Big Tom Sestak of the Buffalo Bills

Autographed 1963 Fleer Tom SestakThe Buffalo Bills selected Tom Sestak with their 17th-round choice in the 1962 AFL draft.  Sestak had played tight end at McNeese State University in Lake Charles, Louisiana, but when he arrived at his first training camp weighing 275 lbs of pure muscle, the Bills coaching staff moved him to defensive tackle.  The shift in position proved to be a wise move, as Sestak became an instant force on the Bills defensive line, where he was equally adept at rushing the passer and playing against the run.

Tom Sestak started all 14 games for the Bills in his rookie season of 1962, and continued in that fashion until the cumulative effect of multiple knee injuries forced him to sit out two games in his final season of 1968.  In the meantime, he became one of the most dominant defenders the AFL had ever seen.  Sestak was voted to four AFL All-Star teams (1963, ‘64, ‘65, ’66) and was one of just six defensive tackles in all of professional football to be chosen as a unanimous All-League selection in three-or-more seasons.  The other five, NFL men Willie Davis, Merlin Olsen, Deacon Jones, Bob Lilly and Gino Marchetti, are all members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.  Tom Sestak is not.

The Buffalo Bills had great success during Sestak’s career, and won consecutive league championships in 1964 & 1965, while also playing in the title game in 1966.  During a stretch covering the 1964 & 1965 seasons, the Bills defensive unit held their opposition without a rushing touchdown for 17 consecutive games.  While tackle and quarterback sacks were unofficial statistics during his career, Tom Sestak also contributed by scoring six touchdowns in his 96 career games, four of which came on interception returns, while the other two were fumble recoveries.

At the close of the AFL in late 1969, Tom Sestak was selected as one of just two defensive tackles to be named to the All-Time AFL Team.

Tom Sestak remained in the Buffalo area after his football career.  Big Tom Sestak died of a heart attack on April 3, 1987, at the young age of 51.  Some might consider it a blessing, however, as Sestak had been diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) only the week before.  Since his passing, Tom Sestak has been named to the Bills Wall of Fame, and the Bills’ 50th Anniversary Team.


Todd Tobias (790 Posts)

Todd Tobias's interest in the American Football League began in 1998, when he wrote my master's thesis about Sid Gillman. He created this site to educate and entertain football fans with the stories of the American Football League, 1960-1969. You can follow Todd and get more AFL history on Twitter @TalesfromtheAFL.

7 Responses to Big Tom Sestak of the Buffalo Bills

  1. chris burford says:

    Tom was another of the GREAT players from the AFL that has beens passed over by the the hierarchy of the NFL for Canton honors….very deserving…we always knew when we were playing against him that our O line needed to be extra good in defending Lenny and providing a crease for the R.B.s ….one tough and tenacious guy! chris burford Texans/Chiefs 60-67

  2. Jeff Bos says:

    Don’t remember who said it, but one of my favorite quotes of all time is that Sestak “made a weenie out of Sweeney and putty out of Budde”. Walt Sweeney and Ed Budde were the All-Pro guards for the Chargers and Chiefs respectively.

  3. chris burford says:

    beg to differ from your tongue in cheek quote….never saw anyone make” putty ” out of Budde! and Sweeney,too, was a stud. A bit of hyperbole from a Bills fan no doubt. By the way, who won the only AFL Championship game played between the Bills and the Chiefs………oh, I thought so. (sent with lols and fond remembrances…..and yes, Tom was a grea great player!)

    • Jeff Bos says:

      A bit of hyperbole from a player as I recall. Yes, Budde and Sweeney were greats, Sestak was the best DT to ever play in the AFL. That would be the point.

  4. Jeff Bos says:

    Who won the two AFL title games between the Chargers and Bills? Oh, thats right, the Bills did, I guess that puts Sestak up 2 to 1

    • chris burford says:

      not head to head with K.C.

      • Jeff says:

        Hi Chris, Wanted to thank you for taking the time to talk smack with me. Great fun to converse with someone who was there. I think you may have been a participant in the first game I ever saw. It was a pre-season game between the Bills and Chiefs (my other favorite AFL team by the way, Otis Taylor not being in the Hall of Fame tells me it’s rigged against you guys ) that my Dad took me to. However, back to my original statement (Cookie Gilchrist was the speaker I believe, and I will dig up the quote somehow, somewhere). The reference was to Mr. Budde and Mr. Sweeney, not one or the other. 2-1 Sestak and the Bills. I will give you that you caught the Bills on the downside and kicked their behinds in 66, but I will always maintain that mid 60’s teams were one of the great teams to play in the AFL. Pre-Super Bowl or not.

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