March 1, 1938 – Nov. 26, 2012
Joseph V. Kulbacki, a conservative author who lived on a 50-acre Colden farm and played halfback for the Buffalo Bills in the franchise’s first American Football League game – a 27-3 loss at the New York Titans on Sept. 11, 1960 – died Monday in Buffalo General Medical Center after a nearly decade-long battle against cancer. He was 74.
Mr. Kulbacki was born in Ridgway, Pa., and graduated from high school in Youngsville, Pa., in 1956. Excelling at sports in high school, Mr. Kulbacki, who was a running back, set records that still stand. He earned several football scholarships, including to Purdue University.
After graduating from Purdue in 1960, with a bachelor’s degree in industrial economics and completing the Reserve Officers Training Corps, Mr. Kulbacki was commissioned in the U.S. Army as a second lieutenant.
That same year, he was drafted by the Washington Redskins in the 16th round (184th overall) of the National Football League draft and the Boston Patriots in the newly formed AFL.
He did not suit up for the Redskins or Patriots in a game, however. Instead, Mr. Kulbacki played 12 games for the Buffalo Bills during the team’s inaugural year in the AFL, after Buffalo obtained his draft rights from the Patriots.
In the team’s first training camp, Mr. Kulbacki told family members, he and other players were housed at the Roycroft Inn in East Aurora and practiced on the polo fields at the nearby Knox Estate. He earned $11,000 for that season, and players then even bought their own football cleats, family members said.
That year, 1960, would be Mr. Kulbacki’s lone season appearing in games for the Bills. Wearing No. 43, he played in the first dozen of the team’s 14 games, compiling 108 total yards in 41 rushing attempts. He rushed for one touchdown, in a 45-28 loss to the Dallas Texans on Nov. 6, 1960, according to Pro-Football-Reference.com.
He also returned kickoffs and punts for the Bills that season, records show.
After the 1960 season, Mr. Kulbacki “interrupted his career to fulfill his service obligation to the U.S. Army,” according to his biography on his personal blog. During his service, he was on the beaches of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., mobilized during the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962.
Mr. Kulbacki returned briefly to the Bills in 1963 before later forming his own engineering consulting company, Automation Integrators Inc., in Colden.
Mr. Kulbacki was a vintner who made his own wine and hosted many Buffalo Bills at his wine-making parties. He was also the owner of South Hill Farms – a blueberry and Christmas tree farm in Colden.
Among the many people Mr. Kulbacki knew and enjoyed friendly associations with were Bills owner Ralph Wilson; longtime late owner of the New York Yankees George Steinbrenner; and Hall of Fame NFL quarterback Bob Griese.
Mr. Kulbacki played under Steinbrenner, who was an assistant football coach at Purdue in the late 1950s. Then, in the 1960s, Mr. Kulbacki went on to coach there while pursuing advanced academic studies at the university. He coached Griese in the quarterback’s freshman year for the Boilermakers.
After developing a long-term friendship with Wilson, the two frequently enjoyed skiing adventures together, according to his wife of 32 years, the former Judi Spoth.
“It’s been very comforting to me to know how truly loved and respected he was,” said Mrs. Kulbacki, who said she has received calls from many former Bills players in recent days expressing condolences. “They said, ‘We just remember him being such a man of integrity and honor.’ ”
In recent years, even while battling various forms of cancer, Mr. Kulbacki’s concern over the political and economic progression of the United States inspired him to pen “America … Nation That’s Lost Its Way.” The book, first published in 2009, is Mr. Kulbacki’s critical analysis of the nation’s leadership structure, which he argues is increasingly politically self-interested and weak, is included in the book. He also makes the case that the principles on which the country was founded have been abandoned
Besides his wife, survivors include four sons, Tom, Chris DeVoss, Donald and Kevin Kaufman, and a brother, Ron.
A memorial service will be at11 a.m. Monday in The Tabernacle, 3210 Southwestern Blvd., Orchard Park.
– T.J. Pignataro