Bills Beat draft highlight series moves on with the 1964 AFL Draft. ’64 is arguably the most iconic year in the history of the Buffalo Bills. This was the first of back-to-back AFL title seasons for the Bills and a season in which they sported a 12-2 regular season record. The team featured each of the following in AFL All-Star seasons: Jack Kemp, Cookie Gilchrist, Elbert Dubenion, Ernie Warlick, Stew Barber, Butch Byrd, Tom Sestak, and Mike Stratton.
’64 also saw the Bills select a few key pieces to add to their team in the AFL Draft. As it turned out, these pieces were the finishing touches for a team that was on the precipice of reaching the top of their competition. In 1963, the team had come up short and lost to the Boston Patriots in the AFL tiebreaker playoff. The next season’s team was significantly improved, and the draft proved to be one of the reasons why.
Butch Byrd is one of the most important draft picks the Bills have ever made. Byrd started all 14 games in his rookie season, recording seven interceptions and returning one interception for a touchdown in the regular season. He was selected by the Bills in the fourth round of the 1964 AFL Draft out of Boston University. In the 1964 AFL Championship game, he also recorded an interception. This season saw him come in at number four in AFL Rookie of the Year voting. This season would prove to be the first of many excellent seasons for him.
The following season, Byrd again started in all 14 games. This was a theme of his career. His final season, 1971 with the Denver Broncos, was the only season he didn’t start all 14 games, starting in just one. At the end of his career, he was a First Team All-AFL selection three times, as well as a one-time selection on the All-AFL Second Team. He was also a five-time AFL All-Star selection. To this day, he stands as one of the greatest defensive backs in the history of the Bills.
Joe O’Donnell was selected by the Bills in the 13th round of the 1964 AFL Draft out of the University of Michigan. O’Donnell was also selected in that year’s NFL Draft in the third round by the Green Bay Packers. Choosing to take his professional football career to Buffalo, he provided an incredible boost to the offensive line as a guard. The running game became a powerful force with Billy Shaw on one side and O’Donnell on the other.
After sitting on the bench during the Bills’ win of the ’64 title, O’Donnell sat again in the ’65 season but started in the championship game. His presence on the offensive line during that game helped the team’s running backs go for 98 yards and helped the team secure another championship. That season, he was selected as an AFL All-Star. His career was just beginning at this point, though. He would go on to be the starting right guard for the team in five of the next six seasons.
Bobby Smith was selected by the Bills in the 11th round of the 1964 AFL Draft out of the University of North Texas. Smith played just three seasons of professional football – two with the Bills and one with the Pittsburgh Steelers of the NFL, which selected him in the seventh round of the ’64 Draft. His seasons with the Bills proved to be the most consequential, as his contributions on the ground helped the team in its successes.
Smith rushed for five touchdowns in his two seasons with the Bills and had 443 rushing yards. He also compiled 188 receiving yards in that time. Never a consistent starter, he nonetheless served as a solid backup, particularly in the 1964 season to Cookie Gilchrist. An interesting note on the running back – in 1966 during his season with the Steelers, he was listed as a rookie even though he had played in two seasons (championship ones at that) in the AFL. The NFL clearly didn’t think much of the AFL in those days.
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