We’re counting down our list of the best 20 Buffalo Bills draft picks of all-time. Take note- this is not a rundown of the best 20 players. Where the player was drafted is often a major factor in determining his value and ranking. Today is number three on our list, Billy Shaw)
Billy Shaw, Guard (Second round pick, 11th overall of 1961 AFL draft)
As he entered the world of professional football following a successful college career at Georgia Tech in 1961, Billy Shaw had options. He was drafted in the second round of the AFL draft by the Buffalo Bills, but was also selected by NFL powerhouse Dallas in the 14th round. The Cowboys were a reputable team in the established NFL while the Bills were a newer franchise in the very unproven AFL.
He had alternatives on where he could play as well as what position he wanted to take on. Buffalo and owner Ralph Wilson were interested in Shaw making his mark as a lineman while the Cowboys wanted him to play linebacker.
Shaw chose Buffalo and as the saying goes, “the rest is history.”
“I chose Buffalo because Dallas wanted me to play linebacker,” Shaw said in an interview from a book called ‘Rockin’ the Rockpile’. “The Bills, to my delight, wanted a lineman. To some it probably didn’t make much sense for a kid from Vicksburg, Mississippi, to shun the opportunity to play in Dallas in the established NFL, but Ralph Wilson and his staff convinced me otherwise. It was the right decision and one I’ve never regretted.”
It took Shaw little time to make an impact with Buffalo as his speed, size and natural ability made him a driving force on the offensive line. One of the game’s first true pulling guards; Shaw would often open up holes the size of an ocean for running backs Cookie Gilchrist and Wray Carlton to run through.
In a book titled “Legends of the Buffalo Bills” by author Randy Schultz, Carlton recalled Shaw being a tremendous athlete.
“Billy was a hard-nosed competitor who didn’t like to get beat,” Carlton said. “To me he was a fullback playing guard. I think the greatest moment I’ll always remember about Billy was the whole he blew open for me in a 1965 playoff game against the Houston Oilers. I ran through it for 80 yards and a touchdown. And Billy was leading the way for me all the way. I was even having a problem keeping up with the final 10 yards or so. That’s how good of an athlete Billy was.”
During his nine-year career, Shaw would anchor a line on a Bills team that would win a pair of AFL Championships against San Diego in 1964-65.
As anyone who’s known Shaw would attest, he’s always quick to share the credit. In the Schultz book, Shaw made sure to praise his offensive line mates at length.
“We had a great offensive line that was very close,” Shaw said. “There was Joe O’Donnell, Dick Hudson, Al Bemiller, Stew Barber, Ernie Warlick and myself. We were a very close group. We all played hurt at one time or another and knew it. When one was down, the others would try and help lift the spirits. We tried to lift each other up. You never ended up feeling sorry for yourself in that group. I still admire those people today, especially for the sacrifices they made. Ironically, we all came in at about the same time and all left at about the same time. It was a special time in our lives.”
While the rest of the line certainly deserves its share of the credit, it was unmistakably Shaw that opposing teams feared. They did for good reason— Shaw could move would- be tacklers out of the way like a snow plow on the Buffalo streets of a January blizzard.
Of Shaw’s nine years in the league he’d be an eight-time AFL All-Star selection, beginning each season in 1962. Along with Tom Sestak and George Saimes, Shaw is one of three Bills players to be named to the All-Time, All-AFL team.
Shaw retired following the 1969 season and the individual accolades would follow. In 1988 he was inducted onto the Buffalo Bills Wall of Fame, and last year he was voted as a member of the Bills 50th anniversary team.
Of course, both pale in comparison to 1999, when Shaw was enshrined into the National Football Hall of Fame. As testament to how great a player he was, Shaw to this day is the only member of the Hall that played his entire career in the American Football League.
If you ever want to stump your friends, ask them who the first Bills draft pick was in 1961. The answer was offensive tackle Ken Rice.
Shaw’s one of the league’s all-time best second-round draft picks—and number three on our list of the greatest Bills draft picks ever.
(Bill Choinski of Billszone.com contributed to this story)
Previously: #20 Joe Cribbs, #19 Jeff Nixon, #18 Bob Chandler, #17 Nate Odomes , #16 Fred Smerlas, #15 Aaron Schobel, #14 Joe Ferguson , #13 Charles Romes, #12 Reggie McKenzie, #11 O.J. Simpson, #10 Howard Ballard, #9 Darryl Talley, #8 Joe DeLamielleure, #7 Bruce Smith, #6 Mike Stratton, #5 Jim Kelly ,#4 Tom Sestak