It's a popular move, long overdue.
The Buffalo Bills surprised their fans at halftime of the season opener against the Indianapolis Colt by naming former Head Coach Lou Saban to the team's Wall of Fame. Saban, who served two different stints as the Bills Head Coach, and guided the team to back to back AFL Championships in 1964 and '65, is the 30th member of the team's Wall of Fame.
Saban's name was unveiled on the East side of Ralph Wilson Stadium during a halftime ceremony honoring his AFL title teams of the mid-sixties. His son, Thomas, and three daughters, Barbara, Patricia, and Christine, were on the field for the ceremony.
"I don't think you can write the history of the Buffalo Bills without Lou Saban," Bills President and Managing Partner Russ Brandon says. "The championships here in the sixties; the impact that team had on our community. They really set the foundation for the future of Buffalo Bills Football."
"It's an honor to see he and his family celebrated here," Brandon added.
Saban was named the second Head Coach of the Bills in January 1962. He had the team in the playoffs in his second year, and led them to AFL Championships in 1964 and 1965. His Bills teams were based on strong defense and efficient quarterback play by Jack Kemp. Saban's fiery demeanor and intelligent leadership resonated with his Bills players.
One of them, DE Ron McDole, named to the 2nd team All-AFL squad, says Saban built the Bills into a true team.
"It was that kind of a team--if one side was having a bad day, it seemed like the other one-- the offense or special teams would pick it up and make it work," McDole said this week, in an appearance on The John Murphy Show. "If they got in trouble, it seemed like we were able to keep them from getting into the end zone. It was the ultimate team those two years."
After four years in Buffalo, Saban left for a five year tenure as the Head Coach of the Denver Broncos. He returned to coach the Bills in 1972, lasting five games into his 5th season before resigning in the 1976 season.
It was that resignation that made the team reluctant to reward Saban with a spot on the Wall of Fame, despite calls from fans and other Wall of Famers for his inclusion. That slight was rectified Sunday.
Current Bills Head Coach Rex Ryan was excited to learn that Saban was going up on the Bills Wall of Fame. Ryan, a self-professed AFL fan from his childhood, says his most vivid memories of Saban came from an iconic sideline clip from NFL Films, while Saban was coaching the Broncos.
"The first thing that jumps out at any fan, is 'They're killing me, Whitey, They're killing me!' Everybody thinks about that," Ryan said.
"He was obviously a legendary coach here with the Bills," Ryan continued. "And even later in life, he coached so many different spots—he was just a lifer. A great coach. One of those guys who we all would be lucky to have half the career that he had."
Saban's name on the Bills Wall of Fame ensures spot in franchise history. And Brandon says the team is committed to continuing the 35-year tradition of honoring its' past through the Wall.
"Our history is tremendous," Brandon says. "The players that have walked on the field here and back at the Old Rockpile—it's amazing. An amazing history, and we're going to celebrate the history. We have an opportunity with the Wall of Fame and our new committee to do that. We take it very seriously. We look forward to many more years of honoring Buffalo Bills greats."
Last month, Brandon spearheaded the revamping of the Bills Wall of Fame committee by adding several members to the panel.
Photos of the 1964-65 Buffalo Bills, back-to-back AFL Champions.