Dick Gallagher, the first general manager of the Buffalo Bills' American Football League franchise and one of the architects in building the Bills' first championship teams in 1964 and 1965, died today (March 29, 1995).
Gallagher, 85, who had cancer of the esophagus, died in his North Canton, Ohio, home.
In December 1959, Bills' owner Ralph C. Wilson Jr. hired Gallagher, then an assistant coach with the Cleveland Browns, as his first general manager, signing him to a three-year contract at $25,000 per year.
Wilson today lamented Gallagher's passing, noting that he was not only the Bills' first general manager, but also a close personal friend.
"Dick was most instrumental in getting the Bills' franchise started in the early '60s," Wilson said in a statement from his Detroit office. "He will be missed by his many friends in the NFL. I send my deepest sympathy to (his wife) June and the rest of his family."
Always regarded as a superb judge of football talent, Gallagher scouted and signed the nucleus of those early Bills teams, including wide receiver Elbert Dubenion and offensive linemen Billy Shaw, Stew Barber and Al Bemiller.
Together with personnel man Harvey Johnson and head coach Lou Saban, Gallagher was credited with building the team that won the American Football League championship in 1964 and 1965, before the league joined the National Football League.
But even before the Bills won any games, Gallagher may have scored his greatest coup with a single player's contract.
The fledgling AFL, battling to survive against the established NFL, needed big-name stars. After the Bills drafted Penn State quarterback Richie Lucas in the first AFL draft, Gallagher managed to sign Lucas in head-to-head competition with the Washington Redskins.
"The signing not only gave the Bills instant credibility, it also gave the AFL instant credibility," one longtime observer of the Bills said.
So precarious was the league that Gallagher signed a personal-services contract with Wilson, meaning that "Gallagher will be paid no matter what happens to the Buffalo club or the American League," the Buffalo Evening News wrote at the time.
In taking the job, Gallagher was prophetic:
"I've always felt that Buffalo was a fine city for pro football," he said. "The patronage was good while they were in the old All-America Conference, and I think that now that they're getting another team, they'll always be in professional football from here on."
During his tenure in Buffalo, Gallagher also was credited with making tremendous inroads in the community for the new team, never hesitating to speak to community groups about the Bills' franchise.
Gallagher served as the team's general manager from Jan. 1, 1960, to 1967, when he left the Bills to become a scout for the San Francisco 49ers.
The next, he became director of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, serving in that position until 1975. Prior to working for the Bills, Gallagher was an assistant coach and director of personnel for the Browns. Prior to that, he was an assistant coach for the old Chicago Cardinals.
Gallagher was head coach in basketball and baseball and assistant football coach at William and Mary College in 1946.
Surviving, in addition to his wife, are two daughters.