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April 3, 1987: Tom Sestak Dies Of Heart Attack At Age 51

Matt Warren is Associate Director of NFL coverage for SB Nation and previously covered the Bills for Buffalo Rumblings for more than a decade.

The Buffalo Bills took Tom Sestak in the 17th round of the 1962 AFL Draft out of McNeese State where he had played tight end. When he got to Bills training camp that summer, he was 275 pounds of pure muscle and the team moved him to defensive tackle where he went on to enjoy an all-star career.

Harvey Johnson, a Bills personnel man, didn't even recognize Sestak when he arrived having put on 40 pounds of muscle between the draft and camp.

"As the rookies came in every year, the cabs dropped them off and they’d check in," Larry Felser told the American Press earlier this year. "I was sitting there one evening and this guy gets out of the cab, and the guy would make Superman look like a ballet dancer. It was Sestak.

"Harvey Johnson, the chief scout, was sitting next to me and I said ‘Who the hell is this guy?’

"He says, ‘I drafted him, but I don’t remember who he is.’ Then he says, ‘My God, that’s Sestak, the tight end from McNeese State.’ "

During his seven seasons in Buffalo, Sestak was a three-time All-Star who earned a spot on the AFL All-Time team. Buffalo went 17 straight games during the 1964 and 1965 seasons without allowing a rushing touchdown. Sestak was also part of both AFL Championship teams during those two seasons.

Sestak is a member of the AFL Hall of Fame where Hall of Fame operator Ange Coniglio argues for Sestak's induction in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. "During the sixties, only six defensive linemen were unanimous All-League selections for three or more years," says Coniglio. "Sestak was one of them. The other five have already been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame."

Unfortunately for Sestak, his health began to fail him soon thereafter. In 1967 and 1968, "Big Tom" didn't practice because his knees were so bad. His status for Sunday was always in doubt but he always came through on Sunday. He retired prior to the 1969 season.

"He was probably the toughest player in my 37 years as a trainer for the Bills," Ed Abramoski, Buffalo's trainer, said of Sestak. "He just was outstanding. He always wanted to be on the field. The last two years he just rode the exercise bike and played the games."

Sestak spent the rest of his life in Buffalo, opening a few businesses with his former roommate Paul Maguire. On April 3, 1987, Sestak died from a heart attack just a week after discovering he had Lou Gehrig's Disease. Two months later, Sestak became the third member of the Bills' Wall of Fame while he was more recently named a member of the Bills' 50th Anniversary Team.