Buffalo public school teacher and ultra-Bills fan Mark S. Collins was thrilled when he heard that a private entrepreneur had purchased roughly 40,000 square feet of the old Buffalo Bills turf, founded the The Buffalo Turf company and began making 1-foot squares available for sale for purchase to fans.
The Amherst resident was even more thrilled when he learned that he could order special sizes. He had a basement of Bills memorabilia in need of a turf-covered floor.
"I was thinking 'Hey, you know, if there was a good section of this that had some nice markings on it, if I could get some of that, this would be really, really cool,' " he recalled. "It came out really, really nice."
Collins turned into The Buffalo Turf company's no. 1 customer, said owner Patrick Brady, who has sold Collins roughly 377 square feet of the turf, which includes hash marks, yard lines and a hint of end-zone blue.
In the two months since Brady bought roughly half the old New Era Field turf for $4,551 and started making pieces of the New Era Field turf available for fans for as little as $30 apiece, he has sold about 75% of the old field to fans all over the world, including ones in Honduras, Switzerland and Australia.
"We had a big rush, obviously, in the beginning, which was great," he said.
He also has donated special pieces to help raise money for smaller, local nonprofits, raising more than $2,000 through online auctions, not counting more than $500 in donated turf to benefit numerous local raffles and charity events.
"My goal is to donate between $15,000-$20,000 by the end of this project," Brady said. "We’ll be running an auction for the 50-yard-line marker to coincide with the home opener (ending on Sept. 22), which will benefit the initiatives of Pancho Billa’s family."
Collins said he's aiming to win that auction to finish out his Bills basement showcase, which includes a replica AFL championship trophy given to Van Miller, the longtime radio voice of the Buffalo Bills; a player-worn Bills coat from the 1960s; and mannequins he purchased to show off full Bills uniforms he owns.
Brady has already auctioned off the 20-yard-line marker to benefit Bills Fan Thunder, which raises money to send underprivileged youths to Bills games; the 30-yard-line marker to benefit the Lindsay K. Matthews Memorial Scholarship Fund; and the 10-yard-line marker to benefit the Jeff Metcalf Memorial Golf Tournament and Trust.
He's currently auctioning the 40-yard-line marker to benefit Deaf Access Services, which provides interpreters and other resources for the deaf and hard of hearing. That auction is slated to end at 9:30 p.m. Sunday. That organization is meaningful to him because of his family connection to an aunt who was deaf and autistic, he said.
Though business has slowed, he's still shipping 20-30 orders a day and looking ahead of to the holiday season, trying to develop products that are more "gift ready" beyond the square pieces of raw turf that are available to fans now. He's also purchased a vendor license to sell the turf within a one-mile radius of the stadium and expects to drum up more interest once the regular seasons begins again.
He's already found a use for all the leftover scraps of Bills turf that weren't usable as foot-long squares. He's turned them into "game day can coolers" (also known as drink huggies and beer koozies). The $15 items look like green shag-carpet wraparounds for drink cans. They don't have bottoms, but Brady assures that the can grip is naturally snug.
He also still has plenty 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's currently in contact with one charter school that plans to make use of some of it. He encourages any other interested organization to email him.
Though Brady still has thousands of turf squares left to sell, he sees an endpoint coming and wonders if he'll make it through year's end.
"It’s tough to say how much it’s going to last for," he said.
But between now and when the last square sold, he said, he wants to find ways to help connect the turf to the Bills' story and the story of its fans. With the Bills season again getting underway, he said, that should become easier to do.