Leave it to uberfan Greg Tranter to spread the word well in advance that the Buffalo Bills are about to kick off their 50th season in professional football.
A Massachusetts resident who owns the largest collection of Bills memorabilia, Tranter got the ball rolling 18 months ago in a call to Cynthia A. Conides, executive director of the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society.
He proposed an exhibition based largely on his souvenirs, which date to the team’s 1960 American Football League debut, to mark a half century of agony and ecstasy, cheers and tears.
Conides “was intrigued by my passion,” Tranter said after removing his helmet and shoulder pads.
The result is “The Buffalo Bills 50th Season,” a retrospective consisting of big-play photographs, game programs, ticket stubs and hundreds of other articles opening at 1 p. m. Sunday in the Nottingham Court Museum.
The event will likely have all the energy of a pregame tailgate party in the stadium parking lot. There will even be free hot dogs and pop for first 300 visitors.
Not coincidentally, the opening will ice the cake on today’s induction of Bills owner Ralph Wilson Jr. and defensive end Bruce Smith into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
Well aware of the community’s enthusiasm for all things Bills, the Historical Society was eager to partner with Tranter, 52, an Elmira native who fell in love with the team after his father brought him to a game in the 1960s and who has held season tickets since 1986.
Tranter told the Historical Society, “I’ve got all the artifacts you want,” spokesman Peter Burakowski said.
“Once we took a look at it, we said, ‘Absolutely,’ ” Burakowski said. “He has every single program for every game, home and away, from the very first exhibition game in 1960.”
That’s just for starters. There are 25 jerseys worn by star players in big games, helmets, bobblehead dolls, mugs, jewelry — even a turnstile and seats from War Memorial Stadium. All told, the Historical Society borrowed more than 900 items, said Tranter, whose collection was also the foundation of a 1994 exhibit commemorating the team’s 35th anniversary.
The show will feature a timeline covering all 50 seasons and Wilson’s legacy. Guests will visit a simulated locker room, call their own play-byplay in a broadcast booth and test their Bills knowledge at an electronic trivia kiosk.
Another section will replicate part of the Bills shrine in Tranter’s Shrewsbury, Mass., cellar, which has 17 floor-to-ceiling bookcases jammed with memorabilia.
Better yet from the museum’s standpoint, Tranter, who is chief technology officer of Hanover Insurance Group, agreed to ship and insure the artifacts at his expense.
Those materials will be supplemented by large-format pictures from seasons past by former Buffalo News photographers Robert L. Smith and Mike Groll and a continuous-loop highlight film playing in the museum auditorium.Tranter, regrettably, will miss the opening. He’ll be in Canton cheering Wilson and Smith as they enter the Hall of Fame.
Historical Society admission is $6 for adults, $4 for seniors and students 13 to 21, and $2.50 for children 7 to 12.
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