We return to The Wall once more! In this edition of Walking the Wall of Fame, we continue our journey through time with a stop on defense, to take on famous (or infamous, if you’re the San Diego Chargers) Linebacker by the name of Mike Stratton.
Humble, Hungry Beginnings
The notorious hero or cursed villain of the 1964 AFC Championship game, depending on your point of view, began his story in Tellico Plains, Tennessee; a small town of only ~780 people in 1958. Coming out of high school, Stratton played three positions to get as much time as possible on the field. Mike spent time at Tackle, Fullback, and the somewhat outdated position of Wingback. Wanting nothing more than a career in the great game, Mike played well enough to bring scouts to his small-town high school for the first time ever.
Stratton became the first player from Tellico Plains to ever be extended a scholarship offer when University of Tennessee Head Coach Bowden Wyatt brought him in. His natural athleticism made him a two-way talent, forcing Tennessee to put him in at both Tight End and Defensive End. However, he excelled coming off the edge and weaving through crowds to tackle the ball-carrier. He would declare for the AFL and NFL Drafts in 1962.
Stratton’s Legendary Career
Despite an incredible college career, he was from a smaller school and went undrafted in the NFL Draft. The AFL, as it so often did in that era, mopped up the talent left over by the dregs of the NFL’s talent sweep. In the 13th round, with the 100th overall pick, the Buffalo Bills selected Stratton to play LB. This would be the beginning of a legendary career. One that is arguably Hall of Fame worthy. Following an impressive rookie season, Mike Stratton would go on to to make six consecutive AFL All-Star teams from 1963-1968 (three of which were consensus choices).
Some credit should be given to the rest of his LB core, two men by the name of Harry Jacobs and John Tracey. As a trio, they allowed zero (that’s right, ZERO) 100-yard rushers over a 17-game stretch from 1964-1965. This pro football record still stands, and is one of the key reasons why Buffalo secured AFL Championships both years.
The Hit Heard Round The World
It’s in the first of these Championship games where Stratton became a household name. The San Diego Chargers had just marched 80 yards in four plays for a score to open the match and the defense was reeling. After a brief drive, Buffalo had to punt and the Chargers were firmly in the driver’s seat. Enter Mike. In arguably one of the most famous single tackles in pro football history, Stratton eliminated San Diego RB Keith Lincoln on a wheel route and broke his ribs.
Lincoln’s day was done. Meanwhile, Buffalo’s stout defense would go on to shut the Chargers out for the rest of the game, ultimately winning 20-7. On the back of Stratton’s dominant physical play, and his late-game red-zone interception of QB Tobin Rote, the Bills had secured their first professional championship. Even Chargers HC Sid Gillman had to give credit to Mike for the play that changed the game, calling his hit “one of the most beautiful tackles I have ever seen in my life”.
Mike In Memory
He would retire after 12 professional seasons in 1973, with 11 seasons in Buffalo and one in San Diego, perhaps as an apology to the team he so brutally crushed 9 years earlier. He was named a member of the All-Time AFL Second Team at the time of the AFL-NFL merger in 1970.
Sadly, in March of 2020, Mike would pass away due to heart complications following a fall. He was 78 years old. Inducted to the Wall of Fame in 1994, Stratton will always be remembered as the man who put Buffalo on the professional football map.
|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|
The Golden Era