Roger Kochman: The Buffalo Bills’ Worst Injury, Most Forgotten Player, and Ground Zero Hero

Worst injury and most forgotten?

A case can easily be made for it.

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Running with the Nittany Lions.

Roger Kochman exploded onto the AFL scene after a dominating collegiate career with Penn State.  With the Nittany Lions, he was named the “All-American halfback” by US coaches in 1962.  That year, he lead the Lions in yards rushing for the 2nd straight season with 652 yards.  He concluded his collegiate career with 1,485 rushing yards.

From “Penn State Nittany Lions,” by Ken Rappoport:

“Teams from both the NFL and the AFL hoped to sign Kochman.  He finally decided on Buffalo of the AFL.  His pro career came to a premature end, though, with a knee injury.”

“It turned out that Buffalo was a great organization,” said Kochman. “I got hurt and they took very good care of me.  I was really banged up, in the hospital for a very long time.  They stuck by me, they paid all the bills. I was fortunate to have a two year contract, and they honored it.”

It was a devastating blow to the Bills, too.  Kochman had compiled 232 yards in just 5 games as a rookie halfback for Buffalo, carrying the ball for an astonishing 4.9 yards per carry.  (Cookie Gilchrist, by comparison, had rushed for 4.2 yards per carry that year.) Meanwhile, his 46.4 yards per game was surprisingly close to Cookie’s 69.9 – especially considering Kochman’s average of 9.4 carries per game to Gilchrist’s 16.6.

By week 5 of the ’63 season, Buffalo was still looking for a win.  Kochman and Gilchrist split the carries, but the team still came up empty.  Then, in week 6, Kochman stole the spotlight.  His 13 carries garnered  86 yards against the Kansas City Chiefs that day, while Cookie’s 12 lead to just 14 yards.  Gilchrist was essentially relegated as a goal-line buster, as he scored 2 touchdowns in that game, but Kochman had emerged as a talent actually more elite at taking the ball downfield than Cookie himself.

Oh, and in the 3rd quarter of that game, Kochman caught a 3rd quarter 63 yard bomb from Jack Kemp for a 28-19 lead that would prove to be the game winning points.  He excelled at the catch – in his 5 games in the NFL he had 3 receptions for 80 yards, and a touchdown.

He was, indeed, blindingly fast, and appeared to be the Bills’ future, before nearly having his leg ripped off in a tackle by the Houston Oilers’ Cecil Dudley Meredith (who would later coincidentally play 6 seasons for the Bills).

Gilchrist would continue to run for two more years with the Bills, earning AFL all star awards for ’64 and ’65.  But in 1965, Gilchrist was 30 years old, and with the loss of the promising Kochman in ’63, the Bills had no one left to fill Gilchrist’s shoes.

Then, Gilchrist demanded a trade in 1965, and the Bills turned him over to Denver.

In 1966, the aging stalwart Bills roster faced the Kansas City Chiefs for the rights to face the Green Bay Packers in Superbowl I.  From wiki:

The Bills went into the 1966 AFL Championship having already won the game the previous two years. Though the game was to be played in Buffalo, the visiting Kansas City Chiefs were three-point favorites, mainly because of their explosive and innovative offense led by Head Coach Hank Stram. The Bills were a more conventional team with a solid defensive line and a running mindset on offense.

The Bills were without Cookie, but more importantly, they were without Kochman and his young legs for that running game.  With no real young legs for the ground game, in the era where the ground game meant so much, the Bills succumbed to the Chiefs 31-7.

We all know the history of the Bills since then.  But what of Kochman?

Again, from Rappoport’s book:

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Kochman. Verizon. From Bills' draftee, to American Hero.

“Kochman (eventually) became director of  security operations in charge of all the physical security for Verizon across the nation… he was responsible for security when contractors came in to restore communications following the World Trade Center disaster on September 11, 2001.  Kochman manned the perimeter chambers and West Street, the headquarters for emergency management for New York City.”

“‘It took thousands of people,’ said Kochman, ‘to get that building (the hub of communications) back in operation.  We did it, and that was an incredible feat.’”

Kochman concluded:

“I tell the guys on the track team,” (his son’s high school team that he coached), “there are probably a hundred guys who can run just as fast as they can, a hundred guys just as big as they are, just as strong as they are.  And one person is going to separate himself from the pack, because of what they have inside.”

“That’s the heart.  You can’t measure the heart.”

– Roger Kochman, hero of Ground Zero, and perhaps the most forgotten hero of Buffalo Bills history.

Lest we forget.

Go Bills.

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