Mike Stratton

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Buffalo Bills Linebacker

A 13th-round draft pick from the University of Tennessee, Mike Stratton joined the fledgling Buffalo Bills in 1962, and was an immediate presence in the defensive lineup with a career-high six interceptions. Stratton starred for the Bills for a decade highlighted by 18 interceptions, 30 sacks, and six AFL All-Star Game appearances. However, for most Bills fans, these achievements are to some but a footnote to Stratton’s career, likely forever recalled by a signature event that occurred early in Mike’s career. In the collective memory of Bills followers, “the play’s the thing.”

Otherwise known as “The Hit Heard Round the World”, Stratton’s indelible moment came early in the 1964 AFL Championship game at War Memorial Stadium. The opponents, the defending AFL Champion San Diego Chargers, scored easily in four plays the first time they touched the ball, and four plays later it was back in their hands. Chargers quarterback Tobin Rote floated a swing pass to star halfback Keith Lincoln in the left flat. At precisely the instant Lincoln reached up for the pass, Stratton arrived like a locomotive. Stratton timed the hit perfectly, driving his right shoulder into the ballcarrier’s rib cage and driving him to the frozen turf with both arms. The hit not only separated Lincoln from the ball, but also cracked three ribs, driving him from the game.

From that moment, the Bills seized the momentum. The Chargers, already minus star receiver Lance Alworth, had lost their other star offensive performer, and their offense was out of business for the day. The Bills roared back with 20 unanswered points to claim the title, a title they successfully defended the following year on the Chargers’ home turf as Stratton and his defensive cohorts pitched a shutout.

Buffalo players and other observers cited “The Hit” as a turning point not only for one game, but for the fortunes of the franchise. The play was a springboard to the consecutive titles that established the Bills as a dominant team in the AFL; it was also a statement by the swarming, physical defense that paved the way for the team’s success.

While Stratton’s stellar career as a Bill has been overshadowed, perhaps unfairly, by that one shining moment, the play, on the other hand, spotlighted the quickness and power that made Stratton a star. No other single play in Buffalo sports history has been so inextricably linked to its author; it has helped preserve the memory of an entire career that landed Mike Stratton on the Buffalo Bills Wall of Fame, and tonight, in the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame.