Friday, February 17, 2023

Insight: Fishing for football tickets

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

My dad was educated in mechanical engineering and that sure came in handy in the 1960s when I asked for his help in competing for a grand prize that included tickets to a professional football game.

It may have been a step down from his duties at work designing plans to transmit satellite imagery to government monitoring stations, but you sure couldn’t tell by his enthusiasm for helping me win the contest.

I first heard about the competition in September 1964 when I accompanied my parents to the Star Market grocery store on a Friday night. There was a huge display in the soda pop aisle promoting the contest and I took home an entry form to participate.

The Coca Cola Bottling Company of Western New York was sponsoring a contest to win two tickets on the 50-yard line at the old War Memorial Stadium in Buffalo for a mid-November game featuring the Boston Patriots against the Buffalo Bills. The contest entry form contained 24 small circular photos of Buffalo Bills football players and to compete, all you had to do was find and remove rubber bottlecaps of the 24 players depicted on them and attach them to the entry sheet.

The contest opened Oct. 1 and ran through Oct. 31 and seemed like a lot of fun. It turned out to be a genuine quest for me and was an activity I could share with my younger brother and my father.

The first few bottlecaps were easy to collect. Inside the six 16-ounce bottles we brought home from the store were bottlecap images of Bills quarterback Jack Kemp, fullback Cookie Gilchrist, defensive end Ron McDole, defensive tackle Tom Sestak, wide receiver Glenn Bass and punter Paul Maguire.

I attached them to the entry sheet and was excited because I only needed 18 more to have a chance to win. That proved to be a little more challenging than I expected.

The next trip to the supermarket and the purchase of six more bottles only yielded one new bottlecap, that of backup quarterback Daryle Lamonica. So far, I had just seven of the 24 required to win with about two weeks left in the contest.

As I began to think I might not have much of a chance to win after all, my father brought home three new bottlecaps from the Coke vending machine at his office including safety Ray Abruzzese, linebacker Harry Jacobs and guard Al Bemiller. That brought my total collected to 10 and boosted my spirits considerably.

But it also gave my father an idea and he shared it with our family at the dinner table that evening. He told me that he thought about creating a makeshift “fishing pole” with a magnet on a string that he could lower into Coke vending machines around town to try and “fish” out as many bottlecaps as we could.

The first stop was at an Esso gas station, and it must have been quite a sight to watch as I lowered the string with the magnet down into the slot where people popped the metal bottle caps off their Coke bottles. I slowly pulled four bottlecaps out of the machine and extracted about 35 bottlecaps out of there in total and loaded them into a brown paper bag my father was holding.

We then found another Coke machine in the shopping plaza near our home. That also resulted in a haul of about 30 more bottlecaps. The last stop was at the bus station and that machine produced more than 40 bottlecaps using our impromptu “fishing pole.”

Back home, I discovered bottlecaps for running back Wray Carlton, cornerback Butch Byrd, linebackers Mike Stratton and John Tracey, halfbacks Willie Ross, Bobby Smith and Joe Auer, defensive end Tom Day, defensive tackle Jim Dunaway and wide receiver Elbert Dubenion.

My total stood at 20 bottlecaps with a little more than a week left until the end of the contest. I obtained bottlecaps for guard George Flint and center Walt Cudzik by trading extras I had collected of Lamonica, Kemp, Sestak and Gilchrist to a classmate.

That left wide receiver Ed Rutkowski and kicker Pete Gogolak to finish the set and enter the drawing for the grand prize. On the day before the entry forms were due, my father drove me back to the Coke machine at the Esso station and we were able to gather about 15 bottlecaps out of the machine there.

Returning home, out of the 15 bottlecaps, I could only find Rutkowski and fell one short, missing the unorthodox soccer-style kicker Gogolak.

Later that week, I read in the newspaper that a 14-year-old from Lockport, New York had won the drawing and received tickets to the game against the Patriots.

My family watched on television several weeks later as the Bills raced out to a 28-21 lead, but Patriots’ quarterback Babe Parilli engineered a fourth-quarter rally, including throwing a touchdown pass to Gino Cappelletti as the Patriots throttled the Bills, 36-28.

Not sure what happened to many of those rubber Bills player images, I still have four of them but who knows what they're worth today?

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