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|Vidalia's Buffalo Bill|
Don't call it the NFL Hall of Fame.
One certain member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame takes exception to that.
Billy Shaw, who lived in Vidalia from 1964 before leaving for Georgia in 1973, is the only member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame to spend his entire career in the American Football League.
"So many people think it's the NFL," Shaw said from his home in Toccoa, Ga. "After the Bills' first championship team in 1964, I remember homemade signs decorating the crumbling walls of War Memorial Stadium that proclaimed, 'Bring on the NFL.' The fans weren't just Bills fans; they were 'AFL fans' too. And we agreed with them. Don't ask me why I am the only one to play his whole career in the AFL It just kind of worked out that way."
Shaw was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1999.
"Looking out and seeing my family in the audience reminded me that nothing I'd accomplished would have been possible without their love and support," Shaw said. "Seeing my former teammates looking back at me with admiration in their eyes humbled me in a way I can't describe All I could think was, 'Oh, what a lucky man I am.' Being elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame is the highest honor a player can ever hope to achieve. But for me it was more than personal recognition. I truly felt that day that I was there not just to accept the honor bestowed upon me, but to share my moment in the sun with all my former teammates and with all those who like me grew up in the AFL."
Shaw, who weighed 311 pounds when he retired from football in 1969, is down to 255 pounds and on a health kick.
But while traveling to Cincinnati for former Bengal Anthony Munoz's golf tournament, he began feeling ill.
"My wife (Patsy) and I left on Friday morning (June 11) going to Lexington and we were going to leave from there to Cincinnati on Saturday," Shaw said. "I started feeling bad Friday morning, but didn't say anything to my wife. Then my arm and shoulder started hurting and it started getting worst, so we headed back."
Shaw had an EKG done on June 21 and ended up having quadruple bypass surgery at Ronnie Green Heart Center in Gainesville, Ga. He was released Sunday morning.
"It was a huge shock to me and my doctors," Shaw said. "I had heart problems back in 2005 when I had two stints put in, but have been fine since then."
Shaw said he is resting comfortably now and is looking forward to getting his strength back.
The 72-year-old Shaw, who was born in Natchez on December 15, 1938, played nine years with the Buffalo Bills (1961-69) before the AFL merged with the NFL
Shaw moved to Vicksburg at the age of two and attended Georgia Tech, where he was named All-SEC first team as a tackle in 1960.
Shaw was drafted in 1961 by the Bills. He was the prototypical "pulling guard" who despite his size (6-2, 260) held his own against much bigger defensive linemen like Ernie Ladd, Earl Faison and Buck Buchanan.
"My football odyssey in Buffalo began in 1961," Shaw said. "Although I was drafted by both the Bills in the AFL, and the Dallas Cowboys in the National Football League, I chose Buffalo because the Cowboys wanted me to play linebacker. 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. The AFL gave young players a chance to play and sometimes an 'NFL castoff' a second chance to prove he could play. My friend and former teammate, Jack Kemp, bounced around in the NFL with the Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Giants prior to joining the Los Angeles (San Diego) Chargers. In his first year in the AFL, he led the league in passing. What a break for the Bills when we were able to get Jack off the Chargers' waiver wire.
"My nine seasons with the AFL's Buffalo Bills provided me with the fondest of memories and lasting friendships, and reinforced my belief that if you work hard and have the will to succeed, nothing is impossible," Shaw said. "Although the AFL was perceived as a pass-happy league with little defense, that wasn't always the case. In point of fact, in Buffalo, we were primarily a running team with a strong defense. But with Kemp throwing to the likes of Elbert 'Golden Wheels' Dubenion, Glenn Bass and Ernie Warlick, we could light it up with the best of them. The league as a whole preferred to play a wide-open style of football. And as history now proves, fans preferred the AFL's brand of football as evidenced by today's wide-open offensive attacks."
With the Bills, Shaw won three straight Eastern Division titles and two American Football League championships in 1964 and 1965.
Shaw was a first-team All-American Football League selection four times (1963 through 1966) and second team All-AFL in 1968 and 1969. He played in eight American Football League All-Star Games and was named to the All-Time All-AFL Team. He made the All-Decade All-pro football team of the 1960s. Shaw played his entire career in the American Football League, and retired after the 1969 AFL season.
"Although the pain we felt as players after AFL losses in Super Bowls I and II was substantial, it didn't even compare to the jubilation we felt after wins in Super Bowls III and IV," Shaw said. "It was as if each and every AFL player participated in those games, and in a sense, we did."
Shaw moved to Vidalia to be with his parents, who lived in Vidalia at the time.
Shaw and his father owned a machine shop in Natchez.
Shaw is a member of the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame and the Bills' 50th Anniversary Team. He is on the Bills' Wall of Fame and was named to the Buffalo Bills 50th Anniversary Team.
Shaw, who retired from the manufactured prefab concrete business, spends a lot of time playing golf on the Pro Football Hall of Fame Tour.
"I play about 18 tournaments a year," he said. "My wife and I have been to California and Washington along with several other places. We've been able to enjoy a lot of events thanks to the Hall of Fame. The neat thing is that being retired I can enjoy a lot of those."
Shaw also recently attended an NFL Legends of the AFL autograph session in Arlington, Tx.
"That was great," he said. "It was a two-day event that went over really well. There were a number for former AFL guys there such as Billy Cannon and Cotton Davidson. Of course, the Dallas Texans were one of the first AFL teams before they moved to Kansas City."
Shaw said the game changed considerably when offensive linemen were allowed to use their hands.
"In the very early 70s there was a major change in the blocking rules where linemen could use their hands," Shaw said. "That shifted the size of the lineman. Now a lineman has to have so much upper strength. Back when I played it was more about foot speed. Extending the hands was holding in our day. I think that changed the game a ton. Guys are so big now because of the way you have to play. And it's a 12-month job occupation now, whereas it wasn't in our day."
Shaw, who was selected to eight consecutive AFL All-Star Games, noticed a crack in his helmet at the end of the 1968 campaign, but because of his superstitious ways, he continued to wear it through 1969. The crack was less noticeable when the facemask was attached.
Shaw said he was glad to see the New Orleans Saints win the Super Bowl last year.
"I'm not necessarily a stomp-dead Saints fan, but I like Drew Brees and I like what it did for New Orleans," he said. "They deserved that after all the things they have been through."
Shaw remains a true Buffalo Bills fan.
"As a matter of fact I just returned from Buffalo where I played in Jim Kelly's Tournament," he said. "And I really do like Chan Gailey. He was on the board of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in Northeast Georgia and lived only 14 miles from me. He is very active in the FCA and he was speaking at a banquet and came up to me and told me he had to tell me something that only his wife knew about. He was interviewing for the Bills' job the next morning. He called me on Tuesday of the next week to tell me he got the job."
Shaw was intrigued to know that Ferriday native Daryl Daye was named Director of Football Operations for the Bills in February.
"I'm going back up there in September for another tournament, so I will have to look him up," Shaw said. "That will be neat having Vidalia and Ferriday represented up there."
Shaw and his wife have three children and six grandchildren - three boys and three girls.
His middle daughter Cathy's son, Jake Thornton, will be a senior at Stephens County High in Toccoa.
"I have been traveling with him to some senior elite camps," Shaw said. "He stands about 6-foot and is 260 pounds, so he is not real big. But he has about 25-30 schools looking at him. He's real strong. He loves staying in the weight room. And he enjoys hearing some of my stories, although he's always trying me about my playing days. It's still a lot of fun talking about those days."
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