By Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports Page Columnist
The Buffalo History Museum apparently has entered the 21st century. You could argue that the process started when the Museum changed its name a few years ago. The old name was long, ugly and forgettable – Buffalo and Erie County Something, which everyone stumbled over when saying. The new name gets right to the point and describes what it is.
The History Museum took another step forward on Nov. 17, when its new exhibit opened to the public. The display is called “Icons – The Makers and Moments of Buffalo Sports.” It’s proof that history doesn’t have to be old and dusty. Saluting popular subjects should be part of the equation as well. The Museum has done some sports displays before, such as the one for the Bills’ 50th anniversary. But this is a full-fledged effort to use sports to attract attention to the facility. It works quite well too.
“Icons” is located in the freshly renamed Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Gallery on the second floor. It’s next to the exhibit containing Tim Russert’s desk, for those who know the building well.
Plenty of memorabilia
What’s to see? The Museum took a poll about a year ago on who the icons of Buffalo sports history were. You could probably guess most of the winners. Among the represented were Jack Kemp, Gil Perreault, Jim Kelly, O.J. Simpson, Bruce Smith, Dominik Hasek, Rick Martin, Bob McAdoo, Pat LaFontaine and John Tavares in the form of their uniforms, etc. Wilson’s family supplied something you don’t see in public every day – the Hall of Fame jacket of the late Bills’ owner. Joe Mesi’s trunks and championship belt are there. Videos of all of those icons are available at the touch of a button.
I got a kick out of seeing Van Miller’s fur coat in a media display. It’s next to a special jacket belonging to Rick Jeanneret, and a jersey from Rob Ray. Who thought anything from Rob would be in a History Museum?
There are plenty of other items scattered around the exhibit as well. Programs and ticket stubs bring back memories of some of the biggest games in Buffalo’s history, such as the Bills’ AFL championships and the Sabres’ trips to the NHL finals. A jersey from an original Bill is there, as is an unused uniform of the 1970-71 Buffalo Braves (I guess they didn’t hand out No. 26). There are seats from New Era Field, Coca-Cola Field, Memorial Auditorium and War Memorial Stadium. The Buffalo Beauts have a display case. Ollie Carnegie’s bat from the 1930s is there, and so is the bell from the Buffalo Wrestling Club.
A few other items are there just for fun. You can compare the size of your hands and feet with the Bills’ good-sized center Eric Wood, announce famous plays from Buffalo sports history, and write down brief memories on a wipeboard. I liked the guy that wrote down, tongue in cheek, “And Peterman leads the Bills to the Super Bowl!”
Credit goes to Greg Tranter for some of the items. The noted collector of all things Bills donated a ton of items to the History Museum. It’s good for people to see such stuff.
About the only disappointment with the display is that it’s not bigger. Admittedly, the Buffalo History Museum doesn’t have a great deal of space available. It might have been fun to see items connected to the Stallions and Destroyers, for example. And it’s always tough to strike a balance in getting plenty of items to showcase while making the gallery inviting to visitors. But what is there works well.
This exhibit will be around for the next five years, so you have plenty of time to come to North Buffalo for a visit. The display might give a boost to the idea of having some sort of permanent local sports museum in town. The obvious connection would be to the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame, which at the moment only has display windows at the KeyBank Center.
In the meantime, my guess is that “Icons” ought to get some people through the front door of the Buffalo History Museum who don’t usually visit such places. And maybe while they are there, they might check out the other exhibits in the building too. It’s worth the trip.
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)