Joe O’Donnell, a mainstay of the Buffalo Bills’ offensive line in the 1960s, died on Thursday in his native Michigan at age 77.
O’Donnell played 91 games for the Bills from 1964 to 1971 and helped the team win AFL Championships in 1964 and 1965.
A star at Milan High School, outside of Detroit, O’Donnell was recruited to the University of Michigan as a fullback. He moved to the offensive line as a sophomore and in 1963 made All-Big Ten and honorable mention All-America.
He was picked in the third round, 40th overall, of the 1964 NFL Draft by the Green Bay Packers and in the 13th round, 101st overall, by the Bills in the AFL Draft. He signed with the Bills and made an immediate impact. The 6-foot-2, 262-pounder started at a handful of games as a rookie at right tackle in relief of starter Dick Hudson.
O’Donnell moved into the starting lineup at right guard in the 1965 AFL title-game victory at San Diego due to an injury to center Dave Behrman. O'Donnell held down that starting guard spot five of the next six seasons. He missed the 1968 campaign due to a knee injury suffered in preseason.
The Bills traded him to the St. Louis Cardinals in 1972. He opted to retire instead of joining the Cardinals.
We express our deepest condolences to the family and friends of former Bills offensive lineman Joe O’Donnell who passed away Thursday morning. pic.twitter.com/JfDW8Zjabb
— Buffalo Bills (@buffalobills) January 18, 2019
But he came out of retirement in 1974 to start for the Birmingham Americans in the inaugural season of the World Football League. O’Donnell joined former Bills Paul Costa and Edgar Chandler on the squad, which won the first WFL championship.
O'Donnell moved back to Milan after his playing career and served as an assistant coach on the high school football team for several decades. He’s a past winner of the assistant coach of the year award from the Michigan high school coaches association. The football field at Milan High was named in his honor in 2009.