We named the 10 best AFL players not in Canton; here's the next-best choice
When we chose the 10 best AFL players not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, our "AFL Call for the Hall," voters had such a tough time reaching the finish line that four candidates tied for the last two spots. So they chose again, and the tie was broken.
But not until the last vote was cast.
It was then, I wondered, whom our selectors would name as the 11th most worthy choice – the one guy who didn’t make the cut … but could if we had one more spot. So I asked. Another vote was taken, and this time there was no tiebreaker.
Former running back Cookie Gilchrist was the popular choice.
With 12 of our 15 judges reporting, the former Bills’ star pulled down four votes, with wide receiver and AFL leading scorer Gino Cappelletti and former Chiefs’ punter Jerrel Wilson tied for second with two each.
Ironically, Gilchrist wasn’t one of the four finalists tied for the last two spots on last week’s Top Ten. John Hadl and Wilson were. In fact, no running backs made the Top Ten, mostly because Gilchrist, Clem Daniels and Paul Lowe split votes. But Gilchrist made it here, and you can find out why by listening to our voters.
Here are their choices – and explanations -- for the first man off the bench on our Ten Best AFL Players NOT in Canton:
RICK GOSSELIN, Talk of Fame Network and HOF voter
Jerrel Wilson, P (Kansas City, 1966-77; New England, 1978) – There is only one punter in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Wilson was Ray Guy a decade before Ray Guy, a difference maker with his foot for the best team in AFL history. Yale Lary and Sammy Baugh are both in the Hall with punting as a sidelight of their careers. Punting was Wilson’s career – and few in the history of the game did it better.
KEN CRIPPEN, historian and president Pro Football Researchers Association
Houston Antwine, DT (Boston/New England, 1961-71; Philadelphia, 1972) – A six-time Pro Bowler, Antwine was first-team all-AFL and inducted into the New England Patriots’ Hall of Fame in 2015. His quickness and athleticism allowed him to dominate for an extended period of time. Stats do not do justice to his abilities on the field.
DOUG KELLY, former assistant PR director, Kansas City Chiefs
Jerrel Wilson, P – “The Duck” was our punter (in Kansas City) when I got there in ‘74 and remained so through ’77. Punted over 1,000 times. Was also not afraid to make a tackle. He was a bit on the downside when I knew him, but still very effective. Got to know him fairly well, and he died way too young (cancer) at age 63.
RON BORGES, Talk of Fame Network and Hall of Fame voter
Cookie Gilchrist, RB (Buffalo, 1962-64; Denver, 1965, 1967; Miami, 1966) – He was the best back in every league he played in for most of his career. After he was signed by Paul Brown while in high school, Gilchrist felt Brown broke a promise to him and left Cleveland for the Canadian League. There, he was a six-time All-Star as a running back and linebacker and played on a Grey Cup championship team. Returning to the States, he dominated the American Football League for half a decade as its most powerful fullback. Gilchrist was the first AFL back to rush for 1,000 yards (in a 14-game season), twice led the league in rushing, three times led it in scoring and four straight years led it in rushing touchdowns. He was named an AFL All-Star four consecutive years, meaning that for 10 straight seasons he was an All-Star running back in whatever league he was trampling over defenses. Gilchrist was also the league MVP in 1962 and powered a Buffalo Bills team that won the AFL championship in 1964. When all was said and done for the AFL, Cookie Gilchrist was named the fullback on the league’s All-Time team. If all that isn’t enough to get you a bust in Canton, then why have a Hall of Fame in the first place?
TODD TOBIAS, historian, talesfromtheamericanfootballleague.com
Gino Cappelletti, WR/K (Boston, 1960-70) – I was torn between Clem Daniels and Cappelletti, but I ultimately went with Gino. Granted he may not have been as dynamic a receiver as (Art) Powell, (Lionel) Taylor or (Charlie) Hennigan, but he is a Hall of Famer in my book. As a kicker and receiver, Cappelletti played two positions for 10 full seasons. He was a five-time All-Star and 1964 Most Valuable Player. He led the AFL in scoring five times and scored more points than anyone in AFL history. Plus, he played all 10 seasons of the AFL with a single team. I think that kind of overall contribution is worthy of recognition.
IRA KAUFMAN, JoeBucsFan.com and HOF voter
Gino Cappelletti, WR/K – Gino was one of the most unique players in pro football history. He literally did it all – from defensive back to kicker to wide receiver. MVP of the league in 1964, he never missed a game for the Patriots and finished as the league’s leading scorer.
JIM SACCOMANO, former VP of communications and current historian, Denver Broncos
Cookie Gilchrist, RB – When Red Miller was our head coach (in Denver) he wrote a letter to the Hall nominating Cookie for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. About two weeks ago, I interviewed Lionel Taylor, and he said, “Cookie Gilchrist was the best football player I played with or against.” The Football Encyclopedia used to run learned articles and for several years ran one in which they cited him as one of the top 250 players of all time. He had 12 interceptions while in Canada, was a kicker for three years and kicked for the Bills his first season there. He was the first 1,000-yard rusher in AFL history and averaged exactly 1,000 yards a year for four years of the AFL period … and this was in the second half of his great career. Also, in this age of emphasis on equality, he led the move of an AFL All-Star game so that all players – blacks included – could stay at the same hotel. A magnificent specimen, I only spoke with and met him in his post-career days. I was astonished at his physique even then.
IRA MILLER, The Sports Xchange and HOF voter
Cookie Gilchrist, RB – I know the Hall of Fame does not count what happened in Canada or what happened off the field. But since we’re not the real Hall of Fame, I think those things should count. On the field, he was a productive CFL player for six years before coming to the AFL where, in a passing league, he averaged more than 1,000 yards a season (in a 14-game season) his first four years and scored 42 touchdowns. He also made his league’s All-Star team (CFL and AFL) for 10 consecutive years. Off the field, he led a boycott of the AFL’s All-Star game in New Orleans over that city’s treatment of blacks.
ART SHELL, Hall of Famer, Oakland/L.A. Raiders (1968-82).
Earl Faison, DE (San Diego, 1961-66; Miami, 1966)– No comment made.
JOHN TURNEY, historian, Pro Football Journal
Cookie Gilchrist, RB – To me, he deserves some credit for his CFL years, but he edges other AFL backs in that he has an AFL title ring, led or tied for the AFL lead in rushing touchdowns four times, led the AFL in rushing twice and led the AFL in carries (he was a workhorse) three times. He could kick as well. Abner Haynes and Gilchrist are neck-and-neck in my view. Haynes, too, has a ring and an MVP and statistical titles, but he was an all-purpose halfback. He could run but was an effective receiver and a top-notch returner, both kicks and punts … perhaps the AFL’s version of Gale Sayers. I was surprised when he didn’t make the cut to 20. To me, has was more of an impact player than a couple of other Chiefs who did make the list of finalists.
BOB WALLACE, former team VP of administration, St. Louis Rams
Matt Snell, RB (N.Y. Jets, 1964-72) – My N.Y. coming out.
JOHN McCLAIN, Houston Chronicle and HOF voter
John Hadl, QB (San Diego, 1962-72; L.A. Rams, 1973-74; Green Bay, 1974-75; Houston, 1976-77) -- He was a great quarterback in the AFL for a great offensive team. “Bambi” would have been just another deer without Hadl.