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Future Buffalo Bills Wall of Famers: The AFL and Early NFL Eras



In the 60+ seasons since the Buffalo Bills made their debut, we’ve been fortunate to play host to a massive amount of talent. Unfortunately, not all of it has been recognized on the hallowed Wall of Fame within the confines of our stadium. In all three eras of Bills football, there are men who simply haven’t been honored in a manner deserving of their contributions to the team, but who have cases as good as any to be remembered. We’ve discussed ‘The Drought’, as well as our beloved ‘Golden Era’, but now we pay respects to those who came before them. The ‘Forefathers’ of Buffalo Bills football. These are the future Wall of Famers from the AFL and early NFL years, many of whom were part of the Bills’ AFL Championship teams in 1964 and 1965.

Ken Jones (1976-1986)

This second round pick in the 1976 NFL Draft played 11 of his 12 NFL seasons with the Bills, starting a whopping 137 of 158 possible games. A cornerstone of our offensive line for a decade, Jones never received league recognition in the form of a Pro Bowl or All-Pro selection, but his play at tackle was essential for the Buffalo run-game during that era.

Joe Devlin (1976-1982, 1984-1989)

Picked in the same round of the same draft as his teammate, Ken Jones, Devlin had similar longevity. His incredible 191 games played in Bills’ blue are fourth in team history to Jim Ritcher (203), Bruce Smith (217), and Andre Reed (221), each of whom is on the Wall of Fame already. He started every single game he played in for us after the conclusion of his 1976 rookie season. All 177 games.

Steve Freeman (1975-86)

There’s not a lot the Bills can be thankful of the Patriots for in the past 60 years, but Steve Freeman is one of those things. Drafted in the fifth round of the 1975 NFL Draft, Freeman would be cut before the season began, but he quickly found fresh footing in Buffalo. He would end up playing for 12 seasons with the Bills, and his 178 games are most of any defensive back in team history. Steve racked up 23 interceptions on his career, and three touchdowns.

Reggie McKenzie (1972-1982)

An elite pulling guard, McKenzie was scooped up by Buffalo in the second round of the 1972 NFL Draft with the 27th overall pick. The man who O.J. Simpson dubbed his “main man” helped forge one of the NFL’s scariest run games. Though he never made a Pro Bowl, Reggie was First-Team All-Pro in 1973, and Second-Team in both 1974 and 1975. He played 147 games over the course of 11 seasons for the Bills, missing no starts until 1981.

Butch Byrd (1964-1970)

Forget the Wall of Fame, why isn’t Butch Byrd in the Hall of Fame? This member of Buffalo Bills All-Time team was a five-time AFL All-Star over a six-year period from his rookie year to the AFL-NFL merger. The Bills all-time leader in interceptions (40) and interception return yards (666), Byrd dominated opposing WRs en route to five All-AFL selections (three First-Team, two Second-Team). Butch’s five interception return touchdowns are also tied for the most in team history. As a defensive back, he’s on the AFL’s All-Time Second-Team.

Jim Dunaway (1963-1971)

‘Big Jim’ is a Buffalo legend, and for good reason. The third-overall pick in the 1963 NFL Draft for Minnesota, Dunaway opted to do something quite unorthodox. The dominant defensive tackle chose to go the the new AFL’s Buffalo Bills as a second-rounder instead of fulfilling his NFL obligations, and it’s players like him who gave the AFL life in those early days. If not, the league may have collapsed, and Buffalo might not have a pro football team at all. He would go on to be selected as a consecutive four-time AFL All-Star from 1965-68, and was First-Team All-Pro in 1966.

However, his case for Wall of Fame candidacy is uncertain due to the social impact. Dunaway was charged with the murder of his wife in a 1998 case. Though not indicted by a grand jury, he lost a wrongful death suit in 2002, implying his guilt.

Harry Jacobs (1963-1969)

In 1959, Harry Jacobs became an 11th-round pick in the NFL Draft, taken by the Detroit Lions. He would never take a snap for them, and signed with the Boston Patriots during their inaugural season in 1960. He’d sign with Buffalo two years later, and his career as a linebacker would take off. He helped Mike Stratton and John Tracey anchor the middle of a formidable defense for years to come. Jacobs would become a two-time AFL All-Star in Buffalo, during our 1965 AFL Championship season and our pitiful 1969 season.

Stew Barber (1961-1969)

Barber might just deserve a spot on this list more than anyone. Selected in both the AFL (Buffalo, round four, 27th overall) and NFL (Dallas, round three, 30th overall) Drafts in 1971, Barber chose the Bills. Playing a significant role on both AFL Championship teams, Barber was a five-time AFL All-Star, selected in five straight years. He played his rookie season with us as a linebacker. However, by switching to offensive tackle, he was given new life. Barber would remain a fixture on the offensive line until his retirement. He was notoriouly healthy on gamedays, missing only one game in his career during the 1969 season, as he retired shortly after.

He would join the Buffalo Bills organization as a scout for a number of years, before serving as an assistant general manager from 1976 to 1979, then vice president and general manager from 1979 to 1982. Retiring as a Bill for life in 1983, Barber served time in almost every place in the team. He’s also a member of the AFL’s All-Time second team.

Honorable Mention

To check out the names already on the Wall of Fame, or to read about more candidates, check out the chart below!

O.J. Simpson (1980)Jack Kemp (1984)Patrick J. McGroder (1985)Tom Sestak (1987)Billy Shaw (1988)
Ralph C. Wilson Jr. (1989)The 12th Man (1992)Elbert Dubenion (1993)Mike Stratton (1994)Joe Ferguson (1995)
Marv Levy (1996)Joe DeLamielleure (1997)Robert James (1998)Edward Abramoski (1999)Bob Kalsu (2000)
George Saimes (2000)Jim Kelly (2001)Fred Smerlas (2001)Kent Hull (2002)Darryl Talley (2003)
Jim Ritcher (2004)Thurman Thomas (2005)Andre Reed (2006)Steve Tasker (2007)Bruce Smith (2008)
Booker Edgerson (2010)Phil Hansen (2011)Bill Polian (2012)Van Miller (2014)Lou Saban (2015)
Cookie Gilchrist (2017)Reserved For
Future Legends
Future WoFers:
Future WoFers:
The Golden Era
Future WoFers:
The Drought

One of the owners The Sports Wave, and a Journalist at Buffalo Fanatics, I'm an English immigrant living in Canada. A huge Buffalo Bills fan, I also love my Boston Celtics, Toronto Blue Jays, and Queens Park Rangers.