clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Bills Great Cookie Gilchrist Loses Battle With Cancer

News starting leaking out about former Buffalo Bills running back Cookie Gilchrist suffering from throat cancer in April of 2007. Today, Gilchrist succumbed to the disease. Word began spreading on December 17 that Gilchrist was in assisted living and the cancer had progressed to stage IV. He was 75 years old.

Gilchrist signed with the NFL's Cleveland Browns right out of high school in 1953. When the Browns reneged on the deal for a host of reasons, including that the NFL would probably not allow an 18-year-old to play, he went to Canada to play professional football. After a hugely successful career up north, Gilchrist joined the Bills in 1962.

All Gilchrist did in Buffalo was pound the rock. He was the first 1,000-yard rusher in the American Football League in 1962, earning him Most Valuable Player honors. He scored an AFL-record 13 touchdowns during that 14-game season. In 1963, he had one of the greatest days a running back has ever had, going for a pro football record 243 yards and five touchdowns. He led the AFL in rushing yards in 1962 and 1964, his first and last years in Buffalo, and made the AFL All-Star team in all three seasons with the Bills.

Gilchrist made some hefty contract demands in 1965 and the Bills didn't want to meet them. Buffalo traded him and he made stops in Denver, Miami, and back to Denver for the next three seasons. He is the fullback on the all-time AFL team. His contract demands were then and still unheard of.

"I wanted a percentage of the hot dog sales, the popcorn, the parking and the ticket sales," Gilchrist said. "He said that would make me part owner of the team. I was a marked man after that."

In 1965 Gilchrist led a strike of the AFL All-Star game after making it as a member of the Denver Broncos. Gilchrist was upset that New Orleans was going to segregate the black and white players. He has also refused induction to the Canadian Football Hall of Fame on the grounds that management was racist.

In 2007 Gilchrist announced he was being treated for throat cancer. The former 259-pound bruiser was down to 179 pounds and could barely talk that year. He announced that the tumor, which was right next to his carotid artery, was removed and he was recovering and even putting on weight.

Gilchrist received an outpouring of support from Buffalo fans in response to the news.

"I have a whole box of cards and letters," Gilchrist told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review in May of 2007. "I was surprised; it brought tears to my eyes. I thought Buffalo was mad at me."

Mark Gaughan of the Buffalo News had a good relationship with Gilchrist. His remembrances can be found here along with those of former News reporter Milt Northrop.