Bills’ Draft Highlights – 1961

July 15, 2022
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Bills Beat has decided to take on a little bit of history and dive into the archives of Buffalo history. We will highlight all 62 Draft classes prior to the most recent 2022 class. We posted up our first installment of this series earlier today covering the highlights of the 1960 class.

The Buffalo Bills’ 1961 draft included 30 players selected; however, 15 of those would not play a down in the AFL or the NFL. While others from this draft chose the NFL over the AFL. Seven of the players picked by the Bills were offensive linemen, one of which includes a Hall of Famer and two other stalwarts on the Bills’ offensive line, as well as a quarterback that would play in the NFL for 17 seasons.

Ken Rice – Tackle

Ken Rice was Buffalo’s first selection of the 1961 draft and was the first overall pick of the AFL. He was also the first pick of the St. Louis Cardinals, eighth overall in the NFL draft but Rice chose to stay with the AFL. Rice spent seven years in the AFL, three with Buffalo, two with the Oakland Raiders, and two with the Miami Dolphins. He spent time at both tackle and guard positions throughout his career.

His rookie year of 1961 ended as an AFL Rookie of the Year finalist and a Pro Bowl bid. He even had two kick returns his rookie year for 13 yards. He was also a member of the second team All AFL team in 1961. Rice was traded to the Raiders in 1964 and during the AFL Expansion draft of 1966, he was selected by the Miami Dolphins, where he would spend the final two years of his career.

Billy Shaw – Guard

Billy Shaw is one of the greatest linemen to ever play for the Buffalo Bills. He was selected in the second round of the 1961 draft, ninth overall. The Dallas Cowboys also drafted Shaw in the NFL Draft but Shaw chose to stick with Buffalo and became an integral part of the 1964 and 1965 AFL Championship teams.

Shaw was an eight-time Pro Bowler, five-time All-Pro, and a second-team All-Pro in 1968. He played his entire career with the Buffalo Bills and was one of three offensive linemen drafted in 1961 that would do just that and all three were part of the starting offensive line throughout their entire careers, including the two championship seasons. Billy Shaw was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 1999 and is one of only two offensive linemen in Bills history with this honor.

Stew Barber – Tackle

Stew Barber was the second of the three linemen from this 1961 draft who would anchor the Bills’ offensive line for nearly a decade. He was selected in the fourth round, 25th overall. He was also drafted by the Dallas Cowboys of the NFL in the third round.

An interesting fact about Barber is he played right outside linebacker his rookie year, despite being drafted as an offensive tackle. He recorded three interceptions, one was a pick-six, and also had two sacks. In 1962, he made the move to the Bills’ offensive line and became a two-time AFL All-Pro and a five-time Pro Bowler. From 1962 – 1968, Barber would start every single game and eventually retired from the AFL after the 1969 season.

Norm Snead – Quarterback

Norm Snead was selected by the Buffalo Bills in the fifth round; however, the Washington Redskins also selected him but number two overall in the 1961 NFL Draft. Snead would choose to stick with the Redskins; however, he only played for three seasons, before being moved to the Philadelphia Eagles. He would remain the Eagles starting quarterback from 1964 until 1970. After 1970, Snead would play for three more teams and retired after the 1976 season.

I bring up Snead in our highlights here, simply to ask the question, what if he had not chose the NFL over the Buffalo Bills. Would Buffalo still add Jack Kemp to the roster and ultimately the starting quarterback? Maybe but not likely and if not, was Snead good enough to lead the Bills to those two AFL titles in 1964 and 1965. Ironically, two of Sneads best years as a starting quarterback, came in those same two years. Add to that, he was fifth in the NFL Rookie of the Year voting and would go on to back-to-back Pro Bowl seasons in 1962 (the year Kemp was brought to Buffalo) and 1963.

Al Bemiller – Center

The last player I want to highlight from the 1961 draft, is Al Bemiller. He was selected in the seventh round of both the AFL and NFL Drafts. He was the third offensive linemen from the 1961 AFL Draft that would become a mainstay on the Bills’ offensive line through the 60s.

Bemiller didn’t earn the Pro Bowls or All-Pro awards his other two linemates from the ’61 draft earned; however, he was a rock on the field and almost never missed a game. Out of a possible 126 games, he started 123 and played in every single game of his nine-year career.

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