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Gold Jacket Spotlight: 'Mr. AFL,' Billy Shaw

Gold Jacket Spotlight: 'Mr. AFL,' Billy Shaw

04/11/2021
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Perhaps sometime in the future the Selection Committee for the Pro Football Hall of Fame will elect for enshrinement another player whose entire career was spent in the American Football League.

Until that happens, Billy Shaw will remain the only member of the Hall with that distinction, and his brilliant nine-year career in Buffalo gains renewed focus this week in the Gold Jacket Spotlight.

The Bills made Billy, an All-American two-way lineman at Georgia Tech, their second-round pick (ninth overall choice) in the 1961 draft. Gambling on the prediction by many in the NFL that the upstart league wouldn’t last more than another year or two, the Dallas Cowboys used their pick in the 14th round of the 1961 NFL Draft to secure his rights.

For guidance, Billy went to the man who had become his closest confidante, Tech head coach Bobby Dodd.

“There is room for another league,” Billy said Dodd told him. “And 10 to 12 years after the first season, the two leagues will merge. And you can say you were part of football history.”

Dodd was as sharp a prognosticator as he was coach and mentor.

Billy signed with the Bills. Hall of Fame owner Ralph Wilson Jr. even sweetened the deal.

“Mr. Wilson took me to Detroit, and I picked out a Pontiac Bonneville off the line,” Billy said.

For the Bills, the investment in Billy paid off immediately. He entered the lineup as a rookie and started all 14 games, a feat he matched for the first six seasons of his career.

From 1962 through 1966, Billy earned first-team All-Pro honors and was selected to play in the AFL All-Star Game. It also was a golden era for the Bills as a franchise.

Buffalo reached the playoffs for the first time in 1963, falling to the Boston Patriots in the game to determine the AFL’s East Division champion and representative in the AFL title game. The Bills posted a 13-2 record the following season, which culminated in a 20-7 conquest of the San Diego Chargers in the AFL Championship Game.

The Bills made it back-to-back titles in 1965, again beating the Chargers thoroughly, 23-0. Seemingly on their way to a third title – and a trip to the first AFL-NFL World Championship Game (later dubbed Super Bowl I) – the Bills fell to the Kansas City Chiefs 31-7 in a loss Billy laments as the “most regrettable” of his career “because it disappointed so many Bills fans.”

The Bills’ stay atop the AFL’s East Division standings ended abruptly in 1967, and it’s no coincidence that’s the only season Billy missed considerable playing time. He recovered from that knee injury and returned to all-star form the next two years, retiring after the 1969 season – the last before the AFL-NFL merger.

At the time of Billy’s election to the Hall of Fame in 1999, the Bills of 1962, 1963, and 1964 still ranked second, third, and fourth in the team record book for rushing touchdowns scored in a season.

In an interview in 1999, Wilson said Billy “was everything you look for in an offensive lineman – competitive, strong and tough. Additionally, he was a great leader who had a heart of gold. The combination of those outstanding qualities earned him the respect of his teammates and opponents alike.”

They also earned him a coveted Bronzed Bust in Canton forever and a place in the Gold Jacket Spotlight this week.

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