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Overdue recognition comes Byrd's way

This is the ninth in a series of stories on the 2008 inductees into the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame. The installments will appear in Saturday's editions of The News.

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Butch Byrd, perhaps one of the most overlooked greats in this city's sports history, is not sensitive to his name's absence from the Buffalo Bills' Wall of Fame.

"Sure, I'm hoping I get up there," Byrd said. "That would be nice, but I'm not laying awake at night thinking about it."

Instead, the voice of indignation comes from others.

"I can't understand it," said Booker Edgerson, Byrd's friend and one-time mentor in the Bills' secondary. "How can you overlook a guy who has the team's all-time interception record, a guy who's one of the best players in the team's history?"

No worries, though. Contemporary recognition is on the way. George "Butch" Byrd, a swift and hard-hitting cornerback who helped lead the Bills to consecutive AFL championships in the 1960s and became the franchise's career interceptions leader, is one of this year's 13 inductees to the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame.

"For Buffalo to honor me by saying I'm one of the better things to happen to that city, it's great," said Byrd, who recently retired as a loan officer and now resides in Massachusetts. "I just enjoyed the city and the people there immensely."

The love, of course, was returned by the fans at War Memorial Stadium.

A two-way star at Boston University -- Byrd led the team in rushing and was an all-conference defensive back his senior season -- the Troy native made an immediate impact upon being drafted by the Bills in 1964.

Byrd led Buffalo with seven picks and made the AFL All-Star Game his rookie season, emerging as a defensive leader on a team that pushed aside San Diego to win the AFL championship.

Not that Byrd's success came alone. He befriended Edgerson along the way, and the defensive back two years Byrd's elder was a willing teacher. Give Edgerson the credit, in fact, for the rookie's first career interception.

Before the Bills' Week Three game against San Diego, Edgerson informed Byrd of a striking tendency he noticed from Chargers quarterback Tobin Rote.

"If Tobin looked to his right and pumped, he would come right back to his left," Edgerson recalled telling Byrd.

The student listened, observed the first time Rote pumped deep to his right . . . "And I just stepped up and he threw the ball right to me," Byrd said, laughing. "I go 78 yards for my first touchdown and I'm saying to myself afterward, 'Jeez that was easy.' Maybe there was something to that tendency thing."

Byrd's success continued, and he perhaps became best known for his 74-yard touchdown punt return the following season in Buffalo's second straight AFL championship game victory over the Chargers.

Yet Byrd's excellence cannot be fully appreciated unless viewed from a distant perspective. After just seven seasons with the Bills, Byrd holds franchise records for interceptions (40) and interceptions returned for touchdowns (five) while he was named an AFL All-Star five times.

Byrd will return to town Oct. 29 for the Greater Buffalo Hall's induction ceremony at HSBC Arena.

Might a second homecoming -- at say, Ralph Wilson Stadium -- be awaiting, too?

"I hope the Wall of Fame happens," Byrd said. "Going to Canton is a dream of mine, too, but will it happen? Who knows? I'm great either way."

For ticket information, go to gbshof.com

e-mail: sports@buffnews.com

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