Billy Shaw remembers, extols the old AFL

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The New York Jets stunned the football world on Jan. 12, 1969, defeating the Baltimore Colts 16-7 in Super Bowl III, once and for all proving that the AFL teams, which merged with the NFL, were not inferior. The Jets, behind Joe Namath and Misissippi Sports Hall of Famer Larry Grantham, dominated the game. Pro Football and Mississippi Sports Hall of Famer Billy Shaw firmly believes it could have happened five years earlier.

Shaw played for the 1964 AFL Champion Buffalo Bills. Those Bills finished with a 12-2 record, led the league in offense and defense and outscored opponents 400-222. The Cleveland Browns, who finished 10-3-1, won the NFL title that year.

In a recent visit to your Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame, Shaw talked about the similarities of the Browns and the Bills, how both were primarily running teams with strong defenses and also about how both featured an all-star pulling guard from Mississippi who would eventually make the Pro Football Hall of Fame (Shaw and the Browns Gene Hickerson). Shaw, a few years younger than Hickerson wore No. 66, the same as Hickerson, because both were from Mississippi and Shaw so much admired the way Hickerson played.

Those Browns, coached by Blanton Collier,  featured Jim Brown (1,446 yards) at fullback. Those Bills, coached by Lou Saban, featured Cookie Gilchrist (981 yards) at fullback.

“We won the AFL in 1964 and 1965 and lost in the championship game in 1966, but I’ve always thought that 1964 team was our best team,” Shaw said. “The Browns, who won the NFL, were similar to us in so many ways.

“We never played the game so we’ll never know,” Shaw said. “Let’s just say we would have been very, very comfortable playing the game.”

Shaw, who at 74 appears younger than he did when he entered the Hall of Fame, spoke to us on a number of subjects and you can see the video below. Asked about his obvious fitness, Shaw said he received a health scare several years ago because of his weight and previously undiagnosed diabetes. He lost more than 100 pounds and works out three times a week.

Shaw expressed regret that Richard “Possum” Price, his long-time friend, has never been voted into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. “Richard Price is one of the five best football players, at any level, I’ve ever seen play the game,” Shaw said. “I’m almost embarrassed that I am in it and he is not.”

Shaw, who now lives near Atlanta, is the answer to one of sports’ great trivia questions: Who is the only Pro Football Hall of Fame player who never played in the NFL?

Shaw retired the year before the two leagues merged.

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