Out of the Past—Jack Kemp’s Hamburg address

       By Steve Cichon

Through the 70s and 80s, no one put the phrase “Hamburg, NY” on more lips, in more places, than Jack French Kemp.

As a congressman, Kemp spent more time flying out of Hamburg than flying in.

As the Bills quarterback from 1962-1969 and as a member of Congress from 1971-1989, Kemp always listed Hamburg as his residence. As a football player, Hamburg was a football season residence. And like many congressmen through the years, the time Kemp actually spent in the district as a congressman was dwarfed by the time he spent in Washington.

As a Buffalo Bills quarterback, Jack Kemp spent football seasons living in Hamburg, as seen here nursing a broken leg with his daughter Judith in their Hamburg living room in 1968.

The fact that he and his family actually lived in the Washington suburbs seemed to be a bigger issue for his political opponents than his constituents, who re-elected Kemp nine times.

When legendary South Buffalo Democrat James P. Keane ran against Kemp in 1986, Kemp’s residency was one of Keane’s talking points.

“He was born and raised in Southern California, and for more than a decade he’s lived in suburban Maryland. You won’t see him raking leaves in Hamburg,” Keane said in a debate.

When a Washington Post reporter asked the congressman where in Hamburg he lived, Kemp said South Lake Street. When the reporter asked which house number, Kemp had to dig into his wallet and look at his driver’s license as the reporter looked on. Kemp had purchased the house seven years earlier, and would sell it the following year.

Kemp won his final re-election bid that year with a 20% swing. He ran for the Republican nomination for President two years later in 1988.

The GOP nod, and ultimately the White House, was won by George H.W. Bush– who went on to make Kemp his Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Kemp was also the Republican candidate for Vice President on the ticket with Bob Dole in 1996.

Buffalo in the ’60s: Bills players stand up to racism

By Steve Cichon

The 1965 American Football League All-Star game was scheduled for 52 years ago this week in New Orleans, but it never happened.

Dave Dixon, who had been trying to bring the AFL to New Orleans, organized the game with promises that there wouldn’t be any problems in the still-segregated city. Players were promised testimonial dinners and golf tournaments, and even told to bring their families. But trouble began as players landed at the airport.

Cabs lined up for the White All-Stars, but the 22 black players weren’t so lucky. A porter called black cabbies from downtown for several players, but there were a few who were picked up by white cabbies — only to be driven out to the boonies before being ordered out of the cab. Bills fullback Cookie Gilchrist was warned by a friendly white cabbie, “Be careful in this town.”

Ten members of the AFL Champion Bills were on the East All-Star team, and Bills Head Coach Lou Saban was East coach. Four of the 10 Bills were black: Cookie Gilchrist, Elbert Dubenion, Butch Byrd and Ernie Warlick.

Bills quarterback Jack Kemp and linebacker Mike Stratton were also among the all-stars, and were joined by their teammate Warlick in the French Quarter. In several different places, Kemp and Stratton — both white — were allowed in, but Warlick was told with hostility that he wasn’t welcome.

In his book “The Birth of the New NFL,” Larry Felser tells the story that Warlick packed his bags after an incident the following morning.

“Warlick was able to order breakfast in the dining room of the hotel, ‘but I lost my appetite when an older woman said loud enough for me to hear, that she didn’t want to eat in the same room with monkeys.’ “

There were many other black players who had similar or worse experiences. Many didn’t want to spent the rest of the week there and play in such an environment.

There were several meetings of players over the coming days. The black players voted at one meeting to skip practice. Then there was a meeting with the game organizers and the NAACP, where Gilchrist did much of the talking.

At a larger meeting, with many players of both races, Bills tight end Warlick was nominated spokesman of the black players. It wasn’t unanimous, but the black players voted to not play.

Immediately after the meeting, Warlick told reporters that the fact that they’d been promised there wouldn’t be any segregation made it that much harder to deal with. Players were told that the better night spots, restaurants and hotels would greet all the players equally with open arms.

“Actually, this came as a complete surprise to us,” Warlick said of the way he and his teammates had been treated. “We were led to believe that we could relax and enjoy ourselves in New Orleans just like other citizens. Maybe if we had been alerted to the fact that we wouldn’t have the run of the town, we could have avoided this unpleasant situation.

“If they had told us this before, we’d have looked specifically for those cabs and sought out our entertainment in those places,” Warlick continued. “But they led us to believe everything was going to be OK. And it wasn’t.”

Kemp was the backup quarterback for the East All-Stars, had just won the AFL Championship with the Bills, and was also the president of the league’s players’ union. He and San Diego Chargers offensive lineman Ron Mix were among the white players at that final meeting. The two agreed to lead white players to stand by their teammates — but not all white players embraced the move. Patriots linebacker (and later Hall of Famer) Nick Buoniconti called the walkout a “raw deal” which “hurt the league a great deal.”

Later a Buffalo congressman, HUD Secretary and vice presidential candidate in 1996, Kemp was also influential in the negotiations to move the game to Houston, where it was played days later.

Immediately following the vote to not play, Gilchrist found a Mexican cabbie to take him to the airport, but snow in the northeast had flights delayed. News of a player revolt came on a TV in the terminal, and “Suddenly, people are all looking at me,” Gilchrist told Murray Olderman of the Jamestown Post-Journal.  “I can sense the hostility. For the first time in my life I’m scared. I’ve been brainwashed about the South.”

He finally got on a flight for New York and was comforted that he was among friends when someone asked him for an autograph.

“We weren’t out to correct anybody,’’ then-Bills cornerback Butch Byrd told the Sporting News in 2015.

“We were just thinking, ‘They’re showing us no respect. This is just pure hatred. We have to get out of here,’ ” said Byrd. “We weren’t thinking about making history, so to speak. We just knew we were treated badly, and we wanted to leave.’’

“The stand the AFL and its players took against the city of New Orleans was unprecedented,” wrote Pro Football Hall of Fame researcher Jon Kendle in a piece for the Hall of Fame’s website.  “The boycott was clearly a milestone event that went beyond the world of sports and was more of a reflection of American society at the time. It helped shine a spotlight on Congress’s ability to enforce the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and proved that if America was to desegregate, the culture needed to change its mindset and adopt a more progressive view of the human race as quickly as possible.”

Buffalo’s original QB controversy– Kemp vs Lamonica

By Steve Cichon

It’s the Buffalo battle that pitted brother against brother, father against son, bartender against guy on the third stool to the left.

In a manner that seems to echo in our own day, longtime friends were becoming estranged over the question, who should be the Bills starting quarterback?

The back and forth over the wise old sage Kemp and the young gunslinger Lamonica was really a win-win — both were talented and capable leaders and all-league passers.

The 1965 Buffalo Bills used both quarterbacks though the season on the way to winning the team’s second-straight American Football League title.

The Bills are the only undefeated team in professional football because of a young Notre Dame quarterback named Daryle Lamonica.

Whether the Bills are great or terrible, nothing seems to excite Western New York football fans more than being able to argue about which of the team’s quarterbacks is better — or at least less terrible. It’s played out over and over, especially when an understudy steps into the starring role.

Think of all of the time spent on gin mill barstools fighting over Ferguson or Marangi, Ferragamo or Mathison, Kelly or Reich, Collins or Van Pelt, Flutie or Johnson, Edwards or Losman, or Fitzpatrick or Edwards through the decades. And then remember Buffalo’s first real quarterback controversy, one that pitted brother against brother over cans of Genesee beer in the stands at the Rockpile.

While many of these arguments seem futile, silly or mismatched in retrospect, the Jack Kemp/Daryle Lamonica discussion of the mid-1960s set two championship level quarterbacks against one another in the hearts of Bills fans.

Kemp was the senior statesman in the Bills backfield long before he held that title in Washington. Having spent 1957-59 as a backup on NFL rosters, he led the AFL Chargers to the championship game in 1960. He was an AFL All-Star for Buffalo in 1962. Kemp was under center as the Bills won AFL Titles in 1964 and 1965. His last season with the Bills was in 1969, when injury limited him to three appearances.

Lamonica was drafted by the Bills in 1963 out of Notre Dame. He was Kemp’s backup, and when he came in to relieve Kemp, he usually made the most of it with dazzling long passes that always ignited the imaginations of Bills fans. Vexing many to this day, Lamonica was traded to the Raiders in 1967 and was named the league MVP that year. He led Oakland to a losing effort in Super Bowl II.

This article, written as the Bills were the only undefeated team in football, does some measure of introducing Lamonica to Bills fans, many of whom are still arguing his case 50 years later.


Buffalo in the 70s: Bills’ top QB a training camp holdout

By Steve Cichon

Dennis Shaw, the Bills’ No. 2 draft choice, was holding out from training camp over “a few thousand dollars,” as Larry Felser writes in August, 1970.

Shaw was the heir-apparent to Jack Kemp, and would eventually start in all but five games for the Bills over the next three seasons.