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Mike Stratton, former Tennessee Vols football player who became Buffalo Bills legend, dies

The Knoxville News-Sentinel logoThe Knoxville News-Sentinel 3/26/2020 Sal Maiorana and Blake Toppmeyer, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

a man running on a baseball field: 50. Mike Stratton Position:  Linebacker Years: 1962-72 Achievements: Six-time AFL all-star. … Member of the Bills’ all-time team. … Best known for his famous tackle of Chargers’ Keith Lincoln in 1964 AFL Championship Game. © Provided by Buffalo Bills 50. Mike Stratton Position:  Linebacker Years: 1962-72 Achievements: Six-time AFL all-star. … Member of the Bills’ all-time team. … Best known for his famous tackle of Chargers’ Keith Lincoln in 1964 AFL Championship Game. Mike Stratton, the former Tennessee football player who became a legend with the Buffalo Bills, died Wednesday after heart complications following a recent fall, according to the Bills. He was 78.

Stratton was a letterman for the Vols from 1959-61 after a high school career at Tellico Plains.

He played offense as an end for Tennessee and caught 11 passes with three touchdowns during his college career before becoming a 13th-round pick to the Bills in the 1962 American Football League Draft. 

Stratton converted to defense after college and played 12 professional seasons, including 11 with the Bills.

Stratton authored one of the most famous plays in Bills history during the 1964 AFL Championship Game. It was called “the hit heard 'round the world," his picture-perfect tackle of San Diego running back Keith Lincoln, which not only broke a couple of Lincoln’s ribs and knocked him out of the game, but turned the tide that day at War Memorial Stadium.

The Bills, trailing 7-0, rallied after Stratton’s tackle to win their first title, 20-7, over the Chargers.

"You could just see the emotions and the credibility of the Buffalo Bills come together at that point," the late Jack Kemp said. "That hit and that win put Buffalo on the major-league sports map.”

a group of baseball players playing a football game: Buffalo's Mike Stratton chases down Miami's Mercury Morris in a 1972 game at the Orange Bowl. © Jim Bourdier, AP Buffalo's Mike Stratton chases down Miami's Mercury Morris in a 1972 game at the Orange Bowl.

Stratton never tired of talking about that the tackle.

“You can always tell when you get a good lick; I just didn’t know it would have that kind of effect,” Stratton said in 1994. “Thirty-five years later, I’m proud that people remember it. They’ve got a better memory than I do.”

Even legendary San Diego coach Sid Gillman had to admire the play. “That was one of the most beautiful tackles I have ever seen in my life,” he said after the game.

Stratton helped lead the Bills to two AFL championships and played in the AFL all-star game six times. He finished his career with 21 interceptions, 18 as a Bill, before making three in his last season while playing for the San Diego Chargers in 1973.

Few linebackers in that era had the ability to go sideline to sideline to make plays the way that Stratton could. 

“Mike Stratton was a great linebacker for us,” said Billy Shaw, Buffalo’s Pro Football Hall of Fame guard on those AFL teams. “He was one of our most dedicated players. He had the physical ability, and he could run with any of the backs.”

This article originally appeared on Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Mike Stratton, former Tennessee Vols football player who became Buffalo Bills legend, dies

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