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Football roots celebrated at induction Class of '08 recognizes 13 individuals

Of his best memories as a Buffalo Bill, it all starts with his first interception in 1964.

Butch Byrd ran that interception back 72 yards for a touchdown.

And thus began an impressive career with the Bills in the American Football League.

"Well, the first [memory] right off the bat is the first interception I had for a 72-yard touchdown. That was good," Byrd said. "There are people that I've met in Buffalo and I remain friends with to this day. There is the bittersweet game of losing the first chance to go the Super Bowl against Kansas City. A game that I thought we were going to win for sure but nothing is for sure in life."

What was for sure was Byrd's spot in the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame as four inductees had professional football resumes.

Also inducted in Wednesday night's ceremonies at HSBC Arena were Daryl Johnston, a Lewiston-Porter and Syracuse graduate who played for the Dallas Cowboys from 1989-97; Don Majkowski, a Depew native who played for Green Bay, Indianapolis and Detroit from 1987-96; and Jim McNally, a Kenmore West and University at Buffalo alumnus who was an NFL offensive line coach.

For Byrd, Western New York was an ideal place to start a pro football career.

"My first two years here we won the [AFL] championship and I thought it was unfair for me to be paid for the game I was just having so much fun [playing]," Byrd said. "The people were great. They loved the Bills. They supported the Bills. . . . We had been through the good times and the bad times with Buffalo and I was here for both. We won the championship and then in 1969 we won one game. We just happened to beat the Jets who won the Super Bowl that year. We saw the highs and lows of pro football but the people still supported us."

It's that support that Byrd thinks should keep the Bills in Buffalo, though he understands the nature of sports business in the 21st century.

"Football first of all is a business and any way they can make money or more money they're going to do it," Byrd said. "There's something in the air that talks about Toronto being the permanent home of the Bills. I'd hate to see that happen . . . but Buffalo, maybe I'm just being conservative, maybe I'm just being a homey but I think the Bills should stay in Buffalo and the people deserve the Buffalo Bills."

Football certainly has a strong place in the Western New York community with a steady presence of area players having advanced to NFL careers.

Both Johnston and Majkowski recognize how Western New York shaped their ideals and beliefs that helped them become successful.

"We were always kind of teased a little bit that we were a stopover on the way to Western Pennsylvania and Ohio for all the college recruiters on the East Coast," Johnston said. "There has been a number of guys who have come out of here and if you look at the population of the area and look at the guys who came out of here and what they achieved I think more people would give this area a little more credibility than they do. I do know that when we see each other around that it's, 'Hey, you've got Western New York roots. Where are you from again?' It's kind of cool."

Also inducted at Wednesday night's dinner were Cindy Breski (softball), Ray Hall (Canisius College basketball), Fred Hunt (Sabres administration), Jeff Manto (Bisons), Pat Monti (LaSalle basketball), Hank Nichols (NCAA basketball official) and Joe Shifflet (high school wrestling and football coach). Jack Sunderland (tennis) and Jules Yakapovich (high school football coach) were inducted posthumously.


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