Tonawanda News

Features

July 9, 2012

BOOK NOOK: Gilchrist biography solid, if not a a bit one-sided

Tonawanda News — If you didn’t know better, you’d swear former Buffalo Bills great Cookie Gilchrist was the inspiration for “Forrest Gump.”

Gilchrist rubbed shoulders with football’s greats in Canada and the United States in the 1950s and 1960s. He worked on Capitol Hill for a congressman and was invited to a presidential inauguration.

He organized Marvin Gaye’s first concert in Toronto, promoted Muhammad Ali’s Canadian heavyweight title fight in Western New York and nearly created celebrity boxing with Jim Brown. Yet for all of these brushes with greatness, relatively little was known of Gilchrist.

Until he got a little help in telling his story.

“The Cookie That Did Not Crumble” is in many ways a Gilchrist autobiography. The book is based on a rough outline Gilchrist wrote about his life and is accentuated with some words from Chris Garbarino, a New York City resident who had unsuccessfully hunted for Gilchrist for months before tracking him down on — of all places — Facebook.

Garbarino had been intrigued by the lack of information available about Gilchrist. After finally finding him, the two formed a close friendship, with Garbarino helping Gilchrist move and tending to his final affairs after mild dementia and cancer caught up to him. After Gilchrist’s death in January 2011, Garbarino worked with the former Bills’ sons to bring his story to the public.

And that story — tweaked through Garbarino’s eyes — is a solid read that allows the reader the sort of inside glimpse that is rare and fascinating, if occasionally too one-sided.

The tale offers a stark contrast to much of what’s believed to be known about the gridiron great. Gilchrist left his suburban Pittsburgh high school early on the promise that the Cleveland Browns would sign him to a pro contract. The Browns claimed that Gilchrist was immature and lacked some work ethic and offered to send him to the Canadian Football League for more experience before a promised return. Gilchrist claims that the Browns were spurred in their attempt to sign a high school player, and that they wanted him in Canada so they could control him.

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