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Bob Ryan

Bucko in own league

Bucko Kilroy (right) helped deliver coach Chuck Fairbanks one of the most successful drafts in Patriots history in 1973. Bucko Kilroy (right) helped deliver coach Chuck Fairbanks one of the most successful drafts in Patriots history in 1973. (FILE/FRANK O'BRIEN/THE BOSTON GLOBE)

I had to read it twice.

According to Russ Francis, he and Bucko Kilroy used to go antique collecting together. "Bucko was a world-class collector of antiques and antiquities, which he later became, as I liked to remind him," says the famed tight end.

Bucko Kilroy in an antique store? All 6 feet 3 inches and 200-whatever pounds of him? I would think they'd make him sign a waiver before they'd allow him to set foot in the joint.

Suffice it to say, Bucko looking over some Louis XIV desk or chair is not an image that would easily be formed in the minds of the countless people who encountered him in the course of an epic and singular 64-year NFL career, and that would most specifically be the case for the many foes who needed long, hot showers (and perhaps a trip to the hospital) after spending a Sunday afternoon on the other side of ball from Francis Joseph Kilroy, who -- pay attention, please -- made three All-Pro teams as an offensive guard and three All-Pro teams as a middle guard.

I think we can safely say they don't make them kind no more.

Bucko Kilroy the player was legend enough. Tough and unapologetic, he dished it out and took it in the trenches with such gusto that he had a reputation as one of the most hated and feared (and respected) men in the league. But those 13 years as an Eagle were merely the prelude to a 51-year second act as scout and executive. And make no mistake: His service lasted right up to the minute of his death last Tuesday at the age of 86. Bucko's "scouting consultant" title with the Patriots in recent years was no joke. Scott Pioli made it his business to make sure that every one of his scouts spent time with the man who, in the opinion of many, invented modern football scouting.

"Gil Brandt and Bucko put together a system in Dallas," recalls recently retired general manager (Baltimore, Cleveland, New York Giants) Ernie Accorsi. "We never had a system. We drafted OK, but it was by the seat of the pants. Everyone talks about Gil and the computers, but Bucko never got enough credit. He took that scouting system to New England and really refined it. He took it to the next level."

Scouting? Did someone say scouting? You mean like the 1973 Patriots draft? That's the year director of player personnel Bucko Kilroy delivered John Hannah, Darryl Stingley, Sam Cunningham, and, way down there in the 14th round, Ray "Sugar Bear" Hamilton. Not bad, huh?

The famed Combine? Care to guess who came up with that idea? George Blackburn and, of course, Our Man Bucko.

Bucko's influence on the National Football League is staggering. His administrative offspring include Bobby Beathard, Peter Hadhazy, Mike Hickey, the late Dick Steinberg, Tom Boisture, A.J. Smith, Tony Razzano, Charley Armey, and even Mike Holovak. Beathard, Steinberg, Boisture, Razzano, Armey, and Holovak all had at least one Super Bowl participant after leaving Bucko. Then throw in current personnel men such as Bobby Grier, Chris Grier, Ken Sternfeld, and Jason Licht. Bucko's imprint on the game will be everlasting.

But there was the professional and there was the man, and it is the man the football world will be gathering to honor in Foxborough, both at tomorrow's wake and Tuesday's funeral Mass. "He was one of the few men in the business who was not afraid to share his knowledge," reflects former Patriots GM Patrick Sullivan, who identifies Bucko as his true football mentor. "He was very secure."

Loyalty and compassion are two other words that come to mind when the subject is Bucko Kilroy. "Bill McPeak had a stroke," Sullivan explains. "But there was nothing wrong with his mind. Bucko told my father [Patriots owner Billy Sullivan] he should hire him. He was with us for seven or eight years and he was very valuable. He was a huge part of our success in '85 and '86."

You can bet there will be a lot of storytelling when the football folk congregate to say goodbye to Bucko in the next two days. But none of them will be able to top the ones Bucko himself told over the years. Think about it: 64 unbroken years of NFL service.

"The only person in the history of the league with more continuous service was [Giants owner] Wellington Mara," Sullivan points out. Mara indeed started as a ball boy and worked his way through his father's organization until he was the boss. In terms of varied service, however, no one in NFL history can touch Bucko. He was, for example, a member of the "Steagles," the wartime combined Philadelphia-Pittsburgh franchise.

And don't think Bucko wasn't keeping score. "Each year at the start of the season," says former Patriots public relations director Tom "Moose" Hoffman, a close friend, "He would say, 'One more year closer to [George] Halas.' He knew where he stood."

Many people think Accorsi was the league's resident institutional memory. Not a chance.

"Most of the historical basis for what I know I learned from Bucko," Accorsi admits. "I used to listen to him for hours. He knew everything that went on for the last 60 years. People forget he worked in the league office when Bert Bell was commissioner before he got into scouting."

Large and rumpled, Bucko dispensed his wisdom as only he could. Names, for example, weren't exactly his forte. "He was hysterical," Sullivan says. "We were being covered by Kevin Mannix of the Herald and Mike Madden of the Globe. He lumped them both together and they each became 'Maddux.' "

Hoffman confirms Bucko's wordplay. "When Howard Slusher was representing Hannah and [Leon] Gray in their joint holdout, Bucko once said, 'Howard, you accusing me of collision?' "

So, yes, malaprops are part of the Bucko lore, but only part. He was a true football treasure, and he cannot be replaced. "So much of the NFL died with him," sighs Accorsi.

He died as a Patriot, which makes a lot of people in Foxborough proud. "He went from my father to Victor Kiam to James Busch Orthwein and one of the last people to see him, I believe, was Robert Kraft," notes Sullivan. "That's an accomplishment. It really is."

No one was closer in the end than Hoffman, who reports that on one of his final visits he was kidding Bucko about his rather large, battered shoes.

"17 Triple Es," Bucko said. "Heh, heh, heh."

Good luck, NFL, trying to fill them.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.

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