Leading up to the 2010 NFL draft, Buffalobills.com will be sharing the memories of some of the Bills most memorable draft choices as we ask you the fan to pick your top 10 all-time draft choices in team history. Was it a choice of incomparable value? Was it the top pick in the draft? Was it a pick that far exceeded anyone’s expectations? Those choices are up to you the fan, and they can be made at the Buffalo Bills all-time draft site between now and April 22nd.
It’s rare for a prospective pro football player to know exactly what teams are thinking when they demonstrate an interest in their abilities. Sometimes the interest in genuine, but in most cases a prospect is never really sure if all the talk a team might be giving him is little more than lip service.
The situation was different for Boston University prospect Butch Byrd in 1963. He knew full well what team was eager to draft him, thanks to a coaching connection.
In mid-October of 1963, Byrd, then a stand out cornerback and halfback for the Terriers received a phone call from a former coach. John Mazur, his former running backs coach at Boston U., had just taken the same job under Bills new head coach Lou Saban in Buffalo. And in addition to coaching, Mazur had apparently done some selling on the talents of Byrd to one Ralph Wilson.
Come Nov. 30, 1963, the Bills took Byrd with the intention of playing him at right cornerback opposite a rising young star on the left flank in Booker Edgerson.
“I got a phone call from Mazur that day saying that the Bills were going to draft me as their third pick,” said Byrd. “I was ecstatic.”
When the draft unfolded the Bills actually used the first of their two fourth-round selections on Byrd, who was the 25th overall pick. Not long after being selected Byrd got another phone call.
“Mazur called me and said that Ralph Wilson wanted to meet me and asked me to come to the Boston-Buffalo game that weekend at Fenway Park,” recalled Byrd. “Of course I said I would.”
As fate would have it, the Bills were scheduled to play the Patriots in Boston a day after the AFL draft. Byrd made his way from campus to Fenway for the Dec. 1st game between the two AFL clubs, just one day after being drafted by Buffalo.
“It was a cold, raw day and I can remember standing on the sidelines watching Cookie Gilchrist and the rest of the Bills playing the Patriots and just wondering if I could play this game,” Byrd said. “There was a lot of hitting and a lot of snorting. It was a whole different level of football and the thought hit me. Could I play this game? Of course I didn’t let on that I was having these thoughts.”
The young defensive back eventually met the Bills owner.
“I can’t remember the conversation, but Ralph was very upbeat,” said Byrd. “He made some small talk with me to keep me comfortable I suppose.”
All in all the meeting went well, but just because Byrd had been drafted by the Bills did not necessarily mean he was a lock to sign with Buffalo. The NFL draft was Monday Dec. 2nd and there was one particular NFL team that had a keen interest in Byrd, or so they said. On Tuesday Dec. 3rd Byrd’s phone rang.
“I would say maybe 48 hours after my first meeting with the Bills, the Dallas Cowboys called and said that they were going to draft me with their seventh (round) pick,” he said. “Both teams told me they were drafting me for the right cornerback position.”
Byrd began doing his homework on the Cowboys, knowing the first few rounds of the NFL draft had taken place a day earlier on Monday.
“I saw they had taken Mel Renfro from Oregon at the right cornerback spot with their top choice,” said Byrd. “So I’m sitting there knowing all this and reading all of it and I’m thinking if they take me for the same position as Renfro in the seventh, I don’t think I’m signing there. I knew his reputation. I hadn’t played against him, but I knew he was a great college player and they drafted him first. That was really the deciding factor in going to Buffalo.”
A short time later Byrd’s former college coach, John Mazur, came to sign him to a contract with a $2,500 signing bonus in his hand.
“Of course $2,500 was much more money than I’ve ever seen so I signed and became a member of the Bills,” he said.
To the surprise of many including Byrd himself leading up to the AFL draft the Boston Patriots clearly had no interest in Byrd whatsoever. Despite the fact that Byrd put together an accomplished college career right in their own backyard, the Patriots did not give him the time of day.
“I received no interest from the Patriots,” he said. “I don’t know what to say about that. They just weren’t interested. I think they were more interested in ball players from BC than ball players from BU. We had maybe four or five guys go pro from our team and none went to the Patriots.”
The only other AFL club that was interested in Byrd was Oakland. Head coach and general manager Al Davis had contact with Byrd prior to the draft.
“Al coached me my senior year in what was called the Challenge Bowl,” said Byrd.
Held inCorpus Christi, Texas,players from all the college conferences played against the old Texas Conference that was made up of all Texas college teams.
"We beat the hell out of them and I had a great game," said Byrd."I had a three or four touchdowns and two or three interceptions. I was in a zone that day.”
Byrd actually credits Davis for turning him into the prolific interceptor he was for the Bills. It all stemmed from his first encounter with the Raiders then head coach and GM.
“The Raiders came to practice at BU Field in preparation to play the Patriots while I was still in college. We were out practicing too and we were doing 7-on-7 passing drills,” Byrd recalled. “Davis was watching us practice from the sidelines and I was playing defense and the quarterback threw the ball and instead of intercepting the ball I just knocked it down.
“Davis stopped the practice and started yelling and screaming. I had no idea he was there or who he was. I looked at our coaches and they had their heads down and he came up to me and said, ‘Byrd, your job is not to knock the ball down. Your job is to catch the ball and turn it over to the offense. You haven’t done your job unless you’ve done that.’
“The whole thing lasted maybe two minutes. I didn’t know what to make of it. I turned to look for help from my coaches and they didn’t say a thing. So I thought to myself I guess I’ll just intercept the ball from now on. That always stuck with me.”
The football proved to very often stick with Byrd as well during his seven-year career with Buffalo as he recorded 40 interceptions over that span, which still stands as a franchise record.