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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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Blogging From Oblivion: Year One

January 28, 2011.

That’s the date of my first blog post. Happy anniversary to me.

Back on January 28, 2011, the Bills were officially a loss and the Sabres looked to be on their way towards the same oblivion. Now in 2012, we’ve seen another epic collapse by both franchises, and though the Sabres are still only showing the symptoms of death, they’re near enough to it to safely assume they’ll be pronounced DOA long before the playoffs begin.

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It's been worse for us here in Buffalo.

It’s a familiar feeling, isn’t it? The shroud of impending failure is a heavy one, and it’s hard to struggle out from underneath the weight of it all. Heck, even Ryan Fitzpatrick, when recently describing the Bills’ epic fall, lamented that the team “wasn’t ready for prosperity.”

Wow.

Someone get that team a heavy course of sports pychology, or a team colonic. If we have to get used to winning football games before we can embrace winning, then we’re doomed.

But we’re all still in this together. And aren’t we a hearty, resilient fan base?

It comes with the territory: happy anniversary also to the Blizzard of ’77, also a January 28th phenomenon.

That storm really put a mark on Buffalo. Even in winters like this one, where the permafrost can’t seem to get a grip on our lawns and our backyard rinks sit in slush and waste, sports broadcasters are quick to note their surprise that they didn’t have to dig their way out of the hotel on their way to the stadium.


It’s a heavy lot to carry – all the losses, the disasters, the reputation – it can seem like a bit too much at times. But we carry along, we dig ourselves out, we keep sporting on, even in the face of another year and another pair of sporting disasters.

The hunt for triumph will continue anew, this year, after our newest smattering into seasonal oblivion is mercifully complete.

From Moby Dick (C. 42, “The Whiteness of the Whale”):

Is it that by its indefiniteness it shadows forth the heartless voids and immensities of the universe, and thus stabs us from behind with the thought of annihilation, when beholding the white depths of the milky way? Or is it, that as in essence whiteness is not so much a color as the visible absence of color; and at the same time the concrete of all colors; is it for these reasons that there is such a dumb blankness, full of meaning, in a wide landscape of snows- a colorless, all-color of atheism from which we shrink? And when we consider that other theory of the natural philosophers, that all other earthly hues — every stately or lovely emblazoning — the sweet tinges of sunset skies and woods; yea, and the gilded velvets of butterflies, and the butterfly cheeks of young girls; all these are but subtile deceits, not actually inherent in substances, but only laid on from without; so that all deified Nature absolutely paints like the harlot, whose allurements cover nothing but the charnel-house within; and when we proceed further, and consider that the mystical cosmetic which produces every one of her hues, the great principle of light, for ever remains white or colorless in itself, and if operating without medium upon matter, would touch all objects, even tulips and roses, with its own blank tinge — pondering all this, the palsied universe lies before us a leper; and like wilful travellers in Lapland, who refuse to wear colored and coloring glasses upon their eyes, so the wretched infidel gazes himself blind at the monumental white shroud that wraps all the prospect around him. And of all these things the Albino whale was the symbol. Wonder ye then at the fiery hunt?

We are the wretched infidels of the sporting world – that much is clear, just as clear as that annihilation seems always around the next corner. But we will never quit the fiery hunt, either. That much is resoundingly clear, (am I correct ‘Bills Mafia’)?

Meanwhile, a few more weeks of winter remain, along with a few more gasps of hockey.

One year is in the books for me, and it ended just as profoundly miserable as it began. Here’s to hoping next season gives me some profound success to write about. Take heart, sports fans, and never give up. It’s about time we lift that white weighted veil, and find a way to stab success through its heart.

It’s long overdue.

Go Bills.

Go Sabres.

Let’s go Buff-a-lo.

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Goodbye, Old Friend

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(Please visit “Airedale Rescue,” and learn more, or donate some, to one of many dog rescue associations after you read this post. Or just spread the word that these missions exist.)

RIP, Dunnigan, the dog.

We’ve got a motley crew of a few dogs in our household – actually, this morning, we woke up to discover that one of those three had moved on to the Great Hunting Ground.

I know what some of you are already thinking: “This is a sports blog.” Well, it is exactly that. We don’t talk about dogs on BSN much, but believe me, there is a grand champion measure of sport in all of them.

Animals are a part of the emotional fabric that we weave around our daily lives. They inhabit our homes, protect us, make us laugh. They are our friends, our mascots. We spend but a brief time with those animals we keep as pets. As they come and go so quickly through our lives, we are reminded how to attack each day with the ferocity and joy of a mutt, and that life, no matter what or who you are, is never long enough.

For that daily reminder, I am very thankful.

Dunnigan, the dog, you will be missed.

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No one messes with an Airedale Terrier.

However solemn or somber I may feel this morning, that abounding joy that leaps out of the eyes and feet of the Airedale Terrier is still inescapable. It’s something that I wrote upon before, this certain verve and passion that made these dogs so useful in war – and as it turns out, sport.

From an old article from Suite101:

 

Walter Lingo, owner of the Oorang Airedale Kennels, organized the NFL’s Oorang Indians in 1922, mainly to advertise his kennel, where he bred his choice breed of dog, the Airedale terrier. Lingo hired Jim Thorpe to put together an all-American football spectacle of men and dogs – a truly unforgettable mark of NFL history.

With the soul of a true marketer, Lingo would lure audiences to his games with the promise of an outrageous halftime show, instead of the promise of good football – the Indians won only three games in two years. Indeed, it was the halftime activities that were more important than the results of the game for the crowds of football fans and those just plain curious.

Lingo used his own Airedale terrier magazine, “Oorang Comments,” to get dog and football enthusiasts buzzing about his product and his team, writing “Let me tell you about my big publicity stunt. You know Jim Thorpe, don’t you, the Sac and Fox Indian, the world’s greatest athlete, who won the all-around championship at the Olympic Games in Sweden in 1912?” Well, Thorpe is in our organization.”

Thorpe was paid 500 bucks a week to organize the team, a great sum for the time for a great undertaking – one might call it “The Greatest Show on Turf,” (pre-dating, of course, the St. Louis Rams).

Lingo and Thorpe’s team consisted of 50 Native Americans, including such names as War Eagle, and Big Bear – the kind of football names that would make an opponent sweat. Heck, the name Big Bear could have made a bear sweat, especially since one of the halftime events was bear wrestling.

But bear wrestling? That was just a sideshow.

“The climax was an exhibition of what the United States Indian scouts did during the war (WWI) against German troops,” Lingo recollected. “Airedale Red Cross dogs giving first aid…Many of the scouts and Red Cross dogs taking part in the event were real veterans of the war…German troops were impersonated by local American Legion men who wore German uniforms furnished by my organization. What do you think of that for a publicity stunt for advertising dogs raised in a little Ohio town (LaRue) of a thousand population?”

Lingo would go on to make a million dollars selling Airedales in just one year, during the height of popularity of the Oorang Indians. His team, or at least Jim Thorpe and the Airedales, set the precedent for all NFL halftime shows to be measured from there on.

Greatest Show on Turf. And trust me, having a dog like this in your own house will keep it packed to the rafters with entertainment each and every day.

So to all of our dogs – our animals, our mascots, our helpers in war and sport: today I send out a heavy-hearted salute:

Thank You.

(The link again.)

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Fantasy Football Destroyed Your Christmas

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But it didn’t destroy mine!

Because I took the trophy home this year – again. While last year’s “Schlitz Bombers” took a gigantic dump all over my league to claim the ultimate victory, so did this year’s “Honkin’ Harquebuses” unleash an ancient fury of slowly loaded and more calculated blasts.

Meanwhile, on the Twitter, I am seeing tweet after tweet lamenting a lost championship “by 3 points,” “by 6 points,” by 1 point,” etc. And to these unfortunates I say – no one cares about your loss any more than anyone cares about my win.

But win, I did.

Huzzah!

And queue the Queen!

As a Bills fan, I can’t help but love how this season played out – 5 straight wins, followed by 5 straight losses, followed by 6 straight wins. Bills: that’s how you do it. Take note, Chan.

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The fury was unleashed, one ball at a time. Just like in football!

If you’re stopping by here today for a Sabres update, I apologize – but hey – they won, too. The score was 4 to something, and Regehr destroyed Ovechkin at some point. I highly advise checking out some highlights on NHL’s Game Channel. Until you do:

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Revel with me.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a bottle of champagne to pour all over myself.

Go Sabres.

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For Sabres and Bills fans, Thank God it’s Monday

“Someone has a case of the Mondays!”

If that’s you, don’t fret. You’re not alone with that feeling in the City of Mad-as-Hell Neighbors. Our top pro teams, the Bills and Sabres, just delivered another weekend full of frustration, ineptitude, and sickening losses.

Some of us are numb to it, and for good reasons. The Bills have been doing this to us for years, but a more recent trend has the Sabres habitually falling apart on Saturdays as well.

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Ain't no amount of coffee gonna' save us from this sports hangover.

Steel yourselves: here’s a run-down on the Sabres’ Saturday night performances:

  1. Oct 8 (in Europe @ LA) – 4-2 Win
  2. Oct 15 (@ PIT) – 3-2 Win
  3. Oct 22 (@ LA) – 0-3 Loss
  4. Oct 29 (vs FL) – 2-3 Loss
  5. Nov 3 (@ OTT) – 3-2 Win
  6. Nov 12 (@ BOS) – 2-6 Loss
  7. Nov 19 (vs PHO) – 2-4 Loss
  8. Nov 26 (vs WAS) – 5-1 Win
  9. Dec 4 (@ NSH) – 3-2 Win
  10. Dec 10 (vs NYR) – 1-4 Loss
  11. Dec 17 (@ PIT) – 3-8 Loss
Meanwhile, the Bills’ annual self-destruction started in November. After beating Washington 23-zip, the Bills lined up against the New York Football Jets on the 6th. With the Bills at 5-2, the ultimate football buzzkill was about to begin:
  1. Nov 6 (vs NYJ) – 11-27 Loss
  2. Nov 13 (@ DAL) – 7-44 Loss
  3. Nov 20 (@MIA) – 8-35 Loss
  4. Nov 27 (@ NYJ) – 24-28 Loss
  5. Dec 4 (vs TEN) – 17-23 Loss
  6. Dec 11 (@ SD) – 10-37 Loss
  7. Dec 18 (vs MIA) – 23-30 Loss

Wow.

Since that November 6 weekend, Buffalo fans have endured 11 losses and 2 wins between their two once-promising teams.

The good news on this particularly putrid Monday is that the Sabres are still very much alive, (once they figure out how not to play like zombies as they continue to crawl up out of the grave that they’re digging for themselves).

For fans, well, we all feel a bit like we just crawled up from a grave – again. Hungover on beers, brats, and bad hockey and football, there sure doesn’t feel like there is anything much to look forward to next weekend. In fact, the very thought of it kinda makes my own flesh crawl.

My simple advice: keep your trips to the water cooler brief, and avoid eye contact with anyone wearing Buffalo Bills/Sabres themed clothing. If you’re lucky enough, your fantasy football team is winning in the playoffs right now. Especially since the playoffs are, for now, a question mark for the Sabres this season, and a big question mark for the Bills for their foreseeable existence.

Good luck sleeping this one off, sports fans.

Go Bills.

Go Sabres.

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