BUFFALO SPORTS HALL OF FAME
Tackle in title game will be major topic at arena induction
It was only a brief moment in history, a few
seconds of a life that now spans 64 years, but Mike Stratton is still asked
about it all the time. Every time he visits Western New York, somebody
mentions the play. Every time old clips come on ESPN Classic, he stares at
the television and smiles.
Stratton remembers everything about his lick on Keith Lincoln in the 1964 American Football League championship game. It was the most memorable hit in Buffalo Bills' history, one that's credited with changing momentum and lifting the Bills to a 20-7 victory over the San Diego Chargers.
In truth, Stratton worried he was getting burned.
"Fear took over," Stratton said. "It got me there about the same time the ball got to Lincoln. I knew both of us felt it, but you pretend like it
didn't hurt. When I saw he wasn't getting up, I
was really happy. He had already done enough damage. I didn't want him to be
hurt. I just didn't want him to play any more that day."
Stratton's hit led the Bills to their first of two AFL titles over the Chargers and helped earn him a place on the Wall of Fame. On Tuesday, during a ceremony in HSBC Arena, he will be inducted to the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame along with another former Bills linebacker who wore No. 58, Shane Conlan.
The other inductees include Buffalo State basketball coach Dick Bihr; late Sabres trainer Frank Christie; the late Erie Community College bowling coach Kerm Helmer; archer David Hryn; former Jamestown High football coach Wally Huckno; former Buffalo News columnist Jim Kelley; amateur golfer John Konsek; weightlifter Don Reinhoudt; and late three-sport star Phil Scaffidi.
"I have so many wonderful feelings and emotions with the City of Buffalo and the Buffalo Bills," Stratton said. "The problem I'm going to have is trying to boil some of those down so they might make sense to someone else."
Lincoln had gained 47 yards on three carries and caught one pass for 11 yards in helping the Chargers take a 7-0 lead. On their second possession, Lincoln ran into the flat for a swing pass, was leveled by Stratton and never returned. The collision heard throughout War Memorial Stadium became known as "The Hit Heard Around the World." Many believed it helped solidify the future of the Bills.
"I would love to take credit for that," Stratton said, "but that's ludicrous."
Stratton was selected in the 13th round of the 1962 AFL draft from the University of Tennessee. He played 11 seasons with the Bills, was chosen for six straight AFL all-star games and played for both championship teams. He finished his career with 30 and a half sacks and 18 interceptions over his 142 games with Buffalo. He was considered one of the best linebackers in the league, but he's most known for the hit on Lincoln.
"I really enjoy being remembered for something that was decent," he said. "I don't want to be infamous. If somebody has an opportunity to remember something from 40 years ago, I'm tickled to death."
Stratton left the Bills after the 1972 season, then played one year for San Diego before retiring. He never played in what is now Ralph Wilson Stadium. He spent his entire career playing home games at War Memorial, which was known as the "Rockpile." Lincoln joined the Bills in 1967 and played through the 1968 season.
"We had some opportunities to talk about it," Stratton said. "They were rather short conversations."
Stratton has visited Ralph Wilson Stadium every year for the past decade and has fond memories of living in Western New York. Stratton and his wife, Jane, have four children, 10 grandchildren. They live in Knoxville, Tenn., where Stratton started his own company, Financial Solutions.
His two oldest children were born at St. Joseph's Hospital in Cheektowaga. His oldest daughter, Melanie, was born Nov. 12, 1964, and was wrapped in a blanket at the Rockpile when Stratton made the hit on Lincoln.
"Buffalo was like going home," he said. "It was the biggest surprise to us. We came from an area that was supposed to be known for southern hospitality, but the people and everything around Buffalo made such an impression on us that it was more like home living in Buffalo than it was in Tennessee."