Published August 5, 2022
You may know Bert Gambini as a writer of the latest UB news from the fields of social sciences, humanities or social work. Or, you might recognize his voice from his more than two decades on Buffalo radio.
But Gambini, a news content manager in the Office of University Communications, is also a pro football researcher.
As a member of the Professional Football Researchers Association (PFRA), Gambini has contributed to three books and written numerous articles that delve deep into the annals of pro football. The latest book about the 1951 Los Angeles Rams and pro football’s expansion westward was released in April.
“I think most football fans, like me, are interested in what’s happening this week or what happened last week,” says Gambini. “But I’d like to see more interest in the history. Maybe that’s what I’m doing — I’m proselytizing every time I try to wrap somebody up in a conversation like that.”
Always armed with stories and anecdotes and facts from football past, Gambini is eager to share his vast knowledge about the history of the game with anyone willing to listen.
One day, he may argue the case that the 1964 Buffalo Bills were the greatest team in the history of the American Football League.
The next, he will debunk the mythology of how the facemask came to be.
Sometimes, Gambini may explain the arcane, like how moving the hashmarks on the field in the 1970s changed the game.
Often, he’s sharing long-forgotten football stories, like the tale of the 1940 championship game. The Chicago Bears were winning by so much referees stopped them from kicking extra points because there were no nets behind the goal posts in those days and they were losing too many footballs.
“I start talking to people until I notice them looking at their watch,” Gambini says with a laugh, “and then, I move on.”
Gambini became fascinated with pro football history at the age of 8 while still a new fan to the game. Seeing old clips and photos, the young Gambini was intrigued by how football had changed and how different the game looked from its early years.
He continued to consume whatever football research he came across, but unlike baseball, the volume of written history on football was not at the time as extensive as today’s body of work.
By the early 1990s, Gambini discovered the Professional Football Researchers Association, an organization of volunteer researchers whose mission is to preserve and, in some cases, reconstruct professional football history. He joined and eventually began pitching story ideas and contributing articles to its semi-monthly magazine.
Gambini also has been a contributor to a series of books on great teams in pro football history, including the ’51 Rams, the first West Coast champions, and the 1958 Baltimore Colts. He is currently working on chapters for the next book about the 1964 Bills, which is scheduled for release in 2024.
“Bert is a meticulous researcher,” says George Bozeka, president of the Professional Football Researchers Association. “His contributions to our book projects and magazine are always extremely well written, informative and entertaining. Bert has an outstanding knowledge of pro football history and is a great conversationalist on the topic.”
Gambini joined University Communications in 2012, after working more than two decades on the Buffalo airwaves, including 18 years at the National Public Radio member station WBFO. When he’s not talking pro football history, Gambini enjoys cooking or listening to jazz. He hosted Nickel City Chef, a local culinary competition, for 10 years and presents a music program heard several times a week on the internet station Pure Jazz Radio.
As a researcher, Gambini has found a niche writing about the history of the draft and enjoys the creative exercise of finding a story out of what is nothing more than a list of players.
“The draft was not like the event it is today,” Gambini says. “It was an administrative recruitment task for these teams. It wasn’t televised, radio wasn’t doing a play by play. In fact, some teams, in many cases, based their selections not on their own scouts, but what journalists said.”
Gambini also is passionate about making sure the players of old get their due. He beats the drum for Hall of Fame enshrinement of Los Angeles Rams alums Kenny Washington and Woody Strode, two of the four players, along with current Hall of Fame members Marion Motley and Bill Willis of the Cleveland Browns, who broke the color barrier in professional football in 1946 — a year before Jackie Robinson did it in baseball.
“I’m not going to sit here and say professional football is a metaphor for life, but I think it’s the greatest game in the world and has an incredibly entertaining narrative populated by very interesting characters,” Gambini says. “There is still so much of the story that has yet to be told, and it’s fun being part of an organization like PFRA that is doing just that.”