The Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame's 2015 class was announced yesterday, and among the 12 new inductees are two men with ties to the early days of the Buffalo Bills: center Al Bemiller and photographer Robert L. Smith.
Bemiller, now 77, was a standout lineman for three seasons at Syracuse before being drafted in the seventh round - in both the AFL and the NFL - in 1961. The Hanover, PA native shunned the NFL's Cardinals in favor of the Bills, and played in every game from his rookie year to his retirement after the 1969 season. He started at every position along the line throughout his career, but spent most of his time at center. During the Bills' AFL championship seasons in 1964 and 1965; Bemiller was the right guard, earning AFL All-Star Team honors in 1965.
Bemiller has remained in the Buffalo area since his retirement, and has been an active member of the community, notably as a high school football and wrestling coach. In 2013, he was honored as a recipient of the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Distinguished Service Award for his contributions both on and off the field. He was the last person to be personally selected by Mr. Wilson before his passing in March of 2014.
Smith, a Buffalo native, joined The Buffalo News in 1956 after a stint as a photographer with the US Navy. He began working with the Bills from their inception in 1960, and served as the team's official photographer until 2002. He took many iconic photos over the years, most notably of Mike Stratton's "Hit Heard 'Round the World" on Keith Lincoln in the 1964 AFL Championship Game. He maintains a Tumblr page with examples of his work with the Bills.
Ten others will be joining the two in the Hall this year. Former competitors include auto racer Art Clark, lacrosse legend John Tavares, former NHL player Aaron Miller, former MLB MVP Jim Konstanty, bowler Liz Johnson, hockey player Larry Wilson, and local basketball standout Keith Robinson. The non-athlete inductees joining Smith are former Canisius softball coach Mike Rappl, PR Director George Daddario, and former New Era Caps executive David Koch.