Billy Shaw is one of the greatest Buffalo Bills of all time. From 1961-1969, Shaw was a constant member of the Bills’ offensive units at the left guard position. In college, he was a two-way player for the Georgia Institute of Technology. He had an excellent career in professional football which included eight AFL All-Star selections and five All-AFL selections. These accolades came largely on account of his extraordinary run-blocking ability. His ability to pull towards the right and then up field led to numerous rushing touchdowns in the early days of the Bills.
Shaw has also kept a pretty low profile since he retired from professional football. His life looks like the lives of many typical individuals of a certain era and persuasion. As it turns out, he has a strong sense of foundation and has never lost sight of the things that have been important to him over the years. That foundation is a steady one, and it has allowed him to endure time with grace, humor, and humility.
Honey, I’m Sorry
He helped lead the franchise to back-to-back AFL championships in 1964 and 1965. After his retirement, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1999 alongside other greats of professional football Ozzie Newsome, Lawrence Taylor, Eric Dickerson, and Tom Mack. His induction into the Hall was seen by many as being long overdue. His induction speech is remembered rather humorously on account of his forgetting to mention his wife in his ‘thank you’ list, then coming back onstage and begging his wife’s forgiveness.
This humorous encapsulation turns out to represent the man Shaw is quite well. He has always been described as good-natured by his friends, peers, and family throughout his life. This good nature served as his compass on the football field, helping to establish the Bills franchise and his own Hall of Fame credentials.
Bills > Cowboys
Shaw was selected in both the AFL and NFL Drafts of 1961. By the Bills in the AFL Draft, 2nd round (9th overall). By the Dallas Cowboys in the NFL Draft, 14th round (184th overall). His desire to sign with and play for the Bills would turn out to be hugely important for both his career and their franchise. It’s both impossible and unfair, of course, to say the Bills wouldn’t have been back-to-back AFL champions without him. But his ability on the field and his leadership in the locker room were essential to those championship teams. His leadership style emphasized compassion and friendliness with others.
It’s also impossible to say whether Dallas would’ve used Shaw the same way. As a two-way player throughout his collegiate career, he may have been utilized differently in a different kind of system. After all, he considered himself to be a defensive player who occasionally played offense as far into his football career as college.
Because of this, Shaw was remembered fondly by most who shared the field with him. According to some, he’s best remembered as an “aw shucks sort of guy from Mississippi,” who used his humility and politeness to make everyone around him feel good about it. This made him a favorite among his teammates and helped to build a winning culture during the AFL era for the Bills.
What many fans may not know about Shaw is that in recent years he’s been an active member in the religious community. Though he’s been a member of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Toccoa for well over 40 years now, he’s been putting his membership and his testimony at the forefront of his life even more so in the years since his Hall of Fame induction.
Shaw is a believer that putting one’s faith at the heart of what they want to accomplish in life is the best way to achieve it. This is how he approached the game of football and how he interpreted his role in the Bills’ culture of the 1960s. These days, he hopes to inspire young people to find themselves and to steer clear of what he sees as the temptations and peer pressures they’re subjected to.
Living these days once again in Georgia, Shaw maintains many of his oldest relationships. His strong faith has allowed him to keep these relationships in an important place in his heart for many years. Now 83, he continues to live with his Christianity in his heart and mind. He credits it with helping keep him on the straight and narrow all these years. One of the relationships he made a point of maintaining over the years was with old high school friend Richard Price.
Price played college football at the University of Mississippi and always credited Shaw with helping him with the inspiration to better his life through faith and family over the years. Price would come to view Shaw as just as much a brother as a friend due to the wide range of their friendship with one another. Shaw and Price played high school football together at Carr Central High School in Vicksburg, Mississippi.
Built in 1924, Carr Central High School is an apartment complex these days after the building stood empty for 40 years. For these two old friends, the memories of the old high school would remain intact and continued to reinforce their bond after all these years, up to Price’s death at the age of 81. In the years he has left, Shaw hopes to continue bringing guidance and support to young athletes in the hope that they can find themselves the way he did.
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