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Just collect, baby!

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    bob ford/times news Helmets and jerseys line the walls in Bruce Hartman's basement. Hartman's collection includes hundreds of game worn jerseys, many with 35mm slides pinned to the sleeve showing the actual jersey being worn in a game.
Published February 22. 2013 05:04PM

Nothing is perfect, or so we are told.

Dr. Bruce Hartman's world of silver and black in Lehighton, however, just might prove otherwise.

"Bruce the Raider Guy," as Hartman is known nationally, owns well over 40,000 authentic and original items from the 53 year history of his beloved Oakland Raider franchise that began in 1960 in the American Football League.

"I am, by nature, compulsive and a perfectionist, especially in my dental practice and with my collection. I am quite sure I have the largest collection of Raider memorabilia in the country," he said.

When asked why he became such an ardent fan of a team who plays its home games some 3000 miles from where he grew up in Lehighton, Hartman gives a less than dramatic answer.

"I'm not sure why. I know when I was a little kid in the 70's, I wore Raider pajamas, {which he still owns} so I guess I first fell in love with the silver and black team colors." He has never pondered the thought of moving closer to the team he loves because he prefers to stay near to his parents who continue to reside in Lehighton.

Hartman's collection began over 25 years ago when he purchased a 1965 football card of Oakland wide receiver, Fred Biletnikoff. Now his massive memorabilia has grown to over 500 original and signed game jerseys, including Clarence Davis's blood stained number 28, more than 100 pairs of players' shoes, one with a steel toe from Hall of Fame kicker George Blanda, and 75 helmets, including a rare all black model that was worn during Oakland's 1961 AFL season.

Though he loves them all, Hartman makes a special place in his heart and in his home for the Raider teams of the 1970's.

"They were beasts and renegades. They played football to perfect the game itself. I loved the dirty side of their game, the hitting, the blood, the attitude they brought. Ken Stabler, Ben Davidson, Jim Otto, Ted Hendricks, Jack Tatum, Art Shell, they helped create the Raider culture. My favorite player was quarterback, Ken Stabler. He would sit at a bar on Saturday nights, drink beer, study his playbook and then go out and beat you on Sundays."

Hartman wears his Raider passion on his sleeve, and most everywhere else. His attire is defined by silver and black shirts, jackets, pants and socks. He drives a Chevy Blazer. Guess the color.

The one of a kind items in his collection are numbered and tagged. A photograph of the Raiders dressed in white tee shirts running onto the field for their first ever practice is coupled with his most recent acquisition, Oakland's football from their first game ever played. He purchases mostly from the players themselves or from auction houses and sports memorabilia shows. Hartman is very aware of fraudulence in the business. He authenticates every item with detailed research.

Some of his most prized possessions are quarterback Daryle Lamonica's 1968 coin from Super Bowl II and the 1967 American Football League's championship trophy. He also owns Jack "the Assassin" Tatum's 1976 Super Bowl trophy and a Los Angeles Raiders' Super Bowl XVIII ring. A few years back, he bought thousands of original slides and negatives taken by Oakland's photographer Russ Reed during the 60s and 70s.

Recently, the NFL Network borrowed Hartman's slides from Reed's portfolio of what the league termed the "greatest play in the history of pro football," called the Immaculate Reception. The network produced a film documentary to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the play from 1972 in which Pittsburgh Steeler Franco Harris scored a controversial touchdown on a deflected pass from Terry Bradshaw with 22 seconds left to defeat the Raiders in a playoff game. Hartman, who bought Reed's original slides from a photographer in Chicago and was given a credit in the production, said, " Reed's photos are still inconclusive in determining whether the pass hit a Steeler (which would have nullified the TD) or a Raider."

"I was also hoping I would see the ball hit the ground before Harris caught the deflected pass too, but no such luck," he complained.

Besides his historical game items, Hartman holds some of the bizarre. He has a 1960s official NFL urine kit that would be used to test players for drugs. He obtained boxes of floor tiles embossed with the Raider logos of the patched pirate taken from the late Oakland owner, Al Davis's personal shower stall.

Then there was the time when a few friends from Lehighton and Hartman sneaked onto the field at Almeda County Stadium in Oakland to steal a couple bottles of dirt off the infield part of the football field.

Another moment to remember for this fan extraordinaire happened when he visited former Oakland defensive end, Ben Davidson, at an autograph session in December, 2011. Hartman approached him holding a Raider helmet in his hands. As Davidson signed the helmet, he suddenly looked up at Harthands. As Davidson signed the helmet, he suddenly looked up at Hartman and said, "This is my helmet!"

"He picked up his helmet and placed it over his head," said Hartman. "He had this big smile on his face. It was emotional for both of us, especially because Davidson would die of cancer within a year."

Hartman contends that the old school players, like Davidson, center Jim Otto, and linebacker Phil Villapiano are happy to entrust their football equipment to caretakers like him.

"Today's players make so much money, they don't value what they wear on game days. I won't sell anything I have from my collection. I have a deep respect for the legacy of the Raider players of the past."

Speaking of money, Hartman, who has been to one Super Bowl to see the Raiders lose, still owns season tickets to their home games though he rarely makes the long trip to California. He was asked if he had any regrets for spending so much of his own income on his personal museum.

"I could have bought a new house, a Corvette, and expensive vacations," he said. "But I have three rooms in my home that give me a great deal of satisfaction. I can look into any one of these helmets and see the face of that player. In my mind I can see Fred Biletnikoff's long blonde hair sticking out of the back of the helmet he actually wore on the field."

Hartman also goes to the NFL Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio for every Oakland Raider inductee which includes Marcus Allen, whose USC jersey hangs in one of Hartman's rooms, coach John Madden, and defensive end, Howie Long. He hopes his next visit will be for wide receiver Tim Brown.

Only one Oakland player has seen his collection and that was Greg Skrepenak, a former Luzerne County commissioner, who played offensive tackle for the Raiders in the 90's.

Hartman promotes the Raider Nation in Pennsylvania by presiding over the Lehigh Valley Raider Club and the Raiders York Club which both raise money for local charities.

When all is said and done, the NFL Hall of Fame and the Oakland Raiders will have a serious interest in Hartman's collection, but he remarks with a laugh, "I might just will it all to my girlfriend. She says she'll sell it at a garage sale for a buck apiece."

As a player for the Lehighton Indians in the mid 80s, Hartman set school kicking records for most points and most consecutive extra points, but there is one record that the "perfectionist" does not hold. It is for the longest field goal for the maroon and white.

In regard to his extraordinary collection, the obvious question for Hartman to explain is what he gets back from it all.

" I was a pretty good kicker, even at Muhlenberg where I went to college," he said, "If I would have worked at it harder, I think I would have had a shot at going pro. I chose education over football and I'm glad I did."

He then took a long panoramic view at the entirety of his collection.

"When I sit here and look at what I have acquired, I feel as close to being in the NFL as I can be without ever having played for the team I love. Besides, they haven't been good for a while so who knows if I may ever get to see them again in a Super Bowl."

Hartman admitted that his collection is not yet complete. If there is anything else out there that he could add to his silver and black shrine, he would go and get it. If Otis Sistrunk, ex Oakland Pro Bowl defensive lineman, ever sells his Super Bowl ring, Hartman has been promised the first bid. He also covets a John Madden autograph, but the ex-coach and announcer rarely goes into the public.

If the ring and the autograph come to the perfectionist one day, perhaps he will then have his perfect collection.

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