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Sacco Sez: Cookie Gilchrist chosen as first alternate for top-10 list of AFL players not yet in the Hall of Fame


I was honored to be among the 15 voters to choose that team.

Following the announcement of the list of 10, we were asked to name an 11th player as the group's first alternate, the most worthy choice of the guys who did not make the cut.

Another vote was taken, and I led the charge for former Broncos fullback Cookie Gilchrist. No tiebreakers were needed; Gilchrist was the popular choice.

The former Broncos, Bills and Canadian Football League star pulled down four votes to lead the pack and be named the 11th man.

Before we look at Cookie, here is a quick review of the other 10 players.

The leading vote-getter was Dave Grayson, former Kansas City and Oakland cornerback; second in votes were former Broncos wide receiver Lionel Taylor and former Chiefs guard Ed Budde. The others included former New York Titans/Jets linebacker Larry Grantham, former Houston receiver Charley Hennigan, former Kansas City defensive end Jerry Mays, former Oakland and Titans receiver Art Powell, former Buffalo defensive tackle Tom Sestak, former San Diego guard Walt Sweeney and former Kansas City tackle Jim Tyrer.

Those men have all been passed over for the Hall of Fame, and our committee says they should all be in.

Taylor's status as the second-leading vote-getter shows how highly he is regarded by experts.

He is now joined by Cookie Gilchrist, which is a great tribute not only to the players but to the Denver Broncos' AFL history.

I realize many modern fans are unfamiliar with Gilchrist, so here is a brief refresher.

He was the best back in every league in which he played during most of his career.

After he was signed by Paul Brown out of high school and his contract was found invalid due to no college play, he also was stripped of his college scholarship due to having signed a pro contract.

He reacted to that football catch-22 situation and went to Canada. There he was a five-time All-Star as both a running back and a linebacker, and he played on a Grey Cup championship team.

After Gilchrist returned to the states to play in the AFL, Broncos Ring of Famer Lionel Taylor described Cookie as "the best player I ever played with or against."

He dominated the AFL for half a decade as its most powerful fullback.

The first AFL back to rush for 1,000 yards (in a 14-game season) — and at fullback, no less — he twice led the league in rushing and four straight years led in rushing touchdowns.

Cookie was named an AFL All-Star in four consecutive years, which means that for almost 10 straight seasons he was an all-star running back regardless of the league in which he was trampling over defenses.

Gilchrist was also the AFL Most Valuable Player in 1962, one of few modern era fullbacks to be named MVP (including Jim Brown), and he powered the Buffalo Bills team that won the AFL title in 1964.

When all was said and done, Cookie Gilchrist was named a second-team running back on the AFL All-Time Team.

As fellow voter Ron Borges said, "If all that isn't enough to get you a bust in Canton, then why have a Hall of Fame in the first place?"

That was how fellow Ring of Famer and former Broncos head coach Red Miller felt when he nominated Cookie in 1979.

Players are now reporting to training camps all over the NFL landscape, but few entrances have ever been as grand as Cookie's with the Denver Broncos. Denver had acquired him from the Buffalo Bills by trade during the 1965 training camp.

I remember his arrival in Denver very well. Camp had just begun, and Cookie arrived fashionably late.

The Broncos were on the practice field at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden when Cookie's big gold Cadillac pulled up next to the field.

Executive vice president Jim Burris greeted Cookie when he emerged from his beautiful car and exchanged pleasantries, including, "We are delighted that you will be our placekicker in addition to our fullback, Cookie."

Cookie, who had handled placekicking duties in Canada and with the Bills, responded, "I am very happy to do both, and it will be great to have two contracts."

"Two contracts?" said Burris.

"Yes," Cookie replied. "If I have two spots on the roster, I have two contracts."

Needless to say, that did not happen, and he was merely an All-AFL fullback for the Broncos, but the story serves to show what a shrewd businessman he had become after becoming a pro at 19 years of age.

The four greatest fullbacks in football history are Jim Brown, Bronko Nagurski, Marion Motley (all of whom are in the Hall of Fame) and Cookie Gilchrist.

About the panel: The vote was organized by Pro Football Hall of Fame voter Clark Judge and included Hall of Fame voters Rick Gosselin, Ron Borges, Ira Miller, Ira Kaufman and John McClain, all of whom are members of the Hall's Senior Committee; league historians John Turney, Todd Tobias, Chris Willis, Ken Crippen and TJ Troup; Hall of Famer Art Shell; former Rams executive Bob Wallace; myself and former Kansas City Chiefs public relations man Doug Kelly; and NFL Network historian Elliot Harrison.

I am honored to have been chosen as a member of the voting group.

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