Game On / A man cave devoted to Buffalo sports
Exploring the treasures of a private Buffalo Sports Museum
The collector and his collection
Photos courtesy of John Boutet
A basement of a Grand Island home is also the private Buffalo Sports Museum. Visitors are amazed, even overwhelmed, by the thousands of treasures here, including every Buffalo Sabres game program from 1970 to 1983, Ilio DiPaolo’s wrestling boots, a turnstile from the Rockpile, the red sideline jacket worn by former Bills’ quarterback Joe Ferguson, and two floor panels from the old Aud. As he watches reactions to his treasure trove, John Boutet never stops smiling.
“This is why I do it,” says the fifty-four-year-old physical education teacher and memorabilia collector/historian as he gives the latest tour of his unique basement museum, first envisioned a decade ago and brought to life just recently. “I love watching and hearing people’s stories and their memories. It’s tremendous.”
While Forbes claims sports collectibles is a multibillion dollar industry, it’s never been about money for Boutet—just memories and stories. “I love listening to people when they see something here that sparks a story or a memory,” he says. “It’s the essence of why I collect.”
When did you first have an appetite for collecting?
My earliest memories were going to the Aud [Buffalo Memorial Auditorium] with my dad, when I would pick up the ticket stubs that people discarded once they got in because they all had different colors for the section you were in. It wasn’t until after I got married and was a bit more settled that I started collecting again.
Have you considered any other memorabilia besides Buffalo sports?
Never. I live in Buffalo. I love Buffalo. I love the history of Buffalo sports, and there’s so much of it.
Why the simple name and why in your basement?
I purposely named it the Buffalo Sports Museum to create buzz as to why there’s isn’t a true sports museum in Buffalo, the type of museum people think of when they hear the word museum. There’s a huge need in this city, with its incredibly rich history of sports, for a place to celebrate our sports history. Pittsburgh has it. Baltimore has it. Boston has it. Why doesn’t Buffalo? I don’t have that kind of money—maybe somebody does—so, I put it in my basement and on Facebook so people can see it and discuss it.
Is your wife OK with all this, turning your basement into a museum?
She’s fantastic, so supportive. One time, I passed on something and she said, “Are you kidding? You’ll never get another shot at that. Buy it!” She was the one who really convinced me to start the museum. She said, “Listen, you’re gonna be fifty-four, so either you’re going to do it now or you’ll never do it. So I started.”
Your most prized possession?
It’s my father’s baseball glove, which has no value to anyone but me. As far as my collection, believe it or not, I can’t tell you that there’s something I treasure more than any other. I played Division I baseball in college [Canisius after attending St. Joe’s and getting tryouts with the Indians, Pirates and Blue Jays], so I probably gravitate toward baseball.
What’s the one item you really wanted but took the most time?
The old Buffalo Bisons’ American Hockey League jersey, the one with the Pepsi bottle cap on the front. If you’re a true, hardcore Buffalo sports collector, that’s one of the big, kind of monumental items you need. They’re extremely hard to find [he has two].
The collector shown with one of his heroes, Joe Ferguson, at right.
Has there ever been one item that you really wanted but it got away?
I came across a Buffalo Federals [professional baseball] pennant from 1914 on Craiglist about five years ago. Unbelievably rare. The guy wanted $60. I shot him an e-mail and said “I’ll be there. Just don’t sell it.” Well, a guy stopped by his house and bought it that morning. I was mortified. About a month or so later, I’m leafing through an auction house catalog. There it is: the Buffalo Federals pennant, 1914. So I bid $1,000, then $2,000, then $3,000… I was out; I just don’t have that kind of disposable income. Final bid price? It sold for $21,500. I could have had it for sixty dollars. But, those things happen.
So, what’s next?
I never know. I have some holes I want to fill, but that’s what makes it fun, the chase, the idea that you never know when or where you’ll find something. Who knows, maybe something great is in the attic of an old woman’s house in Kenmore. Honestly, for me, it’s not about the money, never has been. It’s about the chase and the history.
Tom Koller is senior associate athletics director at Buffalo State.