You never forget a football player named Cookie -- especially when you are a young boy just learning about the game.

Cookie Gilchrist's football card was one of the items my friends and I valued growing up during the early days of the American Football League. It was the 1960s, and for many young fans the upstart AFL got your attention more than the old guard NFL. The AFL, launched in 1960, was a league for the times, a rebel league full of rebels.

You remember the names and the pictures of those AFL football cards as if you were still collecting them -- like Abner Haynes and Ernie Ladd -- and Carlton Chester "Cookie" Gilchrist, running back for the Buffalo Bills, stood out.

Cookie Gilchrist died Monday at age 75. He was perhaps the unofficial symbol of the early days of the AFL -- outspoken, outrageous and sometimes out of bounds.

He always had something to say and usually angered somebody when he said it. Cookie played and sometimes acted as if the rules didn't always apply to him.

But one time, when he bucked the system, Cookie Gilchrist helped blaze a trail.

Cookie was supposed to play in the AFL All-Star Game, scheduled for Jan. 16, 1965, at Tulane Stadium in New Orleans, a city that was trying to get a football franchise. And since the AFL was the rebel league and considered more progressive, black players found a more level playing ground in the new league than in the NFL.

But when those black players arrived to play the game in New Orleans, they found a hostile host. They couldn't get cabs, were refused entrance to restaurants and found themselves targeted by people they encountered on the streets.

That wouldn't fly with Cookie Gilchrist. He is credited with organizing a meeting of the 21 black players participating in the game, which ended with a decision to walk out on the event. As a result, the game was moved to Houston.

Cookie certainly was an All-Star. He was signed out of high school by Cleveland Browns owner Paul Brown but left Cleveland after a dispute and played in Canada, where he remained for eight years before signing with the Buffalo Bills of the AFL in 1962. He rushed for 1,096 yards and 13 touchdowns, averaging 5.1 yards a carry. The following season, he helped lead the Bills to the AFL championship.

Over six AFL seasons with the Bills, Denver Broncos and Miami Dolphins, Gilchrist rushed for 4,293 yards, caught 110 passes for 1,135 yards and scored 43 touchdowns. He was first-team All-AFL three times.

Retired Buffalo News football writer Larry Felser once wrote of Cookie: "Any time. Any place. Any brand of football. Cookie was, pound for pound, the greatest all-around player I ever saw. He would be a superstar in today's football."

He might have had his own reality show as well. Cookie feuded with teammates and opponents. He refused induction into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame because he fought with CFL management. He battled for years with Bills owner Ralph Wilson, refusing to accept enshrinement in the Bills Wall of Fame.

Right or wrong, Cookie Gilchrist has a place in the history of football in the 20th century, a symbol of the upstart AFL. And he also always will have a place in the heart of this football fan, who thought it was so cool to have the football card of a player named Cookie.

Examiner columnist Thom Loverro is the co-host of "The Sports Fix" from noon to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on ESPN980 and Contact him at