Bruising fullback and AFL star took a stand against racism
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.