|REMEMBER WHEN .... '62 - '69|
Booker Edgerson was a cornerback for the Buffalo Bills of the American Football League from 1962 to 1969. He is a member of the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame, the American Football League Hall of Fame and is on the Buffalo Bills Wall of Fame.
Booker came to Buffalo in 1962 as a free agent out of Western Illinois University where his football coach was Lou Saban. At WIU, Edgerson was a four-year letterman in football, baseball, wrestling, track & field. He came to the Bills as an undrafted free agent.
In 1962, Saban became the Bills Head Coach and signed Edgerson. He made an immediate impact on Coach Saban’s team with 6 interceptions and was named to the 1962 All-AFL Rookie Team. Booker was a cornerstone of the league’sbest defense that appeared in 3 straight AFL Championship games - in 1964, 1965, and 1966, winning two league titles (’64 and ’65) and losing to Kansas City in 1966 for the right to go to the AFL-NFL Championship game (now known as Super Bowl I).
As the Buffalo Bills and the American Football League mark their 50th anniversary,
THE BUFFALO DOWNTOWNER brings you an interview with one of the true heroes of both the
Buffalo Bills and the American Football League.
Q: Booker you signed with the Buffalo Bills in 1962, 2 years after the league was formed. Here we are celebrating 50 years…back then did you believe the league would last?
A: Well yes I did, I believe in fact that after 67 & 68 that we were stronger than the NFL. I was against the merger and felt we gave up our identity and subjugated ourselves to the NFL.
Q: You came here as a free agent after playing for Lou Saban at WIU, why weren’t you drafted?
A: Back then, teams didn’t have the technology or resources to scout small schools. I never felt they overlooked me, but rather looked exclusively at Big Ten and Big East teams.
Q: Did you hope to play in the NFL?
A: Actually, I never envisioned playing pro football. I was a pretty good baseball player, I thought that if I were going pro, it would be in baseball.
Q: Did Lou tell you he was bringing you to Buffalo?
A: Joel Collier called me and asked if I was interested in playing football. Then Lou called and we talked; and then Lou got fired from Boston and I told him to call me when he landed a new job. And he did, when he got to Buffalo.
Q : It is said that you were the closest player to Saban and you attended his funeral. What impact did he have on you?
A: He was like a father to me. I started playing for him right out of high school. I would go to him for advice. He looked out for all the guys. His wife would cook us a meal and we would ask his advice. I played for him at WIU, Buffalo, and at Denver. Even after he left Buffalo, Joel Collier was my coach and he was like an offshoot of Lou.
Q: On the Bills?
A: He brought winning to the Bills and everywhere he went.
Q : As a career AFL player, what did you think of the NFL at that time?
A: Well, I guess the NFL was the place to be, but I liked our brand of football. Remember I was surprised to be playing any brand of pro football
Q: As a player with the Bills’ ‘64 & ‘65 championship squads, how do you think you would have fared against the NFL elite teams of the day?
A: We would have stood right up to them. We played a different style of football, but football is football. We would have watched game film and prepared for them the way we did with different opponents every week
Q : Who were the leaders of the Bills of the 60’s?
A: Jack Kemp, Billy Shaw and Cookie was to a certain extent. Harry Jacobs was on defense; but on the field only. But it was Jack, on and off the field.
Q : Was there a QB controversy between Jack Kemp and Daryle Lamonica? Did the players have a favorite?
A: As far as the team and the players were concerned Jack was the starter. But if he was having a bad game, Lou would not hesitate to pull him and put Daryle at QB. And if Daryle wasn’t effective, Lou would put Jack right back in. It was always about winning.
Q : What was Cookie Gilchrest like to play with and practice against? Should he be on the Buffalo Bills Wall of Fame?
A: Cookie was 30 years ahead of his time. He was always about “if you’re going to play me, then pay me.” Cookie offered to play both ways, but you would have to double his salary. He was like T.O. and Brandon Marshall. All the things they do now as a matter of course, Cookie did then and they were controversial. Today’s players owe a lot to Cookie. He felt that if the owners were making a lot of money, then so should the players who the fans were coming to see. Like T.O. today. I think that it is 6 1/2 million dollars well spent
..... As far as the Wall of Fame goes, both Cookie and Lou belong up there.
Q: In the ‘65 title game you ran down Hall of Famer Lance Alworth, considered o the fastest man in football at the time. How fast does that make you?
A: You know how the old story goes, some days you are faster than others. Maybe that day was one of the faster days. I know that Lance did the 100 in 9.6 and my best was 9.7 but that day, it was good enough.
Q: You played with Butch Byrd. Were you the best pair of corners in the AFL?
A: Well, that’s a matter of opinion, but I would say yes. We had 2 good corners and a great safety in George Saimes. We were a tough defense to score against.
Q: Were you the best in all of football?
A: Well, I’ll let you decide that.
Q: The other Bills‘ corners that come to mind are Nate Clements ($80 million), Antoine Winfield ($34 and $36 million extension), Terrence McGee (big contract extension), Nate Odomes. How do they compare to you and/or Butch?
A: It’s hard to compare guys of different eras. Terrence (McGee) would measure up to Butch and myself, and Nate Clements maybe. At least these guys played some special teams. Remember, we had a 33 player squad, so we played corner and a whole lot more. Antoine Winfield was a helluva cornerback also. Remember, we had to go to camp to get in shape because we all had jobs in the off-season, training now is all year long. As I said before it’s hard to compare one era to another. I never felt shorted because of the current salaries, it is what it is.
Q: How would you compare the ‘60s teams to the ‘90s teams?
A: They had a great offense and we had a great defense. We would have played them man-to-man and a lot of bump and run. I think we would have fared well given our strengths. If we played them 7 times it could go either way, but I would not give them the benefit of the doubt.
Q: What did you think of the Kelly-Levy Super Bowl teams?
A: I think the greatest thing they did was to keep the team together for the 4 championships. Sometimes it comes down to luck. You can call it the breaks, but that’s luck. I believe that if they had won Super Bowl XXV they would have won all four.
Q: You were born in Arkansas, raised and went to college in Illinois, yet you make Buffalo your home. Why?
A: Why not. The opportunity was here. People knew me in Buffalo. Do you think people would have known me in Chicago or Detroit. This is a great place to raise a family, a great community. Plus it reminded me of my home town. I had a lot of friends and contacts here.
Q: Ralph Wilson was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame this year. What do you think of Mr. Wilson
A: He’s a helluva guy. He should have been inducted 10 years ago. Look what he did for football and the AFL. Plus all the good he does for the community that he doesn’t publicize . If any owner deserves to be in the Hall it’s him.
Q : If you were NFL commissioner for 1 day, what would you change?
A: I would reform and structure the salary so there is more equity among players. I believe it is up to every player to get what they can, but I would like to see it spread around a little.
Q: Tell us what it meant to have been a member of the old AFL and the Buffalo Bills.
A: Well, I’ll tell you what it meant. It taught me a lot, taught me how to be a man, because I was around good people. Tom Day, Ernie Warlick, Cookie, who was my roommate, was like a big brother to me. Lou Saban was like a father to me and Joel Collier was like an older brother. These guys brought stability to my life. I am still surrounded by quality people within the community and with the Buffalo Bills Alumni Association. You just can’t take from a community, you have to give back. We received great support from the Bills and the community and we have raised well over a million dollars for charity.
The Bills Alumni Foundation is one of the finest in the league. Which is no surprise to anybody, because its president has always been an All-Star at whatever he did. Booker makes his home in the Buffalo area and is the President of the Buffalo Bills Alumni Association.
Thank you to:
writer: Joe McQuillen and the
Managing Editor: Paul McQuillen
of The Buffalo Downtowner