The Buffalo Bills need to correct an oversight nearly 42 years in the making.
When you walk into Highmark Stadium, high above the playing field sits the names of 31 former Bills players, coaches, and administrators. These members make up the Bills Wall of Fame, an honor meant to recognize those who “have played significant roles in the team’s history.”
Established in 1980, the Wall of Fame contains the names of Hall of Fame legends like players Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, Bruce Smith, Andre Reed, O.J. Simpson, Joe DeLamielleure, and Billy Shaw, coach Marv Levy, general manager Bill Polian, owner Ralph C. Wilson Jr., longtime broadcaster Van Miller, and even the fans, the “12th man.”
But its been nearly five years since the last inductee, Cookie Gilchrist, in 2017, and while a case can be made for many former Bills players, coaches, and administrators to get added to the Wall of Fame, one name stands out above the others: defensive back Butch Byrd, a punishing, physical cornerback who still holds several franchise records more than 50 years after he last played for the Bills.
In an era when teams shied away from throwing the football, Byrd redefined the cornerback position. Byrd still holds the franchise record for career interceptions with 40 and interception return yards with 666, and is tied for the record in interceptions returned for a touchdown with five alongside Tom Janik and Nate Clements.
Byrd’s 40 regular-season interceptions came in 98 games, averaging one pick every 0.41 games.
Byrd averaged nearly 17 yards per interception, and was such a fearsome presence in the secondary that he earned five All-Pro honors, including first-team in 1965, 1966, and 1969, during his time with the Bills. He also forced ten fumbles during his career, during which he was always on the field. Byrd started 101 consecutive games during his tenure in Buffalo, and never had fewer than four interceptions in any season with the Bills. Also a talented returner, Byrd returned 86 punts for 600 yards with two punt return touchdowns.
Byrd’s play on the field earned him a spot on the AFL’s All-Time Second Team, and in 1984, the Bills named Bird to their All-Time Buffalo Bills Silver Anniversary Team.
The Bills captured the AFL Championship in both the 1964 and 1965 seasons, in large part due to contributions from Byrd, who had one interception in each of Buffalo’s championship wins.
After capturing the AFL’s East Division title with a win over their rivals, the Boston Patriots, in the 1964 regular-season finale, Byrd and the Bills went up against the San Diego Chargers in the 1964 AFL title game, and Byrd played a key role in securing Buffalo’s first professional sports championship. Leading 13-7 early in the third quarter, Byrd, who had six interceptions during the regular season, stepped in front of a John Hadl pass on a rollout and came away with an interception deep in Buffalo territory. The Bills would score another touchdown on their ensuing possession, and Buffalo was on its way to an AFL title.
Facing Hadl and the AFL’s most prolific offensive team, those same Chargers, in the 1965 title game, Byrd and the Bills blanked the Chargers 23-0 for their second straight league championship under head coach Lou Saban. In that win and while leading 7-0, Byrd followed his blockers and returned a punt 74 yards for a back-breaking touchdown to put Buffalo up 14-0. He also picked off a Hadl pass and returned it 24 yards to set up a Pete Gogolak field goal in the second half, and Buffalo picked up the first shutout in AFL Championship game history.
With numbers like those Byrd amassed during his Bills career, forget the Wall of Fame for a minute. Byrd has a fantastic case for enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
In an era when teams preferred the ground game to the aerial attack, Byrd finished his phenomenal career ranking 64th in interception return yards, and 78th in career interceptions.
It’s hard to fathom that Byrd, who will turn 81 on Sept. 20, hasn’t been added to the Bills Wall of Fame yet.
Three people who appreciate Byrd’s contributions to the Bills—Charlie Diamond, a statewide public-affairs consultant, Bob Christiansen, a retired schoolteacher, and former Buffalo mayor Tony Masiello—are pushing for Byrd to be added to the Bills Wall of Fame.
The committee that meets to decide who goes up on the Wall of Fame owes it to Byrd to enshrine him while he is still alive to enjoy the honor.
“I hope it will come someday. I’d like not to have to make it posthumously,” Byrd told the Buffalo News in April. “I don’t want to sound conceited, but I think I had a pretty good career.”
For more on Byrd’s Wall of Fame candidacy and which other former Bills deserve a spot on the team’s Wall of Fame, listen to this episode of the Billieve Podcast.