Cookie Gilchrist dies at 75 after battle with cancer


Carlton Chester (Cookie) Gilchrist was the model for a long-gone era when football players would contribute on both offence and defence.

An imposing physical specimen, the six-foot-three, 251-pound fullback was a dominant force feared by opponents on both sides of the ball. Gilchrist also played linebacker, on the defensive line and even kicked field goals over six CFL seasons before continuing his strong play in the American Football League.

Gilchrist, who won a Grey Cup with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 1957, died Monday after a battle with cancer. He was 75.

“I was a big guy for that era,” CFL legend Angelo (King Kong) Mosca said in a telephone interview. “But I’ll tell you one thing, when he came through that line it was like a train coming through.”

Gilchrist also played for Saskatchewan and Toronto before moving on to the AFL in 1962, when he was named player of the year with the Buffalo Bills.

The four-time Pro Bowler, whose ferocious running style drew comparisons to that of the great Jim Brown, also played for Denver and Miami.

“He was as good as they get,” said Norm Stoneburgh, a teammate in Toronto from 1959-’61. “He was noted for his running ability and his offence. But coaches, when they got mad at him, would stick him on defence and he was just as devastating. He was that good.

“He could play any position. He was an outstanding athlete. And I’ll say, he knew it too.”

Former players and teammates remembered Gilchrist as a confident, tenacious, strong-willed man who seemed larger than life on and off the field.

“He certainly didn’t hide his light under a bushel,” Stoneburgh said. “He was great – and strutted it. Some guys aren’t good and they strut it. In his case, he just knew he was good.”

Gilchrist was a six-time division all-star in the CFL, five times as a running back and once as a linebacker.

“Cookie coined the phrase, `Lookie, lookie, here comes Cookie,”’ Stoneburgh said. “It was a phrase that was true – he knew it and opposing teams felt it.”

Born in May 1935 in Brackenridge, Pa., Gilchrist was lured out of high school by the Cleveland Browns. He didn’t make the team and ventured north, where he played with the Sarnia Imperials and Kitchener-Waterloo Dutchmen of the Ontario Rugby Football Union before joining the Ticats in 1956.

Gilchrist, who scored two touchdowns in Hamilton’s 32-7 victory over Winnipeg in the 1957 Grey Cup, played for the Roughriders in 1958 before being dealt to Toronto. In 1960, he was a finalist for the CFL’s outstanding player award, along with eventual winner Jackie Parker.

Gilchrist recorded 4,911 rushing yards, 1,068 receiving yards and 12 interceptions over his CFL career.

“Possibly at his age, he was as good as Jim Brown, if not better,” Mosca said.

Gilchrist still holds the Argos’ single-game record for scoring with 27 points, a mark he set Oct. 30, 1960 against Montreal.

“I’ll tell you one thing, he was chiselled by God,” Mosca said. “That was his body. He was unbelievable … he was a tough football player. He was really hard-nosed.

“He was never mad at anybody, he just played the game the way it was designed to be played.”

Gilchrist died at an assisted living facility near Pittsburgh, nephew Thomas Gilchrist said. He was first diagnosed with throat cancer and the disease spread to his prostate and colon.

“The Bills were very lucky to have procured the services of Cookie Gilchrist, who was one of the greatest fullbacks I have ever seen in all of my years in professional football,” said Ralph Wilson, the 92-year-old Buffalo owner.

Gilchrist’s grit and single-mindedness extended beyond the football field. He took stands against racism and wasn’t afraid to demand better contracts.

In 1964, Gilchrist and quarterback Jack Kemp led the Bills to their first of two straight AFL championships. Former Buffalo teammate Booker Edgerson said Gilchrist also wanted to play defence with the Bills.

“Yeah, he was tough,” Edgerson said. “If they would’ve allowed him to play linebacker, he would’ve kicked a lot of butt.”

Gilchrist led the AFL in rushing yards for three straight seasons (1963-’65) and touchdowns (1962-’64).

His most notable game came in Buffalo’s 45-14 win over the New York Jets in 1963. He set a then pro football record with 243 yards rushing and became only the fourth player to score five touchdowns – one short of the record set by Ernie Nevers.

Retired Buffalo News football writer Larry Felser covered Gilchrist during his days with the Bills and still regards him as the best to play the game. Felser wrote in 2004: “Any time. Any place. Any brand of football. Cookie was, pound for pound, the greatest all-around player I ever saw. He would be a superstar in today’s football.”

Gilchrist and O.J. Simpson are the only two Bills players to score rushing touchdowns in seven straight games, and Gilchrist’s 128 points in 1962 is the fourth-highest single-season total.

In its all-time roster section, the Argonauts media guide says Gilchrist, who was voted to Toronto’s modern-era (1945-’73) all-star team, was “a charismatic and volatile free spirit who many claim was the best all-around athlete ever to play for the Argos.”

Gilchrist also displayed a different kind of toughness. He and a group of black players boycotted the 1965 AFL all-star game in New Orleans after they weren’t allowed into a bar and had difficulty catching taxi cabs. The game was eventually moved and played in Houston.

Gilchrist is also the only player to turn down induction into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. He cited racism and exploitation by team management.

Gilchrist had a long-running feud with Wilson after the team waived him in 1964. Gilchrist refused to return to Buffalo to attend alumni functions unless he was paid. Gilchrist and Wilson finally settled their differences last week during a phone conversation, Thomas Gilchrist said.

“I’m glad they had that conversation,” Edgerson said. “When I visited him, he told me, ‘I’ve got to bury the hatchet with Mr. Wilson.’ “

On Monday, Wilson called it a “good conversation.”

Edgerson called Gilchrist a unique individual, who wasn’t afraid to speak out for better pay.

“He was 30 years ahead of his time,” Edgerson said. “He believed in what he did, good bad or indifferent. And he would go where ever he had to make it work.”

Mosca said Gilchrist always had a lot of ideas on the go.

“He started more things than you can imagine,” Mosca said. “In the city of Hamilton, he had a drive-in restaurant. He called it Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Then he had a lighting business. … Cookie was always involved in something. A very interesting guy.”

Gilchrist is survived by sons Jeffrey and Scott and daughter Christina Gilchrist all of Toronto, and two grandchildren.

Visitation is Wednesday at the Ross G. Walker Funeral home in New Kensington, Pa. The funeral is Thursday.

Tony Proudfoot donates brain, spinal cord to research


From Tuesday’s Globe and Mail
Published Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2011 12:09AM EST

It was the last act of a compassionate man. Before he died last month, Tony Proudfoot considered his three-year fight against Lou Gehrig’s disease and knew what he had to do. He had to help find a cure, the reason behind his affliction. So he did one last thing.

He donated his brain and spinal cord to researchers.

Tony Proudfoot, a former CFL all-star who once employed a staple gun to give his team an edge in the Grey Cup's storied ``Ice Bowl,'' has died. He was 61. Proudfoot, who had been fighting Lou Gehrig's Disease for the last three years, is photographed at his home Tuesday, August 24, 2010 in Montreal. - Tony Proudfoot, a former CFL all-star who once employed a staple gun to give his team an edge in the Grey Cup's storied ``Ice Bowl,'' has died. He was 61. Proudfoot, who had been fighting Lou Gehrig's Disease for the last three years, is photographed at his home Tuesday, August 24, 2010 in Montreal.

On the second last day of 2010, Proudfoot passed away from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, leaving behind a wife and three children and too many former Montreal Alouettes teammates and admirers to number. What he also left behind was a tangible means of examining ALS and the possibility he believed in: that the disease bore a connection with repeated head trauma. The kind he endured as a hard-hitting defensive back in the Canadian Football League.

Proudfoot and his family’s decision to donate his brain and spinal cord is another constructive step in trying to diagnose the brain and what affects it. Tissue samples of Proudfoot’s 61-year-old brain have been taken to Montreal’s Neurological Institute and Hospital and passed along to pathologists in Toronto.

Those who will assess and discuss the findings include Toronto neurosurgeon Dr. Charles Tator and Dr. Angela Genge, ALS director at the Montreal Neurological Institute. Genge had worked with Proudfoot after he was diagnosed in 2007.

“It really does [speak to his character],” Genge said of Proudfoot’s decision to fight ALS in every way he could, even in death. “He turned even this into something good. Not everyone will do that.”

Genge said the study of head trauma and concussions needs not just damaged brains to research but those from former athletes who have passed away through natural causes. The plan is to compare subjects and their experiences. It may be a mix of factors that leads to ALS and it’s something the medical community is eager to explore.

“On the science side, there are different things happening,” Genge said. “One is looking at the long-term potential risk facing football players who were exposed to recurrent head trauma. Another is, were there any toxic issues? Like pesticides used on fields. That’s not been proven at all. But is there a combination of factors?”

Former Winnipeg Blue Bomber Leo Ezerins is doing his part for research too. As head of the CFL Alumni Association, Ezerins has been soliciting brains for Tator and others at the Krembil Neuroscience Centre at Toronto Western Hospital.

Ezerins secured Jay Roberts’s brain before the 67-year-old former Ottawa Rough Rider died of lung cancer last October. Roberts suffered several concussions in his career, including one where he had no memory of what he’d done over a period of 72 hours.

“I was told the biggest challenge was to find brains,” Ezerins explained. “I said, ‘I’m sure our guys would be interested.’ Any guy I’ve talked to has said, ‘Not a problem.’ It’s part of a legacy. … The doors just opened up with Jay Roberts.”

Ezerins is a member of a group that includes neurosurgeons, pathologists and psychologists looking into postconcussion syndrome in professional athletes. Genge said it’s critical that athletes and their leagues get behind the science of the brain and what can be done to protect those who take the greatest risks.

“Some [leagues] are just plain afraid,” Genge said. “That’s a normal response. They’re afraid of the consequences, and in the business of professional sports, some organizations are afraid to be sued. … The quest to understand recurrent head injury trauma should be most important.”

Proudfoot played 12 seasons in the CFL and was also renowned for his life-saving efforts during the 2006 shootings at Dawson College, where he was a teacher. He helped raise more than $500,000 for ALS research before his death.