One of Buffalo's greatest and most enigmatic players, Cookie Gilchrist, passed away Monday morning in an assisted living facility in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania at age 75. Gilchrist had been waging a battle with cancer that began in his throat back in 2007 and beat it, but most recently another form of cancer had unfortunately spread through his body.
Buffalo Bills Hall of Fame owner Ralph Wilson recently spoke with his former player by phone and offered sentiments on behalf of the Bills family.
"I had the opportunity last week to speak with Cookie and we had a good conversation," said Wilson. "Today is a sad day for me, the Bills and all of the community that Cookie is no longer with us and I want to offer my deepest sympathies to his family and friends."
A dominant running back, Gilchrist played for the Buffalo Bills for three seasons from 1962-64 winning AFL MVP honors in his first season with the fledgling AFL franchise, and helping Buffalo to its first AFL title in 1964 rushing for 122 yards in the 20-7 championship victory over San Diego.
"The Bills were very lucky to have procured the services of Cookie Gilchrist," said Wilson. "He was one of the greatest fullbacks I have ever seen in all of my years in professional football."
Gilchrist was the first AFL player to rush for 1,000 yards in a season as he rolled up 1,096 in 14 games during the 1962 campaign. With 35 touchdowns, eight field goals and 14 extra points, Gilchrist led the Bills in scoring in each of his three seasons in Buffalo.
"Cookie at that time was probably the largest back in the league," said former teammate Charley Ferguson. "He played at about 250 or 255. What was unbelievable about Cookie was his determination. If there is such a thing as giving 150 percent that's what he gave on the field. I've never seen anybody with that much enthusiasm to want to do it. If he could carry the ball 100 times, he would do it. That was just his attitude. He just felt that he could do it all. If there was anybody like a Superman he was a Superman."
A member of the AFL All-Time Team, Gilchrist also set a single-game pro football record with 243 rushing yards and five touchdowns against the New York Jets in 1963. His 31 rushing touchdowns with Buffalo still ranks third best in Bills franchise history behind only Thurman Thomas and O.J. Simpson.
"There was only one Cookie Gilchrist," said former teammate Ed Rutkowski. "He was one of a kind. He was just a tremendous ball player. Pound for pound just an incredibly gifted athlete. He had legs like a sprinter and the upper part of his body was built like a weightlifter or a boxer. He could run, he could kick and he was a vicious blocker. We used to love to watch film and see a blitzing linebacker coming to the line of scrimmage and Cookie would step up and knock the guy flat on his back.
"But he was a good guy too. He had a tremendous heart and always had a smile on his face. We're all sorry to see him go."
Gilchrist also had a storied career in the CFL prior to playing for the Bills. He was a five-time Divisional All-Star from 1956-1960 playing for three different clubs, winning the 1957 Grey Cup with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.