My passion for collecting began as a young boy when I bought my first pack of football cards in 1965. When I opened the pack to see a Buffalo Bills player on the 2 ½” by 4 ½” card with a pink background and smelled the fresh Topps chewing gum, I immediately fell in love with the idea of collecting cards and the thrill of discovering which players would be inside each pack. This thrill was addictive to me as a young boy, and coincided with my intense interest in football I picked up from my grandfather Cy Sanders, who played college football for Knute Rockne at Notre Dame. Those interests combined with me watching the AFL Champion Buffalo Bills on television and my passion was born. This collector’s passion continued to grow each week as I received my $.25 allowance and rushed to the corner store, on the same city block as my elementary school, to buy another pack of Topps cards.
My first football game was an overwhelming experience. To think that I was going to see all my favorite Bills players, Jack Kemp, Elbert Dubenion, Tom Sestak and Mike Stratton, that I watched on television, live, in person was almost beyond my imagination.
The anticipation and excitement running through me was almost uncontrollable as I rode with my Dad in his 1964 Ford Station Wagon to my first live football game. As we neared the stadium, the concrete facade of the stadium rose up from the horizon. It seemed so big, and the sight of it made my heart race with excitement.
Walking among all the parked cars, seeing all the people grilling food, eating, throwing footballs, was an amazing sight to behold. As we got closer to the entrance gate, I noticed vendors with carts, selling souvenirs. Immediately, I ran to one of them to get a close up of what they were selling. After reviewing all of the items for sale, I begged my Dad to buy me a bobble head doll and a pennant. Luckily he relented, and my collecting passion grew. I thought this experience was just as good as, if not better than, getting packs of football cards.
Upon entering the stadium, I saw another vendor standing next to a few boxes, yelling “Get your program, get your game program, only $.50.” Again, I begged my Dad to buy me a program, which he did. I must have leafed through that program at least a thousand times, until the pages became dog eared. Incidentally, I now own every program from every Bills game.
Following the game, a Bills victory that solidified my attachment to the team forever, I returned home and placed the bobble head doll on my bedroom dresser in the most prominent spot. I hung the pennant on the wall behind my bed, so I could see it each night before going to sleep.
I still have the original three collectibles from that first game I attended with my Dad, and since 1965, have amassed the largest Buffalo Bills football memorabilia collection.
As I went through school, I really enjoyed my history classes and was especially interested in American History. When I graduated from college my interest in American History aligned well with my Buffalo Bills collecting passion. The Bills are much more than a football team to Western New York. They are a critical part of the fabric of the community and the region’s history. As I began earning my own money, I started to add to my Collection with a focus on capturing the Buffalo Bills history from their founding in 1960. I thought back to all of the football cards I had collected throughout my youth that I had left at my parents’ house when I left for college. Upon returning home and much to my disappointment, I learned that my mother had thrown out most of my football cards when cleaning house while I had been away. As I would tell her years later, she and other mothers like her (with the desire to clean) helped create an entire industry. The value of baseball and football cards has increased due to their scarcity. As baby boomers try to recapture their childhood, these cards continue to rise in value.
That setback of losing my precious football cards further fueled my passion to collect thestory of the Bills history through football cards, programs, publications, and collectibles of all sorts.
One of the thrills of collecting is “the hunt,” the passion and focus to find another collectible to add to your growing collection. The thrill of finding the item you don’t yet have makes the hunt worthwhile. I believe it is the combined passion of the hunt and the thrill of finding an item you don’t yet have in your collection which fuel the collector’s desire.
My hunting and searching have taken me to countless garage sales, flea markets, sports card shows, memorabilia shops, antique markets, used book stores, toy stores, malls, stadium shops and other collectors homes. Always on the search and looking for that elusive Buffalo Bills collectible.
The best feeling for me as a collector is that evoked on a crisp fall morning before dawn breaks at the Clarence flea market, flashlight in-hand, hunting for Bills collectibles. Moving among the vast array of artifacts and collectibles from dealer to dealer, rooting through box after box, I then feel the thrill in finding a new Bills item for my Collection.
Before eBay came along, I scoured through classified advertisements in the Buffalo News, Sports Collectors Digest, Beckett, among others to find another collectible. In addition, I sent hundreds of letters to fellow collectors, dealers, and teams and made dozens of telephone calls networking with other collectors and dealers asking about Bills collectibles.
To obtain autographs of players, I purchased address lists and sent letters to the players’ homes. I went to the Bills annual training camp and hung out after games outside the team locker room, trying to obtain autographs. In addition, I attended many events where players were signing – commemorative dinners, card shows, book signings, and store promotions.
I have had many wonderful, memorable experiences while searching for my collectibles.
War Memorial Stadium Seats
I read in the Buffalo News in August, 1989 that War Memorial Stadium at the corner of Best and Jefferson Streets was being torn down. I immediately contacted the City of Buffalo Public Works office to inquire about the demolition and how I could obtain stadium artifacts. I was told artifacts would not be sold and the construction company was responsible for disposal of all demolition items.
I really wanted seats from the stadium; so, the response from the City was only a minor setback. I decided if the construction company was responsible for the disposal, maybe I could convince them to allow me to have some of the stadium seats. I figured that going to the construction company’s headquarters would probably not be any more productive than calling the City offices. I decided my best bet was to go directly to the construction site. So, on Monday morning, September 18, 1989, I drove my 1987 Plymouth Horizon hatchback to the corner of Best and Jefferson. I had not been there in many years, and the neighborhoods around the stadium had clearly deteriorated from what I remembered back in the 1960’s.
After parking and locking my car, I walked around the stadium looking for a way in. Finally, I noticed a man sitting on a bulldozer nestled behind a large pile of debris. I went up to him and asked if there was any way I could get a couple of stadium seats. He was not very nice and sternly replied “no.” I thought for a moment and decided to offer him money to see if that might work. I pulled $30 out of my pocket and offered it to him for a chance to get some seats. He reluctantly said ok. He then directed me to the portion of the stadium where there were unbroken seats.
As I walked into the stadium, a flood of memories came rushing over me as I walked through the corridor and onto the field. I had to walk to the other end of the stadium to find the best seats. As I continued to walk, more and more memories and thoughts filled my head. I could have spent the entire day there, just reminiscing, but I was on a mission – to get stadium seats. I climbed up into the seating area in section 20 and scoured through a number of seats that were all knocked over. After searching for 15 minutes, I found a set of three seats that looked great. Wow! I was excited. I thought what a tremendous addition to my Collection and to the history of the Bills that I was trying to piece together. What I did not realize was that the base of the seats was made from iron. The seats were extremely heavy, but I carried them all the way from one end of the stadium to the other, through the corridor, onto the street, and down the street to my car. Though, I had to stop about every 30 yards to rest. I was determined to take those seats home with me!
I carefully placed the seats in my car, but the hatchback would not close. Now I faced another dilemma. Should I get another set of seats? I knew a friend of mine would want a set. I’d have to offer the contractor more money and carry another heavy set a long distance. More importantly, I’d have to leave my car unlocked with my new precious cargo.
Again, I was determined to get another set. The seats were just too good to pass up. So I went back to the contractor to offer him another $30. By this time, he warmed and joked with me telling me how crazy I was to go through all of that to get two sets of old seats. He then wanted to talk with me to know what I was going to do with them. But I was really not interested in talking, as my car was unlocked! For a moment, I obliged and then hurriedly retraced my steps to the other end of the stadium, found another set of three seats, lugged them back to my car, stopping every 20 yards now…I was tired. I finally reached my car, and fortunately, it was still there with the seats safely lodged in the back. I loaded the other set in my car and felt a rush of excitement. I had accomplished my mission to obtain War Memorial stadium seats! A truly historical artifact!
My First National Sports Collectors Convention
The National Sports Collectors Convention was founded in 1980. The Convention is a large group of sports memorabilia dealers selling all types of memorabilia to interested collectors and hobbyists. The first show had about 350 dealers participate, today it can have as many as 900 dealers. The show moves to different parts of the country each year. I anxiously read about each National in Sports Collectors Digest, hoping some year that it would come East, so that I could attend. Each year the show grew larger and the memorabilia sold, at least through reading SCD, sounded almost too good to be true. Finally in 1984 the National would be held in Parsippany, New Jersey.
Though Parsippany was over four hours away from my home, I knew that I had to go. I was able to make arrangements to go to the show and secured a hotel room to stay. I drove to Parsippany the night before the show, so that I could be at the show the next morning, immediately upon opening. I had trouble sleeping, because I was too excited about all the potential collectibles I might find. My mind was racing as to what the show would be like.
I got to the show, an hour before it was scheduled to open. To my surprise, at least 100 people were in line waiting to get into the show. As I waited, I got more and more excited. Finally, the doors opened and we slowly filed into the exhibit hall. As I walked through the doors, my heart was racing, my stomach churning and my palms sweating! Was first reaction was, Wow! I had never seen so many sports collectibles in one place.
There were rows and rows of tables, with football cards, baseball cards, and sports memorabilia of all kinds. Almost any kind of sports collectible you could imagine seemed to be at the show. I was like a child at Christmas, just brimming with excitement. I had to slow down, take a couple of deep breaths and get my bearings. With so many tables with so much to see, I had to have a game plan to ensure that I did not miss anything.
For the next five hours, I went from table to table, hunting for Buffalo Bills collectibles. It was incredible. I began to find Bills items that I needed for my collection. I bought a 1962 Salada tea coin set of Bills, a 1967 Buffalo Bills NFL bobble head and a 1962 Bills media guide. These were items that I had wanted in my collection for many years. I also bought several football cards. The show was so good and I found so many great items, that I could not buy all the Bills items I saw. I simply ran out of money!
The other enjoyment from the show was I met several dealers that I had been doing business through the mail. Talking with them about collecting, the show and sharing stories was most enjoyable.
As I left the show with my new goodies, I felt a great degree of satisfaction. I had spent an entire day immersed in the hobby, hunting for collectibles, with 100’s of other collectors with passions similar to mine. Sharing stories with other collectors and dealers with the excitement of a child, was a sight to behold. It was a thrilling day! That day is etched in my memory forever. The National has come to the East Coast five more times since 1984, and I have attended each time.
My Son Bobby as a Sports Memorabilia Dealer
As my son Bobby became a teenager, I continually tried to maintain a positive relationship with him. We have a lot in common including our love for sports and especially football. From the time Bobby was a young boy I encouraged his participation in sports, watching games on television and collecting football cards. I wanted him to have some of the same positive experiences that I had as a child. As he grew older he became more and more interested in collecting. He had the same kind of euphoria in opening packs of football cards that I had as a child. As his interest grew, I noticed an advertisement at a local high school promoting a card show and looking for dealers to set up a table at the show. I showed the ad to Bobby and suggested that maybe we should set up a table and see what we could sell. To my surprise he jumped at the chance.
For two weeks leading up to the show, we dug through all the collectibles that we had in the cellar to see what we could sell. Bobby also offered up many of his football cards that were not important to him. It was fun spending time with him, determining what we might be able to sell. We loaded all the items into boxes so that we could cart them to the show. Our first show was Friday night October 14, 1994.
Driving to the show, I could tell that Bobby was really excited. He displayed his excitement by talking non-stop. I don’t think he took a breath, or it least it seemed that way, during the 20 minute drive from our house to the show. Upon arriving at the school, we quickly unpacked the car, checked in with the show promoter and received our table assignment. After we checked in, Bobby just took over. My only role, as I was to find out, was to unpack the boxes. He wanted to place all the items on the table. He thoughtfully arranged all the items on the table. He was very particular how it looked and what items were placed where. He did not want me to rearrange anything. He quickly turned into a little business man. I just sat back and watched as he wheeled and dealed, selling items, trading items, negotiating with other children his age, but also with other adult dealers. I was amazed. It was like he grew up and matured right in front of my eyes. At the end of the night, Bobby counted up the money that we made. We had paid $25 for the table. We made $265 that night. That was quite a sum of money for our first show.
For the next four years, that sports card show on Friday night, once a month, became a staple in our household. It was a terrific way for me to stay connected with my teenage son. In addition, he learned a great deal. The hobby helped him develop his communication skills, both written and verbal. It taught him how to manage money and how to negotiate. It taught him responsibility and organization skills. It significantly improved his self confidence as he dealt with both children and adults and was no longer intimidated dealing with adults. Most importantly it created a bond between my son and I, and it created many shared experiences and memories that we still talk about today.