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April 18, 1968: Bills sign Bob Kalsu

Posted Apr 18, 2014

The Bills signed Oklahoma All-American Bob Kalsu on April 18, 1968, but that's just the beginning of his story.

On April 18, 1968, the Bills officially signed a draft pick that would eventually go on to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated, capture the national spotlight, and be respected by all for his work on the field.

It’s not quite what you may think though, as that field was the field of combat in Vietnam, and much of the reverence was earned posthumously.

An All-American offensive tackle out of Oklahoma, Bob Kalsu turned down a promising pro football career and instead chose the life of a soldier. He was killed in action on July 21, 1970 and is the only active professional football player to make the ultimate sacrifice in Vietnam.

“He was one of the first players drafted that I thought could come in and play and eventually take my spot,” said Hall of Fame guard Billy Shaw in an interview with Chris Brown of buffalobills.com. “He played in every game that year due to some injuries. He played on the right side of the ball and was certainly a vital member of that team.”

True to form, Kalsu earned Bills Rookie of the Year honors that season, getting a good start on what many believed would be a successful career as a professional athlete.

But then came the call for service.

“I did not know that he was called up until we got back to training camp in 1969,” said Shaw, whose own career came to a close after that year. “After the [1968] season you never think that you would never see a teammate again.”

Pinned down by heavy mortar fire on Fire Base Ripcord, 1st Lieutenant James Robert Kalsu was mortally wounded in the jungles of Vietnam, cementing a legacy far beyond the reaches of sport.

“No one will ever know how great a football player Bob might have been,” reads the Bills Wall of Fame plaque that was unveiled in a ceremony on what would have been Kalsu’s 55th birthday, “but we do know how great a man he was to give up his life for his country."