Bruis­ing full­back and AFL star took a stand against racism

The Washington Post Sunday - - OBITUARIES - BY JOHN WAWROW Washington Post staff writer Matt Schudel con­trib­uted to this re­port.

Cookie Gilchrist, 75, one of the Amer­i­can Foot­ball League’s first mar­quee play­ers in the1960s, died Jan. 10 of can­cer at an as­sisted liv­ing fa­cil­ity near Pitts­burgh. He had metastatic throat can­cer.

Mr. Gilchrist was a 6-foot-3, 251pound bruiser whose fe­ro­cious run­ning style drew com­par­isons to that of the great Jim Brown, his coun­ter­part in the Na­tional Foot­ball League at the time. Mr. Gilchrist’s grit and sin­gle-mind­ed­ness ex­tended be­yond the foot­ball field when he took stands against racism and held out for bet­ter con­tracts.

Be­fore join­ing the Buf­falo Bills in 1962, Mr. Gilchrist spent six years in the Cana­dian Foot­ball League, where he was re­garded as one of its top two-way play­ers.

Cor­ner­back Booker Edger­son, a for­mer Bills team­mate, said Mr. Gilchrist was “just as good and maybe even bet­ter” than Brown. “He and Jim had the same out­stand­ing abil­i­ties to play the game.”

Edger­son noted that Mr. Gilchrist also starred at linebacker in Canada and wanted to play the po­si­tion in Buf­falo.

He spent three sea­sons in Buf­falo and was named the league’s player of the year in 1962, when he had 1,096 yards rush­ing and a league lead­ing 13 touch­downs. In 1964, he and quar­ter­back Jack Kemp — who later had a dis­tin­guished ca­reer in pol­i­tics— led the Bills to the first of two straight AFL cham­pi­onships.

Mr. Gilchrist led the AFL in yards rush­ing from 1963 to 1965 and in touch­downs from 1962 to 1964. His most no­table game came in Buf­falo’s 45-14 win over theNew York Jets in 1963, when he set a pro foot­ball record with 243 yards rush­ing — since sur­passed — and be­came only the fourth player to score five touch­downs in a game, one short of the pro record.

Af­ter Buf­falo, Mr. Gilchrist spent two sea­sons with the Den­ver Bron­cos (1965 and 1967) and one with the Mi­ami Dol­phins (1966). Hewas named the great­est full­back in the 10-year his­tory of the AFL, which merged with the NFL in 1970.

Bor­row­ing from an old jazz song of the 1930s, Mr. Gilchrist ap­plied a mem­o­rable phrase to both his hard-charg­ing foot­ball style and some of his busi­ness pur­suits: “Lookie, lookie, here comes Cookie!”

Carl­ton Ch­ester Gilchrist was born May 25, 1935, in Brack­en­ridge, Pa., and had been known as “Cookie” since child­hood. He signed a con­tract with the Cleve­land Browns af­ter high school, but be­cause he was only 18, the con­tract vi­o­lated NFL rules.

Mr. Gilchrist then de­camped for Canada, where he starred for sev­eral teams and helped the Hamil­ton Tiger-Cats win the Grey Cup, the Cana­dian foot­ball cham­pi­onship, in 1957. He turned down in­duc­tion into the Cana­dian Foot­ball Hall of Fame, cit­ing racism.

Af­ter the AFL’s 1964 sea­son, Mr. Gilchrist was among a group of black play­ers who led a boy­cott of the AFL All-Star Game in New Or­leans af­ter they had dif­fi­culty catch­ing taxi cabs and were re­fused ser­vice in busi­nesses. The game was even­tu­ally played in Hous­ton.

“ The truth is, New Or­leans should erect a statue to Cookie,” Ron Mix, a for­mer AFL star who be­came a lawyer, said in 2003. “The city wanted an NFL team, but it was not go­ing to get it un­less it de­seg­re­gated. The boy­cott led to a change in the laws.”

In­for­ma­tion about Mr. Gilchrist’s mar­riages could not be con­firmed.

Sur­vivors in­clude three chil­dren and two grand­chil­dren.

Cookie Gilchrist was among a group of black play­ers lead­ing a boy­cott of an AFL All-Star Game.

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