There's no doubt that the Buffalo Bills players from the 1964 and 1965 AFL Championship teams are legends. Their performance garnered the ultimate prize in the sport at the time, reaching the pinnacle of their profession as individuals and as a team. They were, and still are, celebrated.
Legends they might be, but call them heroes, and you'll find your praise deflected.
RELATED PHOTOS: Bills Alumni Visit Veterans
"Veterans will say to me 'You were my hero,' but I tell them, 'How can I be your hero when you are my hero?'" said Bills alum Booker Edgerson (pictured, left), a cornerback on those championship teams. "I haven't done anything courageous like fighting for my country, so I don't see myself being a hero of sorts. Can't be a hero to them."
"We're considered football heroes, and they're considered real heroes," said alum Lou Piccone. "We dodged tackles while they dodged bullets."
With that humble attitude, Edgerson, Piccone, and a number of fellow Bills alumni continued the eight-year-old tradition of visiting their real heroes at Buffalo Veterans Hospital on Valentine's Day. Joined by Charley Ferguson, Pete Mills, Marlo Perry, and Bob Dugan, as well as a trio of Buffalo Jills and Billy Buffalo, the group signed autographs and spread the hospital to pass out valentines made by kids around the Western New York area.
"Valentine's Day is the day you show your love for a significant other or for people you appreciate," said Piccone. "These men and women have made the ultimate risk to keep us free."
Staff at the hospital ardently agreed that the veterans look forward to the yearly greetings and recognition from Bills alumni. For some veterans, it brought back memories of their days in active duty when they turned football into an escape from their wartime reality.
"Some of the guys thought about the Bills because it was that thing back home that kept you sane," said veteran Norman Lipkus (pictured, middle). "It was nice to have something at home to remember."
"It does make you feel good and proud to listen to them talk about how they enjoyed seeing us play and watching what we did on the field," Edgerson reflected. "At times, they said the only good thoughts were watching the Buffalo Bills play and win. We did have some kind of impact in terms of morale with them."
Judging by the memories shared on Valentine's Day at the Veterans Hospital, it seems the title 'hero' might go both ways.