UMass Amherst Libraries Acquire Historic Sports Artifacts from Upton Bell

Former NFL Exec and media personality’s collection includes Baltimore Colts’ Super Bowl Ring and early NFL items from his father Commissioner Bert Bell
Items from The Upton Bell Collection on display by The Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA) at the University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries
Items from The Upton Bell Collection on display by The Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA) at the University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries

The Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA) at the University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries has acquired the collection of Upton Bell. The life and work of Bell, 83, who has been immersed in professional football since he was a child, is documented in an extraordinary collection of artifacts that will be made available to scholars and the public. SCUA has developed a public exhibition and website to share a selection of items from the collection.

Upton Bell is the son of Bert Bell, National Football League Commissioner from 1946 to 1959. Growing up inside the early NFL, Upton witnessed his father’s leadership: implementing a proactive anti-gambling policy; negotiating a merger with the All-America Football Conference (AAFC); bringing professional football successfully to television; creating the NFL Draft; and initiating the Sudden Death rule, which launched the meteoric rise in the popularity of professional football. Bell’s mother, Frances Upton, was a Broadway actress and movie star of the 1920s and 1930s and funded Bert Bell’s creation of the Philadelphia Eagles. Bell’s grandfather, John C. Bell, helped found the NCAA and served on the Walter Camp Intercollegiate Football Rules Committee which negotiated with President Teddy Roosevelt to save college football.

Upton Bell’s career in professional football began in the early 1960s working at the Baltimore Colts training camp and ticket office, advancing to head scout by the late 1960s. Bell served the team through two NFL Championships and two Super Bowls, winning Super Bowl V in 1971. After leaving the Colts, Bell was hired as general manager of the Boston Patriots, encouraging their name change to the New England Patriots. He then bought the Charlotte Hornets, a team in the short-lived World Football League. Soon after the WFL folded, Bell began a broadcasting career in Boston, where for more than 40 years he has been a host and commentator covering the country’s top newsmakers. He is a three-time AP Talk Radio Award winner and author of Present at the Creation: My Life in the NFL and the Rise of America's Game (University of Nebraska Press, 2017).

UMass Amherst Libraries are honored to provide a home for Bell’s collection, especially the 50-year-old Baltimore Colts Super Bowl Championship ring, which he received when he was personnel director of the scouting department. Other items include two 1946 NFL Championship football charms, predecessors to championship rings, from Chicago Bears legendary head coach George Halas. One is inscribed to Upton’s father, and the other to Upton. Bell also donated a 1916 football charm and a trophy for drop-kicking awarded to Bert Bell from the University of Pennsylvania. There are more than 125 items documenting the Bells’ lives in professional sport.

“Upton Bell’s artifacts bring the history of college and professional sports to life,” says Kirstin Kay, sport innovation archivist. “Bell’s collection of personal items amassed over his long career provide a rich, tactile complement to our other research collections in sport, innovation and entrepreneurship.”

“The Upton Bell Collection looks at artifacts from college and professional football along with their history through the eyes of my family from the late 1890s to today,” says Bell. “It is an honor to have it housed in the W. E. B. Du Bois Library at UMass Amherst, alongside Du Bois’s collection, that of a giant in education and civil rights, and co-founder of the NAACP. It is also a privilege for my collection to reside alongside legendary sports agent Mark McCormack, and for it to be adjacent to the Mark H. McCormack Department of Sport Management, the number one sport management department in the world.”