It took the gift of longevity for some people to appreciate the work of Dr. James Ailinger. Some, but not all.
Dr. Ailinger died on this day at the age of 99; he had achieved some measure of fame as the oldest living National Football League player at that point. But he was much more than that.
Ailinger was a member of the 1924 Buffalo Bisons. He had finished his career at the University at Buffalo the previous year, and was set on attending dental school. Then the Bisons came calling, with something of a financial windfall -- by the standards of the day.
"They asked me if I'd like to play," Ailinger said in a story by The New York Times. "I didn't want to at first, but when they offered me fifty dollars a game -- I couldn't turn that down. It paid my last year's tuition at dental school."
Ailinger played offensive and defensive guard for the Bisons, and also did a little kicking in the 1924 season. He didn't want to ruin his hands playing football, saving them for dentistry, so he retired at that point. But his love of the game continued throughout his life. He was an official in major college football, and helped establish sports programs in Buffalo schools. He even worked as the general manager of the hockey Bisons in the 1940s.
Ailinger achieved some fame when he was named to the All-Madden All-Millennium team in 1999. He's a member of the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame, and he'll always be remembered for his contributions to the area sports scene.
-- Budd Bailey