When Erie County accepted his $4,551 bid for roughly 40,000 square feet of old Buffalo Bills field turf, Pat Brady was racing his sailboat 100 miles off the East Coast.
He didn't learn he won until three days later. That's when the Buffalo resident discovered he had two days to pick up 54 rolls of turf, each weighing several tons.
He had to move fast. He secured space in an old factory building. He hired four flatbed trucks that ran for more than nine hours nonstop carting the giant turf rolls from the SUNY Erie South Campus to the warehouse.
Within three weeks he launched his website, which went live Sunday.
And the The Buffalo Turf company was born.
Brady's now selling 1-square-foot pieces of turf and also larger sizes from New Era Field for $30 and up.
Since Sunday, he has received 950 orders from as far away as the Netherlands, he said.
"They’re all across the country and all around the world," Brady said.
As a teenager, he spent his summers packing up and shipping out seats, fixtures and equipment from old stadiums, like the Aud, before crews demolished the buildings. So his new business venture is right up his alley.
"I’m here 18 hours a day," said Brady, 27, at his turf prep operation. "This is the first time that I’ve had a venture of this scale. Everything that I’ve failed at, meaning it didn’t take off and didn’t make money, has prepared me for this. Time is my biggest enemy right now. People want their orders, and we want to get it to them quick."
Not everyone is happy that an individual entrepreneur paid only $4,551 for the giant rolls of fake-but-famous Bills grass.
County Legislature Minority Leader Joseph Lorigo, C-West Seneca, said he doesn't have any issues with Brady.
But he called the county's auctioning of the turf "shady." Lorigo said most people had no idea the auction was happening.
"We were supposed to auction it off so that everybody in Erie County had the chance to get it," Lorigo said. "The proceeds were supposed to go to nonprofits that work with disabled children to get them athletic activity."
The county made no effort to heavily promote the auction or to divvy up the turf so more people could buy pieces, Lorigo said.
The county said the two-week auction from from May 26 to June 9 was not a secret. But it wasn't widely publicized because there was no way the county could reasonably have cut up the turf in a way that would have made it of great interest to the general public. Instead, it was advertised the same way any excess inventory is made available through the county's Purchasing Department.
"I would be crucified if I had my public employees cutting 1-by-1 foot squares of this when we have potholes that have to be filled and roads that have to be paved," said Public Works Commissioner William Geary.
There was also a tight deadline to get the old turf out and the new turf in, Geary said. The installation of the new turf was completed Wednesday.
He said the stadium turf is removed every eight years. Turf was last removed in 2011, but no one bought it. It sat unused on the Erie Community College campus until it disintegrated and had to be thrown away.
Brady knows what a heavy lift — literally and figuratively — it can be to transform old turf to a fan-friendly keepsake.
Could the county have done the work to capitalize on Bills nostalgia and fan spending?
Maybe, Brady said. But it would have cost much more and taken a lot longer.
"In scenarios like this, municipalities should leave it to the private sector to fulfill those wants," he said.
He estimated that he's invested $35,000 in heavy equipment and other upfront costs to buy and convert the huge rolls into green field squares and blue end-zone squares that people are willing to buy. The more expensive 1-by-1 foot squares of the red, white and blue turf from the 20-yard line is sold out, Brady said.
He's also getting special requests for larger pieces.
"I am absolutely blown away by what some people have done to showcase their memorabilia," he said. "It’s amazing, some of the pictures."
As for criticism about the auction, Brady said he learned about the auction when he checked the website for other items to bid on. He also said he looked for the auction because The Buffalo News wrote about it.
He said he planned from the beginning to use a portion of his profits to support good causes.
Brady has partnered with Bills Fan Thunder, a nonprofit that collects donations so it can send underprivileged youths to Bills games. He will auction an 8-by-15 piece of turf on eBay to help the organization raise money. The county will also allocate the money it received from Brady to assist youth with disabilities, as directed by the Legislature.
"I don’t want to be projected out as a greedy person," said Brady, who earned a bachelor's degree in business management in December.
Brady said he is paying his four-person crew a living wage and doing his best to ensure that none of what he purchased at the auction ends up in a landfill.
He pointed out that he has tons of crumb rubber and sand that is normally spread and nestled among the turf fibers to help the turf blades stand up. He doesn't need any of that soft infill and said he will donate it to any organization or school that can use it. He suggested the infill could possibly be reused as mulch or playground material and 0ffered to load it for free.
He encouraged any interested organization to email him.
"We want to repurpose all of it," he said.
In the end, of course, he said he wants to make money. He's already on track to more than recoup his investment. Assuming this venture succeeds, he said he would like to branch out and offer a similar turf-to-memorabilia service to other teams and schools with athletic fields and a large fan base. With that in mind, he said, he quit his job and looks to expand his business model.
He mentioned his passion for race sailing and cars and his hope that The Buffalo Turf Company will help him finance some purchases.
"There are some childhood dreams that I want to fulfill," he said.
Geary, the county's Public Works commissioner, said he wishes Brady the best of luck.
"Maybe he’s onto something, and he can do something great with it," he said.