962 rookies season.  Take it away Chris Brown:

His stand out performance came in the Dec. 2, 1962 game with the eventual AFL champion Dallas Texans. Pulling in nine catches for 117 yards and a touchdown, Warlick’s biggest play was a 17-yard grab on Buffalo’s game clinching drive to set up a one-yard plunge by Cookie Gilchrist in a 23-14 victory.

Parting Shot
Without a doubt, Ernie Warlick is one of the two best tight ends in franchise history.  Many long time Bills fans would argue that Warlick was the best TE the Bills have ever had, and it might not even be close.  Warlick was a complete player, being one of the best blocking TE's in team history and maybe the best downfield threat at the position, as well.  Warlick didn't have the best receiving statistics for a Bills' TE, but statistics hardly tell his story.  Playing in an era when the TE wasn't a huge factor in the passing game, Warlick's true worth was in the running game when he helped the Bills rushing offense become the best in the league during his career.  Four AFL All-Star game appearances in four years, along with his three in Canada, gave Warlick seven All-Star appearances in eight seasons of professional football.  Warlick was a tough, underappreciated member of some of the best Bills teams ever, and arguably the best TE that's ever played here.  Can we go back in time and bring him to 2009 to solidify the position?

Career Stats
56 games
90 receptions (No. 41 in franchise history, No. 6 among TE)
1,551 receiving yards (No. 26, No. 4 among TE)
4 touchdowns (No. 46, No. 11 among TE)
17.2 yards per reception (Best among TE)

Ernie Warlick catches the first touchdown of the 1965 AFL Championship to put the Bills up 7-0.
(photo source)