By Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports Page Columnist
Robert James – Signed by the Bills in 1969
Robert James represents one of the best “what ifs?” on this list. He’s also one of the great signings of an undrafted free agent in Bills history.
James played college football at Fisk University, a tiny school in Nashville. He signed with the Bills in 1969, and needed a season to claim a spot in the starting lineup. Once James got there, he wasn’t going to let go of that spot easily. He became one of the best cornerbacks in the National Football League is short order. James was strong enough to contain wide receivers at the line of scrimmage, and fast enough to keep up with them as the play developed. It was a fabulous combination, to the point where the NFL changed its rules to make it easier for receivers to get open. James was picked for the Pro Bowl in 1972, 1973 and 1974, and was a two-time All-Pro.
Then, in a preseason game in 1975, everything changed. James suffered a severe knee injury against the Rams while defending a pass thrown by Lackawanna native Ron Jaworski. He didn’t know it yet, but his career was over.
Maybe James would have had a chance 25 years later, when doctors became better at repairing such injuries. Maybe he’d be in the NFL Hall of Fame, instead of settling for the Bills’ Wall of Fame. We’ll never know, but we still remember him.
Here’s a long interview with Robert that was very helpful when I was writing a biography of him for the Pro Football Researchers Association:
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)