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.
Just over 37 years ago a certain Michigan State offensive lineman was selected to play in the Senior Bowl. Joe DeLamielleure was highly touted after a standout career with the Spartans, and was being heavily pursued by one AFC club in particular. Little did he know the team lying in the weeds all along would be the club that would take him in the 1973 NFL draft.
The Buffalo Bills had DeLamielleure squarely on their radar from the beginning, with owner Ralph Wilson one of the first to sing the lineman’s praises having seen several of Michigan State’s games living just over an hour away from the East Lansing campus in suburban Detroit.
Buffalo’s head coach Lou Saban and offensive line coach Jim Ringo didn’t need a whole lot of convincing, as their feelings on DeLamielleure were confirmed after spending a week with the young lineman on the practice field prior to the draft.
“When I played in the Senior Bowl coach Ringo was coaching our offensive line and Lou Saban coached my team in the game,” said DeLamielleure.
Buffalo’s staff got to see how DeLamielleure worked, how he adjusted to opponents and how quickly he picked up a new scheme. Weigh in day for the players at the Senior Bowl was late in the week as opposed to the beginning of the week as it is now.
DeLamielleure was concerned about his weight, knowing he had lost a few pounds since his college season had ended. But Ringo was there to help.
“Ringo weighed me in and I got on the scale and I weighed 243,” said DeLamielleure. “But Ringo quick put his foot on the back of scale and shouted out 255 to everyone in the room. Then he said to me, ‘Hope to see you in Buffalo.’”
That was the last DeLamielleure had heard from the Bills prior to the draft. He had only one other conversation with Ringo prior to the Senior Bowl game.
“I played guard the whole week in practice and then the day before the game coach Ringo came up to me and told me he was going to play me at right tackle for the game,” DeLamielleure recalled. “I wasn’t too happy about that, but Ringo said to me, ‘Come on you’ve played it before.’ I told him, ‘Yeah for one week against Purdue.’”
In that Purdue game DeLamielleure was kicked out to right tackle due to injury and had to face Dave Butz, the future two-time Super Bowl champion defensive tackle for the Washington Redskins, who went fourth overall in the ’73 draft to the St. Louis Cardinals. But DeLamielleure fared pretty well against Butz.
“I wondered why the heck he was moving me to tackle,” DeLamielleure said. “It kind of made me think that they didn’t believe I could play and that they were moving me to tackle for the heck of it. Now looking back I think they wanted to see how I would adjust and if I was versatile at all.”
Luckily for DeLamielleure he was matched up against a player with whom he was very familiar.
“The guy I was going against in the game wound up being Wally Chambers. He was the eighth pick in that draft that year for the Bears that year, but he was also from Detroit and I knew him my whole life. Fortunately I had a pretty good game against him.”
Leading up to the draft the team that was most frequently in contact with DeLamielleure was the Pittsburgh Steelers. Armed with the 24th overall pick near the bottom of the first round Pittsburgh told DeLamielleure he was option 1-A.
“The Steelers told me they were going to take me in the first round unless J.T. Thomas was available and he was a cornerback,” DeLamielleure said. “They said if we don’t do that we’re taking you the first pick in the second round. And that Steelers staff had three former Michigan State coaches on it at the time including George Perles and Woody Widenhofer. So I thought for sure I’d be going to Pittsburgh.”
As draft day approached on Jan. 30, 1973, DeLamielleure had other business to attend to that was essential to finishing his required college course load.
“Back then the draft wasn’t on TV, and it wouldn’t have mattered anyway because on draft day I had a test,” he said. “I had a five credit class that I needed to pass to graduate in four years. I went to take my test and it was a long one.”
DeLamielleure, who married his wife Gerri his junior year, told her if he happened to get drafted while he was gone to give him some kind of sign when he got back to their apartment, by either leaving the front door open or the window shades up.
“Well when I came home and the door was locked and the blinds were down, and I’m thinking this isn’t good,” DeLamielleure said. “I knock on the door and she tells me, ‘Nobody has called and it’s got to be in the third or fourth round by now.’”
Moments after getting home, DeLamielleure’s phone rings and from there things happen quickly, too quickly for the future Hall of Fame lineman to process.
“There’s a voice on the other end that says, ‘Hello this is Mr. Wilson and we took you in the first round,’” said DeLamielleure. “So I’m thinking everything is great and the conversation was really brief and I hung up the phone. Everything was such a blur and I was so excited that I called my dad and I told him, ‘Hey I just got drafted by the Steelers in the first round.’ And my dad was going nuts. So I hang up the phone again and the next call I get is from Larry Felser.”
The Buffalo News columnist proceeded to ask him how he’d feel about playing with O.J. Simpson. DeLamielleure’s mind started racing.
“I’m thinking to myself, did I get traded already? I had no clue what happened,” said DeLamielleure. “And he tells me, ‘No you were the 26th pick, Buffalo took you at the end of the first round.’”
Felser eventually straightened DeLamielleure out, who didn’t know Ralph Wilson was the owner of the Bills.
“Mr. Wilson didn’t say Buffalo Bills, he just said they took me in the first round,” said DeLamielleure. “It was a blur to me. Mr. Wilson always told me that I was his pick. He had some inside knowledge on me because he was good friends with my college coach Jim Russell under (head coach) Duffy Daugherty.”
In the end DeLamielleure was grateful the Bills drafted him because under former Hall of Fame offensive lineman Jim Ringo, DeLamielleure developed into a Hall of Famer himself.
“I think Lou (Saban) liked me just because I played hard, but I was a basket case. I was too aggressive all the time when I played,” DeLamielleure said. “If it wasn’t for coach Ringo coaching me I’d have been getting too many personal fouls. He cooled me down. I just thank God that the Bills drafted me because coach Ringo and Lou (Saban) were good for me.”