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ELBERT DUBENION

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        Elbert Dubenion of Bluffton College had tremendous speed, great hands and excellent running skills.  As a rookie for the Buffalo Bills in 1960, "Duby" or "Golden Wheels" had 7 touchdowns and 752 receiving yards on 42 catches, a 17.9 yds/catch average. He ran 16 times for 94 yards and a TD, a 5.6 yds/carry average. In 1961, facing tighter and deeper coverages, he upped his production as a runner, rushing for 173 yards and a touchdown on just 17 carries, a 10.3 yds/carry average.  
         He had 31 catches for 461 yards and 6 TDs.  In 1964, Duby had one of the most sensational seasons of any receiver in pro football history, 10 touchdowns and 27.1 yards per catch (an all-time Professional Football record) on 42 receptions for 1,139 yards, (14 game season).  In 9 seasons, he totalled 296 receptions for 5,424 yards and 36 TDs for a career average of 18.3 yds/catch. He rushed for 360 yards and 3 TDs on 48 carries, a career average of 7 yds/carry.  Dubenion ranks seventh all-time in the AFL in receptions and reception yardage.     

          He holds the record for the longest reception in AFL playoff history, a 93-yd reception for a TD from Daryle Lamonica against the Boston Patriots in 1963.  Dubenion was an American Football League All-Star in 1964, the year of the Bills' first league championship.

Duby44.gif (2375 bytes) AFLHOF.gif (17340 bytes) A member of the
American Football League Hall of Fame

and the
Buffalo Bills Wall of Fame

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'Golden Wheels' used to be Bills' touchdown man
By Erik Brady, The Buffalo News
Published 6:00 a.m. October 2, 2019


If you are a Buffalo Bills fan of a certain age, you remember Elbert Dubenion as the fleet-of-feet flanker on the Bills’ AFL title teams of the mid-1960s. Younger fans may know little more than that his name is on the Bills Wall of Fame.

But know this: His nickname, Golden Wheels, is the best in Buffalo sports history — and one of the best in all sports history.

This comes to mind because 10 days ago Dawson Knox bulldozed a couple of Cincinnati Bengals and calls quickly rang out to find a fitting moniker for the rookie tight end. One suggestion was Rambo, because he wore a Rambo shirt after that game. Others included Hard Knox and Dawson’s Freak.

But the one I like is Fort Knox. It conjures images of power and stolidity, which is good, but harkens to the repository of the nation’s gold reserves, which is better. That’s because Bills’ nicknames referencing gold are, well, golden.

Dubenion’s sobriquet, as it happens, comes by way of a left-handed compliment from a right-handed quarterback. Johnny Green was a backup QB on the original Bills in 1960 who said of Dubenion: “Man can’t catch, but he’s got those golden wheels.”

Green wasn’t wrong. Duby — that’s his more prosaic nickname — was a raw talent with raw speed whose receiving skills were a work in progress. Through hard work, his hard hands turned into soft ones, catching hundreds of passes after practice, until he developed into an AFL All-Star. And in 1964, when the Bills won their first AFL championship, he had one of the greatest receiving seasons in pro football history.

Dubenion is 86 and now lives in a nursing home on the outskirts of Columbus, roughly 90 miles from Bluffton, Ohio, where he played small-college football. His daughter, Carolyn, says he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2007 and no longer is able to speak on the phone.

But his career speaks volumes.

Duby caught 42 passes in 1964 for 1,139 yards. That’s an otherworldly average of 27.1 yards per catch, the highest in pro football history given a minimum of 40 catches. And yet, for all of that, his historical import cannot be measured by mere numbers.

“He joined the team when the AFL was a shaky league struggling through its infancy,” reads his bio on the website of the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame. “Dubenion was the first great star” in franchise history. “His exciting play helped the Bills and the AFL become viable.”

Sports Illustrated published a story in November 1962 on the viability of the AFL when the upstart league was in its third season of challenging the established NFL. That story includes a photo essay of seven images of Dubenion returning a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown against the Boston Patriots.

“Buffalo is regarded as the best franchise in the AFL,” the SI story said. “(AFL commissioner Joe) Foss once described it as ‘the pride of the league,’ and TV broadcasters, using the hyperbole of their trade, call it ‘the best city in pro football.’ However heady the praise, Buffalo, hungry for pro football since the All-America Conference collapsed in 1949, certainly has loyal fans.”

And Dubenion played a leading role in making that so. He was Jack Kemp’s favorite target in the mid '60s glory years. And Daryle Lamonica liked him too — Duby caught a 93-yard TD pass from Lamonica in a 1963 playoff loss to the Patriots that will always stand as the longest postseason pass in AFL history.

“Duby was our touchdown man,” says Booker Edgerson, a Bills cornerback in those years. “They loved to throw him the bomb.”

Edgerson figures he became a better player for his years of playing against Dubenion in practice. “He didn’t have those shake moves to get open,” Edgerson says. “He could just flat outrun people.”

Carolyn Dubenion says her father often told a joke about that: “He always said he ran so fast because he didn’t want to get hit.”

Dubenion was born in Griffin, Ga., and he was a small-college All-America at Bluffton, a Mennonite university that counts Duby, Phyllis Diller, the late comedian, and Hugh Downs, the late TV journalist, among its greatest graduates.

Duby was drafted by the NFL’s Cleveland Browns in 1959 but an injury kept him from trying out and he signed as a free agent with the Bills in 1960. In the first game in franchise history, a 27-3 loss at the New York Titans, Dubenion dropped several passes and fumbled on a reverse; he wondered if coach Buster Ramsey might release him.

But the next week, in the first home game in Bills history, Duby caught TDs of 56 and 53 yards in a 27-21 loss to the Denver Broncos. And by Week 4, Ramsey told reporters that Dubenion had developed beyond expectations: “He was green as a gourd when he came to camp and he was a disappointment in our first game in New York. But he didn’t quit on himself and he improved 100%. Duby is now a pro.”

Dubenion retired in 1968 with 294 career receptions for 5,294 yards and 35 touchdowns as the last of the original Bills. He wouldn’t be gone for long.

The next year, Duby returned as a scout. He stayed with the Bills through 1978 and then, after two years scouting for the Miami Dolphins, returned to Buffalo. Good thing, too, because he recommended that the Bills draft a receiver from a lesser-known school in 1985.

“He always made a point of checking out the players from the small schools,” Duby’s daughter says, “because he was from a small school, too.”

Yes, the speedy receiver from Bluffton liked a shifty receiver from Kutztown University — and in the fourth round, the Bills selected their future Hall of Famer, Andre Reed.

Turns out Golden Wheels — a golden boy of the Bills’ golden years — had a golden eye for talen
t.

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