As Bills Beat continues its coverage of draft highlights throughout the franchise history of the Buffalo Bills, we’ve arrived at the year 1962. ’62 proved to be one of the crucial years in the early history of the Bills. Two years before the start of their first AFL title run, the pieces were beginning to be laid for the success that was to come.
Two of the most important cornerstones of the Bills’ AFL success were drafted in the 1962 AFL Draft. While the trend of players being drafted in both the AFL and NFL drafts continued, this is ultimately the year in which the beginning of the franchise as its remembered today really began to take a solidified shape.
Another interesting note on the players selected in the ’62 draft is that those cornerstone players were each selected in the late rounds, proving an often-forgotten point that the greatest players aren’t always the ones selected in the first round. Here are the highlights for the 1962 AFL Draft for the Buffalo Bills.
Mike Stratton – Linebacker – 1962 – 1972
Mike Stratton is one of the most important players in the history of the Bills franchise. One of the defensive leaders of the team for a number of years, Stratton was a three-time First Team All-AFL selection between 1964 and 1966. In 1967, he was a Second Team All-AFL selection. He was an AFL All-Star selection in all four of those seasons.
Stratton was a 13th round selection in the 1962 AFL Draft out of the University of Tennessee. He played for the Bills until 1972. In that time, he put up 18 interceptions and 31.5 sacks. Of all his excellence in the AFL, he’s arguably most remembered for “The Hit Heard Round the World” against the San Diego Chargers in 1964 AFL Championship game.
Stratton was littered with honors after his retirement. He’s both a member of the Buffalo Bills Wall of Fame and the AFL All-Time Second Team. His 62 consecutive games alongside Harry Jacobs and John Tracey is an all-time record for a linebacker core in professional football to this day.
Tom Sestak – Defensive Tackle – 1962 – 1968
Tom Sestak is another all-time great Bills player. Along with Stratton, Sestak is considered to be one of the defensive leaders of the AFL champion teams. After playing his college ball at McNeese State University, he was selected in both the AFL and NFL drafts of 1962 (in the 17th and 16th rounds respectively).
Sestak led the AFL in sacks in 1964 with 15.5 and had 52 over the course of his career which was played in its entirety with the Bills. He also returned two interceptions for touchdowns in his career. Like Stratton, he was a three-time First Team All-Pro, a Second Team All-Pro, and four-time AFL All-Star.
Sestak was selected to the Buffalo Bills 50th Anniversary Team in 2009 and is remembered for being one of the top defensive linemen to ever play in the AFL. He was nominated for the NFL 100th Anniversary Team in 2019 but was unsuccessful in being selected. His life was cut short at the age of just 51 after suffering a heart attack.
Ray Abruzzese – Safety – 1962 – 1964
Ray Abruzzese rounds out the 1962 AFL Draft highlights for the Bills. Like Stratton and Sestak, Abruzzese was a late round selection (23rd). He played his college ball at the University of Alabama. Though a member of the 1964 AFL championship team, he played just three games that season.
It was the 1962 and ’63 seasons in which Abruzzese showed the most of his potential at the safety position, putting up five interceptions over the course of those two seasons. But he knew success quite well from his days at Alabama. He was a member of the 1961 National Championship team under Bear Bryant.
Abruzzese was part of a Bills secondary that also featured Butch Byrd and Booker Edgerson. The depth of this unit meant that his only playing three games in 1964 didn’t hurt the champion-to-be team. But his presence meant a lot in the earliest days of the franchise and helped to turn the AFL Bills into a powerhouse.
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