By Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports Page Columnist
Jack Kemp – Signed by the Bills
Sometimes when a championship quarterback falls out of a tree and drops toward you, the smart thing to do is catch him. That’s sort of what the Bills did with Jack Kemp, and that’s why he’s the number one name on this list.
Kemp had a good career at Occidental in California, and was a 17th-round pick of the Lions in the 1957 NFL draft. He was cut before the season. Kemp became familiar with that routine, as he was dropped by Steelers, Lions, Giants, 49ers and Stampeders (Calgary) by 1959. Even Kemp’s family urged him to find other things to do with his life.
The American Football League offered Kemp one more chance, and he signed with the Los Angeles Chargers coached by the legendary offensive mastermind Sid Gillman. Kemp threw for more than 3,000 yards and 20 touchdowns, and the Chargers made it to the AFL title game – a loss to Houston. It was the same story a year later, as the now San Diego Chargers fell short of a championship by a game. Then in 1962, Kemp broke his finger early in the season. Gillman decided to stash him for future use by putting him on waivers, figuring no one would claim the injured QB. It didn’t work. The Bills claimed the quarterback on waivers.
Kemp became Buffalo’s starter late in 1962, and he stayed in that position when healthy through 1969. The Los Angeles native led the Bills to AFL titles in 1964 and 1965, and got them into the AFL title game in 1966. Thus, he was a starting QB in five of the AFL’s ten title games. Kemp was picked for the AFL’s All-Star Game six straight times and seven overall.
In 1970, Kemp decided to retire from football when he had the chance to run for Congress. Kemp won that election, starting a long career in public service that led him to the Presidential Cabinet as well as nomination as Vice President in 1996. He’s considered one of the most influential spokesmen in recent political history. But in Buffalo, Jack Kemp will always be the guy that led the Bills to two AFL titles.
Here’s the NFL Films version of his life story:
For a recap of No. 1 to 20, click here.
(Thanks for reading this series. Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)