Saturday, April 12, 2008

Lookie, Lookie Here Comes Cookie

THERE ARE ONLY only a few names in sports, which stir the emotions, as Chester Carlton Gilchrist.
Utter the name, Cookie, in Toronto, Hamilton, Regina, Buffalo, Miami and even Denver and it's certain to draw either an expletive or, at least, a chuckle or a groan.
And, it's actually more than 40 years, that's right, more than 40 years since he retired from the pro football wars.
Once he was the most feared fullback, linebacker or kicker, take your pick on either side of the border.
His name came up in a conversation the other day; and, immediately, there were arguments about who was the greatest player ever -- the grouchy superstar turned dubious movie actor Jim Brown from the Cleveland Browns or Gilchrist, who was as much noted for his insolence off the field as he was for his straight-ahead style on the field.
There are some aging linebackers and defensive backs in both the ORFU, CFL and the now deceased AFL, who must still wake up from Cookie Monster nightmares.
When I tried to track Gilchrist down the other day, I really didn't expect him to answer my phone call and he didn't disappoint, for he's never been known for his public relations skills.
However, I wasn't about to give up and went looking through the Net for some answers and what I found was surprising as well as sad.
But first, a review of his journey, starting as an unstoppable 18-year-old high school fullback in western Pennsylvania where Cleveland Browns' czar, Paul Brown, put $5,000 on the table for him to turn pro. That meant he wouldn't be eligible for the 108 college scholarships that were offered him, according to the Hamilton Spectator's Ken Peters.
Because of his age, he was ineligible to be playing in the NFL and disillusioned Cookie disappeared into the ORFU (Ontario Rugby Football Union) and the $100 a week with Sarnia and then Kitchener-Waterloo and then he took his multi-talents as a fullback, linebacker, defensive end and even kicker to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 1956.
In 1957, Gilchrist tore up the turf for some 2,363 yards along with Gerry McDougall and then stormed to two TDs as the Cats walked over Winnipeg 32-7 in the Grey Cup.
But then Cookie's personality caused his being shipped to Regina, which he considered in another galaxy. Cookie had outstayed his welcome in Hamilton; getting into near fisticuffs with then coach Jim Trimble and various business ventures, some which were doomed from the beginning for failure.
Then came his tenure with the Toronto Argonauts, but he overstayed his welcome. In Craig Wallace's brilliant 'A Slip In The Rain' concerning the 1962 Boatmen, Gilchrist deserved this mention about being a brilliant running back "and a never-ending disciplinary problem."
From those days in the CFL his greatest regret was turning down a place in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. It was part and parcel with his disagreements with former coaches Trimble and Lou Agase.
Then his prowess shfted to the AFL and the Buffalo Bills where this phenomen at 6-3 and 250 pounder barrelled through the opposition, but one who ran into management troubles, particularly, in the money department. Racial issues were also a sore point for this iconoclastic player.
Respected Buffalo sportswriter Larry Felser has written extensively about Gilchrist, calling him "the greatest all-round football player ever." And few could deny such praise.
However, life has not treated Gilchrist well as he's grown older. Felser reported Gilchrist had been battling throat cancer and his weight dropped down to a frail 179 pounds and he could barely speak.
And then came Cookie's letter to Felser, which read in part: "With humility and gratefulness to so many , I am happy to say that while I still have a long way to go, my doctors have told me my cancer is in remission and the long-term prognosis is for a full recovery. From death's door and that is not an exaggeration, I am now looking forward to a full, healthy and long life. My personal faith in Christ, the skilled doctors at Alle-Kiski Medical center and my guardian angel Gale Hazlett have all been major factors to this remarkable turnaround."
Even today, Gilchrist must also remember those cries from so long ago: "Lookie, lookie, here comes Cookie."


Blogger maree wright said...

I read your blog post on Hayseed Stephen's and felt sorry for the man as I too followed him in 1998 however seeing the beginning from the end sheds new light on his journey then reading the story of john brown of zion oil and gas fame i can as a true believer see the former was on journey led by man the latter on a journey led by God.That is the Holy Spirit.

June 20, 2017 at 4:50 PM  

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