In his black-rimmed glasses, black turtleneck sweater, peach sport coat, gray slacks and black loafers, Cookie Gilchrist looked as if he were sitting at a social protest meeting of the Screen Writers Guild rather than on a bench in the dirty, crowded locker room of the Buffalo Bills. "People think I'm an oddball because I'm a Negro who speaks up," he was saying. "But I have a lot on my mind. It's an internal disease, and it'll eat me alive if I don't get out of my system what I think about things." On either side of the big fullback the Buffalo players were slowly and sullenly dressing after losing a game, finally, to Boston, in the 10th week of the season. An hour earlier in that same locker room several of his teammates had raged at Cookie Gilchrist. "If you're not going to help us, take off your uniform and get out of here!" an offensive lineman had told him. Gilchrist, angry because he had not been called on to carry the ball as often as he believes is his right, had sent in a substitute for himself just before the half. Without the emotional charge of running over linebackers, Gilchrist had also become bored by pass blocking. When they realized the 251-pound Gilchrist was not going to interfere, the Boston blitzers had staged a riot inside the broken Buffalo pass pocket. Now, as the Bills stepped silently past Gilchrist on their way to the showers, Quarterback Jack Kemp sprawled nearby, dazed and sore and looking as if his jersey would have to be cut off with surgical shears after one of the worst beatings of his life. The air in the locker room smelled of mutiny. At that moment Buffalo Coach Lou Saban was trying to decide whether to kick the American Football League's leading ground-gainer off the squad. But Cookie Gilchrist ignored the resentment and bitterness that filled the room around him like escaping gas. He is accustomed to being a loner. Three years ago he was waived out of the Canadian Football League although he was the best player in it. Dissenting opinions of his value or his conduct mean less to Gilchrist than the polish on the hood of his new sports car.
"We should have beaten Boston," he said, staring at his large, scarred hands. "I'll admit I didn't play very well, but I only got to run with the ball 11 times in the whole game, and I don't think that's how we win. I ought to carry the ball 25 to 30 times in a game to be effective. I'll get my four or five yards at a crack, and I'll gain at least 100 yards for the day, more than 1,000 yards for the season, and it'll be better for the team and for me. I have too much pride to stand out there just as a blocker."
"You're a runner, man," said Willie Ross, the rookie Gilchrist had ordered into the game for a few plays as his substitute. Ross and Defensive Back Booker Edgerson share an apartment in Buffalo with Gilchrist when he does not drive home in the evenings to his family in Toronto, 95 miles away. "Tell you what I'll do. I'll teach you my moves."
"Willie is my protégé," Cookie said, smiling. "But I know this—life is a two-way street. It's not all good, and it's not all bad. There'll be other days."
Cookie Gilchrist stood up and, with Willie Ross, walked out of the locker room. Some of the Bills watched him as he went out the door and down the concrete ramp, but he did not look back. He was on his way to Canada to see a man about chopping down 30,000 Christmas trees to be sold on the streets of Buffalo. As far as Cookie Gilchrist was concerned, that Sunday's game was finished. He did not know, and he could not have imagined, that two days later Saban and Bills Owner Ralph Wilson would shock the professional sports community by offering Gilchrist to anybody who wanted him for $100.
What happened on that gray, chill afternoon in Buffalo when the Bills fell after winning nine games in a row was not the first trouble Saban, Wilson and General Manager Dick Gallagher had had with Gilchrist. Twice since he was suspended by the Canadian League and then signed by Buffalo Scout Harvey Johnson in 1962 Gilchrist has defied Buffalo traffic cops. Once he was hauled to jail and charged with assaulting an officer, an offense Cookie denied with simple logic by saying. "If I'd really hit him, he wouldn't be here." Gilchrist filed for bankruptcy in 1963, claiming assets of $7,400 and liabilities of $59,397 after mismanaged business ventures had cost him more than $80,000. He does not hesitate to telephone Wilson at midnight and demand a salary advance, although what separates Cookie from most other players in that respect is that he never calls collect. "I keep thinking we ought to get rid of him, that he's not worth it," Wilson has said repeatedly. "But then I see him on the field on Sunday, and I forget it." In 1962, when the wire services voted him the AFL's Most Valuable Player, Gilchrist rushed for 1,096 yards. Last year before the season started he injured an Achilles' tendon but still ran for 979 yards and helped put Buffalo into a playoff game with Boston for the Eastern Division championship. "There were five games last year when I shouldn't have played because I was hurt," Gilchrist said. "But they needed me and I'm a professional and I played. They never remember things like that."
At the age of 29, Carlton Chester Gilchrist is a complex and driven man. He is impulsive, proud, clever, shy and aggressive. He loves children and detests authority. He is obsessed with the idea of being a success in business, even though a restaurant and an electrical firm wiped him out. More perhaps than anything he wants security, but he can be a reckless plunger. He bought a half interest in a Piper Cub airplane last year, took six hours of flying lessons, and then the airplane disappeared. "The guy who owned the other half asked if he could fly the plane to Florida, and I haven't seen it since," Cookie says. "By that time I had got more interested in my new boat, anyhow. It's 17 feet and has a 100-hp motor and it really moves. I have a new Cobra and a new Buick. But sometimes I do wonder whatever happened to that airplane of mine."
Gilchrist has had to look out for himself since he was a tough kid growing up in the steel-mill town of Brackenridge, Pa., outside Pittsburgh. Beneath his cashmere coats and expensive shirts he carries two ugly half-moon scars, one on his right shoulder and one on the left side of his chest. "Got those in a fight when I was 14 or 15," he said. "I didn't even realize the boy had sliced me until later when I looked down and saw I was bleeding." By the time he was 18, Cookie was 6 feet 2 and weighed 220 and was an outstanding fullback and indifferent pupil at HarBrack High School in Brackenridge. Mostly, he went to school during football season and found something more entertaining to do when the season was over. "Two other boys and I supported ourselves with a car-wash business," he said. "We'd wash cars on Saturdays for $2 per car. Sometimes a guy would pay $5, and one guy paid us $40 for one car. Guys, football fans, would come in the locker room and make donations, too. Maybe $15 or $25. I averaged about $90 on a weekend. I bought my own clothes and I had three cars during the time I was in high school. I worked hard. I learned you always have to work for what you get. But my high school coach, Kenny Karl, was the guy who kept me in high school for as long as I stayed. If I had to pick one person out of my life who did the most for me, he's the one. He took an interest in my welfare. I didn't want to go to school, didn't see any benefit in it. My folks and my neighbors worked in the steel mill. I had been no place, knew nothing else but the steel mill. I had no intention of going to college. When the Cleveland Browns heard about that, they sent a man around to talk to me."
The Browns signed Gilchrist to a pro contract when he was 18. Although he was untutored in the subtleties of pro football. Cookie lasted until the final cut and was totally unimpressed by the company he was keeping. "I wasn't honored that the Browns had signed me," he says now. "I just looked at that $5,500 they handed me. That's a bunch of money for an 18-year-old kid. I figured in 10 years I'd be making four or five times that much. My mom and dad didn't know I had signed a pro contract until they read it in the papers. Then all they said was if I wanted to, it was O.K. That was the last word about it. Kids are intelligent at an early age. They know the difference between right and wrong. Parents should always tell the truth to kids. The truth doesn't hurt. When you get older, you resent it if you find out your parents lied. Mine didn't lie. I wish they could have been more compassionate, but they had to work so hard for a basic living that they didn't have time. I suppose that's where some of my frustrations come from. I want to be successful and be understood and not be put down as an individual. If I didn't believe in myself I could have been a bum. I've found the courage to carry on when people doubt me only because I believe in myself. People should work harder to understand those who don't conform. Who's to say society's rules are always right? Life moves fast, and people claim they don't have time for understanding. I say you better take the time to live and to understand what's important to your life. That sounds selfish. I guess. But it's selfish in a good way."
Wilson, Saban, Gallagher and Assistant General Manager Chuck Burr were forced to the limit of understanding last spring by a letter Gilchrist wrote them (with copies to the Buffalo newspapers and TV stations). The letter said: "Gentlemen: It unfortunately becomes necessary again for me to formally request that you make efforts to trade me to some other football club in the AFL. My attorney, Mr. Messina, and I have made these requests since April of 1963 without, I feel, adequate response from you. Therefore, in the best interest of the Buffalo fans—who have been exceptionally kind to me—and in the best interest of the team and, frankly, in my own best interest, may I ask you to give serious consideration to the trade offers made for me by other AFL clubs. Very truly yours, Carlton C. Gilchrist."
The letter hit the Buffalo front office with the impact of a draft notice. But it was clear what Cookie's ploy was. He wanted more money. The Bills went into immediate negotiation and signed Gilchrist to a new contract for about $30,000. Burr, hoping to squeeze all possible publicity out of what had begun as a sticky situation, asked Cookie to keep the new contract secret until a press conference could be arranged the following week. Cookie kept it such a secret that when the press conference came Gilchrist was not there. He was up in Canada jumping out of a helicopter to plant stakes in mining claims he and partner Bill Richardson own near the rich Texas Gulf Sulphur copper strike. That was startling enough for the Bills, but when they found out Gilchrist was leaping into lakes to plant his stakes, a shaken Burr went back to his desk and thought about taking a job as a mercenary soldier in the Congo. Cookie can swim like the Venus de Milo. "I don't know what they were worried about," Gilchrist said later. "One rule I live by is I never go any farther than I can walk back." Gilchrist and Richardson now have 27 claims near the Texas Gulf Sulphur strike, a few claims at Prairie Mountain, B.C. and an interest in a copper mine in Wales. Prospecting is a fascinating idea to Cookie, who has lived a prospector's feast-or-famine life since he was a child. "I met Richardson in a shoe store in Hamilton, Ont.," Cookie said. "He took a liking to me and gave me a tip on some mining stock that sold for 40¢ a share and rose to $8.50. He has confidence that if he wants to find a mine, he'll find one. He's taught me a lot about life, a lot about things I was too shy or dumb to ask about," Cookie said. "He's a beautiful man in his approach to life. Those prospectors, they'll have a million dollars on the table one morning and nothing the next, but it doesn't bother him either way. He's still the same guy."
Before he met Richardson, Gilchrist was hardly on the road to becoming a business tycoon. After the Browns cut him, Gilchrist played minor league football at Sarnia and Kitchener in the Ontario Rugby Football Union for two years and then graduated to Hamilton, Regina and Toronto for six years in the Canadian major league. He played both offense and defense, often was on the field the entire 60 minutes of the game. He was paid well, but not as well as he wished. To augment his income, Gilchrist started a restaurant in Hamilton. He called it Uncle Tom's Cabin. "I imagine the N.A.A.C.P. wouldn't like that name," Cookie says, "but I thought it was a good one. We served Southern-fried chicken and spareribs. Trouble was, I didn't know anything about the restaurant business, and I lost money. [On opening night Cookie discovered he had neglected to hire cooks or waitresses, and he had to do the cooking himself.] Then in 1957 I started an electrical maintenance business, I was just a kid, and I had 13 people working for me. I have a tendency to trust people too much. I wasn't firm enough with them. I lost money again. But I'm a better man for that experience today."
Despite his business failures, Gilchrist chose to remain in Canada. He has not become a Canadian citizen, but he lives in a two-bedroom apartment in Toronto with his white wife, Gwen, and two sons, Jeffrey Carlton, 6, and Scott Richard, 3. "There's prejudice in all societies, but it's rarely in the open in Canada." he said. "I'm the only Negro in my building. It's a different world for Negroes than it is in the United States. In Canada, people are friendly to me. In the United States, they have reservations. There are very few Negroes in Canada. The ones who are there are students, doctors and lawyers, building an integrated society on a qualified basis. There's no mass problem. Toronto is a cosmopolitan city with wealth and culture. The only city in the United States I would want to live in is New York. It's the hub of everything in the world. In New York they're interested in your productivity. Buffalo is a closed society. In New York I could maintain my individuality and still be productive without being a spectacle. I want people to respect my intelligence and approach me that way and be honest with me. If they do, I'll be the same with them."
Although he talks much about wanting to be respected for his intelligence, Gilchrist is not necessarily sorry he did not go to college. "In college you get an education to be put to practical use," he said. "I've done the reverse. I have no sheepskin to show for it, but the knowledge is stored inside my head. I'm proud I've advanced myself so far. I'm confident I can go further. A college degree might give me more confidence. I can see that. When my kids become 18 an education will be compulsory to get any kind of a job. They'll have the funds to go to college whether they want to or not. My father couldn't do that for me. He's a product of his environment, and his environment didn't dictate he should get an education. But I had an exceptionally good childhood. I was never a poverty case. I was aggressive and got what I wanted. I was never hungry or in rags, even when I had to carry coal for $1 a week to buy the clothes I wanted when I was 10 or 11."
It was during those years that Carlton Chester Gilchrist got the nickname Cookie. "There was an old man who lived at the top of a long flight of stairs," he said. "I used to climb those stairs every day and ask him for sweets. So they started calling me Cookie. I hated the name. When I got to Sarnia, they asked me if I had any nicknames and I told them Cookie, and that's what everybody has called me since. Jack Kemp calls me Chester, but hardly anybody else does. Cookie is good in one way. Kids remember it, and they identify with me. I try to do all I can for kids, especially underprivileged kids. I'm trying to start a boys' camp now. I've written to all the Negro athletes for their support. A lot of Negro athletes forget their heritage. I've never forgot mine. There's thousands of kids out there who aren't lucky enough to be 6 feet 3 and weigh 251 pounds, and they need my help."
His size is an obvious advantage, but it has often been an embarrassment to Gilchrist. He has never lifted weights and is not fond of working out. But he has an awesome physique, with a 20-inch neck and muscles that make one wonder if there would be a pair of shoulder pads to fit him if he ever did begin a weight program. "I don't like to be big like I am," he said. "I wear clothes that make me look compact. I have my shoes made so my feet won't look big, and my shirts fit tight. On the field I have the ability to be mean, to really clobber a guy. It's that powerful force to be successful that overcomes my shyness and natural reluctance to use my size. If I'm backed against the wall, I defend myself. But since I'm as big as I am, I don't feel I have to prove anything. I give other people the benefit of the doubt when they annoy me. Other players don't harass me, because I play clean. If I'm in a bar, say, and a person comes up to me and wants to fight and argue, then that person either has a weapon or else he is crazy. Either way, I don't want to have anything to do with him. I'll say I'm sorry and walk away if I can. Usually they take the suggestion and leave well enough alone. Since I've been in the AFL I've only been struck a blow once by an opposing player. Maybe I'm chicken about fights."
Gilchrist was not always so moderate, if he truly is now. There are stories of fights with teammates in Canada, and there is one fairly well-documented instance of a face-off with Jumbo Jim Trimble at Hamilton. "You take the first punch, since you're the coach," Cookie told him. That ended the dispute. At Kitchener, when he was 19, Cookie attacked the entire bench of one team. "I learned a lesson from that," he said. "Never start a fight in front of the wrong bench." There was a rumor in Buffalo last year that Cookie and 270-pound All-League Defensive Tackle Tom Sestak had put on an epic brawl. The fight did not occur. "But if enough people are interested and somebody wants to rent an auditorium, Tom and I will fight for $5 a ticket," Cookie said. The one fight Cookie admits to was in an exhibition game against Kansas City this year. "I was blocking," said Gilchrist, "and I accidentally slipped and grabbed one of their ends. I apologized and told him I don't block that way. But Smoky Stover came running over, and somebody called me a name, and then E. J. Holub got into it. Four or five years ago it would have been a free-for-all. But all that happened this time was a little shoving. Later I blocked harder and ran harder at those same guys until I felt I had made my point."
When they retire from the game, some pro football players have difficulty overcoming the urge to hit people. They are conditioned to Sundays of violence, and they miss the contact. "That will never be a problem with me," Gilchrist said. "I take the game as a game, in perspective with life. The game is played on Sunday. During the week it doesn't bother me. When I was younger, frustrations would build up. I'd get mad if some guy waited too long at a stoplight, and when I got to the ball park I wanted to take it out on somebody. But I have progressed as a man. I find other ways to take out those feelings. I'm a gourmet. I like to cook. I marinate steaks for two and a half days in a special wine sauce I make myself. I buy most of my wife's clothes. I'm interested in interior decorating. I read books that tell me how to live a better life. I'd rather take my kids horseback riding than watch television, but when I do watch television I prefer programs with strong motivation and good stories that make sense. My favorite TV show is The Fugitive. I can understand that guy. In fact, some of the players in Buffalo call me 'the fugitive.' But one thing I'm not is a sports fan. I can't see why anybody would pay $6 to see a football game. The only pro football game I ever saw was the Giants and the Redskins in 1960. If a football game comes on TV, I get up and leave. I play the game out of a competitive desire and pride, and I'm a natural for it. But I don't like to watch it if I'm not involved. I think maybe I would have liked to paint, but I've never had the peace of mind to sit and do it. If I had been disciplined and regimented early in my life, my potential would have been unlimited."
On the football field Gilchrist's potential is fantastic, and quite frequently his performance matches it. Against the New York Jets in one game last year he broke two AFL records by running 243 yards and scoring five touchdowns. Johnny Green, a Toronto quarterback when Gilchrist was playing there, described Cookie's power: "In Canadian football the backs can be in motion on every play. You'd be calling signals when you'd hear this rumbling behind you. It was Cookie barreling ahead. The quarterbacks handed off like bullfighters. The main idea was to stay out of Cookie's path." Jim Crotty, who has played in all three pro leagues as a defensive back, says: "Cookie could gain a lot more yards if he ran smarter. If he put a few moves on you, he could break away more often. But he can't resist the challenge of running over you." One of Gilchrist's memorable runs was a 22-yarder for a touchdown against San Diego two years ago. A few steps from the goal line he could have cut to the left and gone in untouched. Instead, he cut to the right, smashed into Linebacker Chuck Allen and knocked him into the air all the way into the end zone.
"You have to take my size and weight into consideration," Gilchrist says. "I'm not shifty. I can't sidestep. So I use my ability to the fullest extent. If I run over a guy, maybe he won't be there next time and I won't have to deviate. But I don't get any real joy out of trampling somebody. I usually carry the ball in my left arm. When I'm about to be hit, I lower my right shoulder and bring up my right forearm to make it tougher for the tackier to get a good shot at me. Most teams take away the inside from me, so I go outside more than up the middle. I try to get one-on-one with the cornerback, who is smaller than I am, and make him hit me from the side. You can bring a big man down if you hit him from the knees down, head on, but if I can make them hit me from the side I can slide off or spin away. When I go into a hole and one or two tacklers hit me head on, I spin and they don't have a chance for a second reaction. I've learned body control and change of pace through constant work. Of course, the main thing is I'm as big as most defensive linemen and bigger than the defensive backs, and I'm fast. That's my advantage. But I try to use my power wisely."
Harvey Johnson, the Buffalo scout who coached Gilchrist in Canada, thinks Cookie's edge is that he punishes the defensive backs when they collide with him. "As the game goes on they begin to grab at him instead of hitting him solidly," says Johnson. "You can't stop him without a solid shot. The longer the game goes, the more effective Cookie becomes." Holub, the 225-pound Kansas City linebacker, says: "If you hit him low, he works on you with his knees. If you hit him high, you get a stiff-arm. You have to hit him around the middle and clamp your arms around him or he'll tear your arms off. If he gets through a hole at the line of scrimmage, it's hell on the linebackers." But stopping Gilchrist at the line of scrimmage is not a pleasant task. Jerry Mays, 247-pound Kansas City defensive tackle, says: "He's already at full speed when he reaches the line, and if the hole closes he can veer off quickly to another hole. I can't remember ever stopping him cold without a gain. You have to be in perfect tackling position even to get a draw with him." And yet, despite those testimonials to his prowess as a fullback, many observers—including Harvey Johnson and Gilchrist himself—think Cookie is a better defensive player than he is an offensive back. "When we got him we had no stars, so we put Cookie on offense and made him our star. Where I'd like to see him is as a middle linebacker," Johnson says.
"There's just not anybody who can tackle the way I can," says Gilchrist. Last year Boston Safety Man Ron Hall intercepted a pass and ran down the sidelines. Gilchrist met him at midfield with a blow that sounded like a dozen wet towels slapped against the pavement. Hall was out for several minutes. "I didn't get a good piece of him," Cookie complained later. "I hit him with my head." In 1962 Gilchrist played on all the Bills' special teams. He has been seen to kick off, hurl three or four blockers out of his way and make the tackle inside the 20. Except for last year, Gilchrist was rarely injured. "He doesn't know where the training room is," the Toronto trainer informed the Bills before they signed Cookie.
Why, then, did every team in the Canadian League pass him up and let him go to Buffalo? Gilchrist has been accused of slacking off once he has established his might. "For a year or two, while he's showing the fans in a new town how good he is, he's the greatest. But after he's showed them, he slows down. He ought to be traded every two seasons," said one coach. However, Cookie's off-the-field activities were what got him banished from Canada. The specific incident was when Gilchrist passed Toronto Coach Lou Agase in the lobby of an Edmonton hotel after curfew. Cookie was going out, not coming in.
"But none of those things was the real reason I was waived out of Canada," Gilchrist said recently. "The only real point of discussion was that I wanted to be paid what I was worth. I played 60 minutes, did two guys' work and was getting paid half of what I was worth. I insisted that was wrong, and that's where my reputation for making trouble began. Management wants to get an employee as cheaply as possible. If you don't persevere, you won't be paid what you're worth. They still don't pay me enough, considering what I do. I'm not a carouser or a drunk. Maybe sometimes people don't like me because I'm headstrong. But it boils down to the fact that they resented me in Canada because I wanted too much money. I have no regrets. It's worked out for the better. If it had worked out for the worse, I would have accepted that gracefully, too.
"I think you have to be shrewd as the people you're working for. Like when I wrote that letter asking the Bills to trade me. I had got wind that they were negotiating a trade for me while I was injured. I knew they hadn't made their season ticket sales yet for this year, so I brought it out in the open about trading me. I meant it. I always mean what I say. Maybe I use the wrong words sometimes, but the meaning is there."
Gilchrist's sincerity, combined, of course, with the yardage he gains, has made him a popular figure with Buffalo fans. He will go anywhere to speak, without charge, to an audience of children. A year ago one of the winners in a Buffalo fan contest was a talkative little lady in her 60s. Cookie sat by her and talked to her during her prize plane trip to Denver for a Bills' game and then carried her luggage to her room. But for the dozens of adult sports banquets Cookie requests a speaker's fee. "Suppose a club has 50 banquets a year and there's 50 guys on our team. Well, I'll go speak once free because that's my share. For the rest, unless there are kids there, they have to pay me. Otherwise I'd be on the run all the time." Although there are things he does not like about Buffalo, Gilchrist does think the city has one of the best franchises in professional football. "This is an industrial town," he says. "The people here want to know you gave them a 100% tough battle on the field. There are no fancy players on this team, only tough, proud men. The team is an indication of the type of people in the town. They're warm and friendly, but they know you have to be tough as a way of life. We don't have any glamour boys like Los Angeles or San Diego."
But on the November afternoon of the last Boston game, it was Gilchrist who was accused of showing the temperament of a glamour boy. The day began perfectly, bright and cool and with no wind. The Bills were unbeaten, and a record crowd of 43,000 had jammed into War Memorial Stadium. The steelworkers who are erecting a new section of 8,000 seats had hung a sign on the girders that read: BILLS 48, COLTS 7. This was Buffalo's rebuttal to a SPORTS ILLUSTRATED story comparing the football teams of Baltimore and Buffalo. Another banner behind the Boston bench said: THE NFL IS A MINOR LEAUGE (sic). Gilchrist rambled into the Bills' locker room in exuberant spirits and hung up his coat. Many of the other players were already dressed. Their cleats clattered on the concrete floor. "I feel good today. I feel like a gazelle," Cookie said, putting his glasses into his coat pocket. He is nearsighted, but he does not wear contact lenses during a game. ("I can see fine on the field. It's when I'm on the bench that my eyes get fuzzy," he says.) Cookie pulled his blue jersey over his shoulders and chest. He likes to warm up without pads. "Hey, coach," he said to Saban, "I feel great today."
Cookie's mood was still one of savage elation as the game began. The first Boston blitzers who dashed through the Buffalo line were met by awful whacks from Gilchrist's shoulders and forearms and tumbled like cinema Indians. But Cookie kept waiting to run with the ball, and Kemp kept throwing it. Gilchrist was called on a quick pitchout to the right for short yardage. He got the ball on a couple of draws and twisted for 17 yards on one of them. But by the middle of the second quarter the pattern of the Buffalo offense had emerged. Kemp was going to throw. This was not going to be a Cookie Gilchrist game. Clouds moved in, the sun vanished and Cookie's pass blocking began to falter. The blitzers thundered past him and drove Kemp out of the pocket. Kemp raced about frantically on play after play and then was hammered down beneath swarms of Boston tacklers who had not been picked off by Gilchrist. Kemp would lie there on the hard earth for a moment and then would rise painfully to find Cookie looking at him as if to say, "Well, what did you expect with all that passing?" With 28 seconds to go in the second quarter, the Buffalo offense got the ball and Cookie stayed on the bench. Without consulting Saban, he sent in his friend, Willie Ross.
Bitter words poured out in the locker room at the half, but Gilchrist's performance did not improve. The long afternoon ended with Buffalo Quarterbacks Kemp and Daryle Lamonica throwing 53 passes and a plainly disgruntled Gilchrist carrying 11 times for 31 yards. Boston won 36-28. Buffalo fans streamed out of the park offering each other condolences, as if their Bills were 1-9 instead of 9-1. Gilchrist climbed into his car and drove home to Toronto, believing the game had been lost because he had not been used properly. But there were four more games to play, and Buffalo still led the East, and Cookie was not overly worried about it.
Tuesday morning the Bills' office stirred with mysterious activity. Telephones were ringing and people were having whispered conversations and Ralph Wilson was calling from Bermuda and Saban conferred for hours with his assistant coaches. At noon the news came. The Bills had put Cookie Gilchrist on waivers. Any club in the AFL could claim him for $100. "No one man is more important than the team," said Wilson. Saban's authority had been flouted by the unauthorized substitution of Willie Ross, and in the test of strength between the fullback and the coach, Saban was the winner.
Gilchrist was stunned. It would not break his heart to leave Buffalo, but he did not want to leave as a loser or a quitter. His pride would not allow that. Cookie talked to his wife and to his lawyer, and on Wednesday he went to the Bills' practice and apologized to the team. One of the players who had been angriest at Cookie during half time on Sunday approached Saban and asked if Gilchrist could have another chance. Saban said no, but he did agree to listen. Gilchrist met with Saban for an hour and a half, and when Cookie came out of the office he was one of the Bills again. "He really humbled himself," said Saban. "I didn't think he could do it."
"In the past," Cookie told the press in what sounded strangely like an Episcopalian confession, "I have said and done many things for which I am truly ashamed. I have criticized my teammates and my coaching staff unjustly. I am sorry. I am going to abide by every rule of the club and concentrate on only one thing—to do my job as fullback of the Buffalo Bills to the best of my ability."
The reinstatement brought a howl from Oakland Coach Al Davis, who, along with New York and Boston, had put in a waiver claim for Gilchrist. "It was a phony deal, a hoax," said Davis. "They never intended to let Gilchrist go." Perhaps Davis was right. With the Bills holding a game-and-a-half lead over Boston in the Eastern Division—a lead that could and would be down to nothing within three weeks—it certainly did not make sense to show the door to the finest fullback in the league. Next season, perhaps, Gilchrist will be traded. But this season the Bills needed Cookie Gilchrist, and knew it. By placing him on waivers they got his promise that he would prove himself all over again.
"A man is entitled to make mistakes," Cookie said. "It's how he feels afterward that matters. I'm a good man basically, but my mistakes have been publicized. I have learned humility. And I have learned something about coaches in my career. The best coaches are those who know the psychological fact that all men are boys at heart."
Gilchrist, who cannot swim, jumped into lakes from a helicopter to stake mining claims with his partner.
Boston blitzers swamped Bills quarterbacks after Gilchrist's pass blocking became strangely inept.