Two former Bills, Jim Ritcher and Ernie Warlick, were honored Thursday night as they were inducted into the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame.
They did not play with one another but they both represent greatness in the Bills history: Warlick was there in the beginning as a member of both AFL Championship teams in 1964 and '65; Ritcher started on the four-time AFC Championship team in the 90s and made two Pro-Bowl appearances.
Before arriving to Buffalo, Warlick played his ball at North Carolina Central University, where he also lettered in basketball, and even had a brief stint in the CFL with the Calgary Stampeders.
Warlick, who was honored posthumously, played tight end for Buffalo. He was aptly nicknamed "hands" for their remarkable size and ability to make catches. To this day, he holds a franchise record of 17.2 yards per catch for a tight end.
"He would be incredibly humbled," Warlick's daughter Lynn said of what he would think of the honor. "But he would also probably say: 'See, I have to do something like this in order to get my whole family and all my friends together.'"
Warlick was also a pivotal voice in the 1965 AFL all-star game boycott. After being treated with contempt upon arriving for the game down in New Orleans, he and the other 20 black athletes elected for the game decided not to play. "We couldn't perform under those conditions," he told profootballhof.com in a prior interview. "We were led to believe that we could relax and enjoy ourselves like the other citizens."
"I think everybody knows my dad for his big hands and his big feet but I really hope that people will remember him for what was really, I think, the biggest part of him which was his heart," Lynn said. "We felt his love and still feel it every day."
Ritcher played on the offensive line for the Bills, where he spent 14 seasons and is one of 22 in team history to have played in all four Super Bowls. He began his career at center but later moved to guard, making way for fellow Wall-of-Famer Kent Hull.
These 22 players were all members of the four-peat AFC Championship teams that represented the Bills in Super Bowls XXV, XXVI, XXVII, and XXVIII.
Coincidently, he also played college football in North Carolina, but for the Wolfpack of North Carolina State. In his senior year, he was an all-American and earned the Outland Trophy, and award for the nation's top offensive lineman.
Ritcher had great memories of his time on Buffalo and spoke very highly of the city.
"It was rewarding to go through some of the bad seasons and even though we didn't win a world championship, we were right there knocking on the door all the time," said Ritcher. "For four years straight, it was a great feeling to be on top."
Even post football, Ritcher's career continues to ascend. Not only is he now a member of the GBSHOF, he also is a commercial pilot for American Airlines, fulfilling another lifelong goal, in addition to being a pro athlete of course.
"Another dream was being able to fly and so starting about midway through my career in football, I had the resources," he said. "I never had [the resources] as a young kid to be able to go and start taking lessons and flying airplanes. That's what I would do during the offseason and work on those ratings. Get different licenses and stuff."
Ritcher and Lynn Warlick, vouching for her father, both expressed their relief and excitement with the ownership change the prospect that the team will stay in Buffalo.
"Very exciting," Ritcher said. "So thankful and relieved that it's going to be someone that is committed to keeping the Bills in Buffalo. Couldn't be happier. I think if you're going to spend that kind of money on a team, you're going to make sure it's going to be a winner down the road."
"He would love it. I think he would have been crushed if the Bills ever were to leave Buffalo," Lynn Warlick said of her late father's thoughts. "It's just a part of all of us."