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 pickthe 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. More details coming soon.*
Professional playing careers are often shaped by one or two influential people in the life of that particular player. It's rare however, when all of them are Hall of Famers. Such was the case for Bills guard Billy Shaw, who not coincidentally also found himself bestowed with the same Hall of Fame honors when his career was over.
When Shaw's college career had concluded at Georgia Tech following the 1960 season, he was considered a promising pro prospect by both the NFL and fledgling American Football League, which had just completed its first season. And there was one team from each league expressing strong interest in Shaw leading up to the two pro drafts.
"I had been in contact with the Cowboys mostly prior to the Bills getting involved," recalled Shaw. "The Cowboys wanted to play me at linebacker. We had lengthy conversations at that point in time. The Bills wanted to play me at either defensive end or an offensive line position. I really wanted to play on the defensive side of the ball as a defensive end. So that triggered a real interest for me (in the Bills)."
Presented with two very different options in terms of his future position, Shaw consulted the man whose opinion he valued most, his college head coach.
"I went to my mentor and that was coach Bobby Dodd at Georgia Tech," said Shaw. "And I just presented to him what my options were. Coach Dodd told me straight up, 'Billy there is room for another pro league. The timing is right. I think that your potential is either on the offensive or defensive side of the ball as a lineman, not a linebacker. You have an opportunity to go to a new league, play early and be a part of history.'"
Not wanting to play linebacker all along, the College Football Hall of Fame coach's words convinced Shaw that Buffalo was where he should sign. When the Bills chose him in the second round of the AFL draft, Shaw quickly made his way up to Buffalo to put his name on a contract despite the fact that the NFL draft had yet to take place.
"I had never ever played linebacker before," he said. "I didn't want to learn a new position. I thoroughly enjoyed playing on both sides of the ball, but I didn't have a preference. So I signed with the Bills prior to the NFL draft, thinking at that point in time that I would be a defensive end. I thought I'd be a better fit on the defensive side of the ball."
A few weeks later the organizers of the College All-Star game felt the same way. Played every year (1934-1976) in Chicago after both the AFL and NFL drafts, the best college players, who were set to begin their pro careers, would play against the NFL champion. In 1961, Shaw along with the other college all-stars faced the Philadelphia Eagles, with the Bills draft choice set to be used as a defensive tackle.
Ironically, there was a player ahead of him on the depth chart at that position that had just been drafted by the NFL expansion Dallas Cowboys.
"We went to the college all-star game and I was playing on the defensive side of the ball behind Bob Lilly," said Shaw. "I saw very quickly that I didn't match up on the defensive side of the ball like I thought I would."
Fortunately for Shaw, the head coach of the college all-stars agreed with Shaw's personal assessment after seeing him play for about a half at the position. Retired legendary Cleveland quarterback and then soon to be Pro Football Hall of Famer Otto Graham was the sideline boss for the collegians and chose to make a position switch for the second half of the game.
"Houston Antwine was the best defensive tackle I ever played against in the AFL, but at the all-star game he was playing guard for our team and he was stinking it up, probably more than I was stinking it up on the defensive side," said Shaw. "So coach Graham changed us. He put me at offensive guard and Houston at defensive tackle. And our careers kind of took off from there."
When asked if he protested the switch, Shaw admitted he couldn't wait to flip over to the offensive side of the ball.
"I was so glad to get out from behind Bob Lilly and get over on the offensive side of the ball," Shaw chuckled. "I wasn't about to shine sitting behind him. I knew then why the Cowboys wanted to play me at linebacker on that side of the ball because the Cowboys had intentions of taking Bob Lilly first in the draft, which they did."
Shaw went on to become an eight-time AFL All-Star, a member of the AFL All-Time team and the only Pro Football Hall of Famer to play his entire career in the American Football League. Lilly also became a Hall of Fame defensive tackle for Dallas.
"Otto Graham said he called the Bills and claimed he had permission to move me from the defensive side of the ball to the offensive side," Shaw said. "That's where my career changed, at the college all-star game."
So although Shaw thought his career took a definitive direction the day he was drafted by Buffalo, it took one more critical turn before his pro career began. A turn that would make him one of Buffalo's most decorated players ever.