Collecting Buffalo Bills Wall-of-Famers provides plenty of variety and challenges

By Randall Krolewicz

CollectingMemories
cards-kemp-oj10172015-300x216Established in 1980, the Buffalo Bills Wall of Fame honors former players, administrators and coaches who had significant roles in the team’s history. There are currently 30 members of the Wall of Fame and all but eight are players. In this and future columns I will provide a collector-focused history of the Wall of Fame members, starting with those from the American Football League.

The Wall-of-Famers from the AFL years are: running back O.J. Simpson (1969-77); quarterback Jack Kemp (1962-69); defensive tackle Tom Sestak (1962-68); guard Billy Shaw (1961-69); owner Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. (1960-2014); receiver Elbert Dubenion (1960-68); linebacker Mike Stratton (1962-72); cornerback Robert James (1969-74); safety George Saimes (1963-69); guard Bob Kalsu (1968); cornerback Booker Edgerson (1962-69); and head coach Lou Saban (1962-65,1972-76).

During the AFL years there were many collectibles featuring the Bills. The most popular and available are the gum trading cards issued by Fleer (1960-63) and Topps (1961, 1964-69). Kemp’s first football card was issued by Fleer in 1960 (#124) when he played for the then Los Angeles Chargers. Topps included Kemp as a Buffalo Bill in its sets from 1963-68 (card #s 24, 30, 35, 26, 24 and 149, respectively), but he was not in the 1969 base set. Luckily for collectors Topps did include Kemp on panel #57 of its “Four-in-One” mini cards that were inserted in 1969 card packs. Fleer’s are the debut cards for Dubenion (1960 #17), Shaw (1962 #16) and in 1963 Edgerson (#30), Stratton (#32) and Sestak (#33). Saimes’ rookie card is 1964 Topps #36.

In 1963 Jones Dairy featured crude portraits of Dubenion, Edgerson, Kemp, Saimes, Sestak, Shaw and Stratton on milk bottle caps and spheres to be cut from the side of milk cartons. These collectibles are some of the hardest to find and sell for hundreds of dollars each when available. Portraits of these same Bills were featured on the underside of Coca-Cola bottle caps from 1964 to 1966.

Interestingly, OJ’s first Bills collectible was not a trading card, it was a 2-by-3 inch stamp #48 issued by Glendale Publishers in 1969. Topps did not include OJ (or other rookies) in its 1969 set, but did issue three OJ cards in 1970; regular issue #90 (his rookie card), glossy #22 (inserted in regular packs) and super #24 (sold in separate packs). From 1970-78, Topps issued 28 OJ Bills collectibles, including 13 highlighting accomplishments, three in the 1977 Mexican set, and three inserts (1970 glossy and 1971 inserts playable game card and poster). There is also a 1970 Kellogg’s card #48 that was inserted in cereal boxes. Other OJ collectables from his Bills playing days include Bazooka card; NFL Players Association fabric card, stamp, and wood burning kit; Dell photo; 7-Eleven Slurpee cup; Buffalo News poster; Sunoco stamp; Bowmar reading kit; Mattel mini-record; New York News card; Sportscaster card; and Bills 8.5×11 inch color photos and postcards sold at Rich Stadium.

Although James played with the Bills from 1969 to 1974, he was not included on a Topps card until 1972 (#114); his first collectible was in the 1971-72 NFLPA Wonderful World Stamps set. Bills owner Ralph Wilson was featured in the 1960 team issued set of 40 5-by-7 inch black-and-white pictures given to each 1960 season ticketholder. Upon his Pro Football Hall of Fame induction in 2009, Wilson was featured on cards issued by Goal Line, Sportkings and the Hall of Fame.

In 1968, Bob Kalsu was drafted by the Bills in the eighth round, started eight games at guard, and was voted the team’s top rookie. He began fulfilling his ROTC obligation with the US Army after the 1968 season, started his tour of duty in Vietnam in November of 1969 and was killed by mortar fire on July 21, 1970. Kalsu is the only professional football player killed in Vietnam and his selection to the Wall of Fame took place on what would have been his 55th birthday, April 13, 2000. The only card of Kalsu that I am aware of is the 2011 Tristar Obak #107.

Wall-of-Famers have also been featured on Super Duper 8.5-by-11 inch photos, Clark Oil drinking tumbler (also known by the drawings’ artist Nicholas Volpe), Milk for Health matchbooks, Champion Corn Flakes cards, Chemtoy superballs and Glendale stamps.

At halftime of this season’s opening game, the Bills added Lou Saban to the Wall of Fame. As head coach, Saban guided the Bills to AFL championships in 1964 and 1965. The only card of coach Saban is the 1960 Fleer #55, when he was with the Boston Patriots. Fortunately for Bills collectors Saban was featured as Buffalo’s coach on a 1965 Vople tumbler and 1973 Buffalo News poster.

Next time I will provide collectible information on more members of the Bills’ Wall of Fame. In the meantime, feel free to contact me at rkrolewicz@roadrunner.com or find out about the sports collectors club at www.meetup.com/Western-New-York-Baseball-Cards-and-Other-Sports-Memorabilia.