As of this date, there are an impressive 31 names on the Buffalo Bills Wall of Fame. Hailing from different eras, positions, roles, and backgrounds, these men all made their mark on this team and deserve to have their names on the hallowed walls of our stadium. But with over 60 years of team history in the books, we can’t help but wonder: Who were these men? Welcome to part one in a series detailing the histories of the names written on the hallowed wall on gamedays. We start off with the curious case of Elbert “Golden Wheels” Dubenion, whose name went up in 1993.
From NFL Castoff to AFL Legend
Dubenion is a prime example of why the AFL succeeded in the way it did. He was initially drafted by the NFL’s Cleveland Browns in the 14th round of the 1959 Draft. The already 26-year-old, a distant long shot to make the roster, was cut before the season began. Fortunately for Elbert, he was about to get a second chance. In 1960, less than one full year after his initial opportunity fell though, the AFL emerged. Teams formed, in part, from a plethora of NFL dropouts. He found his way to Buffalo and, at 27, became an integral part of Bills history.
As part of the first-ever team roster, Dubenion played alongside a wide mixture of talent and filler. In fact, he earned his nickname via a backhanded compliment from one of the many QBs he played with. Johnny Green told him that since he was so fast and yet supposedly unable to catch a ball, he had “Golden Wheels”, and the title stuck. His playstyle, however, was one of the main reasons for the AFL’s success.
“Golden Wheels” Goes Long
The introduction of the “long-bomb” made the AFL a more exciting alternative to the conventional “ground-and-pound” running game in the NFL. It was in this area that Elbert thrived, blazing past defenders and hauling in game-changing plays time and time again, and in doing so helped to bring about the most significant change in league history. One year after Dubenion retired in 1969, the AFL-NFL merger happened. The NFL couldn’t keep up with the growing AFL and was forced to merge.
Elbert Dubenion became a legend. His 1964 season went down as one of the most incredible years in football history as he racked up 10 TDs on 42 catches, with an amazing 1139 yards in the 14 game season. He had a ludicrous 27.1 yards per catch en route to an AFL Championship win over the San Diego Chargers. Despite playing in the upstart league in the 1960s, Dubenion is still fourth all-time in receiving yards (5,294) and receiving TDs (35) among Buffalo Bills players.
Elbert Dubenion Immortalized
His number 44 (top right) is in “reduced circulation”. This means that the number can only be worn with special permission from his family. The man friends, family, and teammates called “Duby” passed away in 2019 at age 86, exactly 55 years after the day his team brought the first AFL Championship to Buffalo. Buffalo’s first true legend was honored in his passing. Rest in peace, Elbert Dubenion.