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Bills diehard Upchurch a finalist for Hall of Fans

By Tim Graham

Bart Upchurch sounds like an easy guy to root for.

The North Carolina native is a diehard Buffalo Bills fan. He owns over 200 Bills jerseys. He has a white Ford Bronco with a "JUICE 32" license plate. One of his three Lhasa apsos is named Juice. He wears a blinged-out Bills belt buckle.

But the reason Upchurch is one of 10 finalists for the Hall of Fans, a joint venture by ESPN and StubHub to honor the people who support sports, is how his love for the Bills helped him recover from a traumatic brain injury.

Upchurch was badly injured in a 2007 car accident. The driver was drunk. Another passenger was killed. Upchurch was ejected from the vehicle. He broke dozens of bones, totally lost vision in his right eye, suffered facial paralysis and was comatose for a month.

He didn't recognize his friends or family when he emerged from his coma, but references to the Bills made his synapses fire. His brother would quiz him on Bills uniform numbers. That triggered Upchurch's entire memory come back.

"Who would've thought that the Buffalo Bills would literally bring me back to life?" Upchurch says in a video produced for his Hall of Fans candidacy.

He has gained inspiration from Kevin Everett (injured in the first Bills game Upchurch watched after the accident) and Don Beebe. When Upchurch was in the hospital, Beebe sent him an autographed photo of the famous play when Beebe chased down Leon Lett from behind and forced a fumble in the Super Bowl.

Upchurch said he eventually regained enough strength to bench press over 350 pounds and run two miles a day. He also wrote an autobiography, "Barty the Party," about a life of debauchery and how his accident and recovery reformed him.

Looking for a change after his accident, he moved to Western New York even though he didn't know anybody here -- simply because of the Bills.

To see videos of the other candidates and to vote, visit Winners will be flown to ESPN's campus in Bristol, Conn., for an induction ceremony, will have their names engraved on a monument and will get trips to New York.

Upchurch is one of only four NFL fans among the 10 finalists. The most prominent are Force and Sully (aka the Vancouver Canucks' "Green Men") and Clipper Darrell, a cause celebre in Southern California when the Clippers divorced themselves from him for unauthorized use of the team's trademarked name and logos in business ventures.

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About Press Coverage

Tim Graham

Tim Graham

Tim Graham returned to The Buffalo News in 2011 after covering the NFL for three years at ESPN and for one year at the Palm Beach Post. Before that, the Cleveland native spent seven seasons on the Buffalo Sabres beat for The News and was president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.

@ByTimGraham |

Mark Gaughan

Mark Gaughan

Buffalo native Mark Gaughan started working at The News in 1980 and has been covering the Bills exclusively since 1992. He is a former president of the Pro Football Writers of America, and he is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee.

@gggaughan |

Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski joined The News in January 2009. The Lewiston native attended St. Francis High School before graduating from the University of South Florida. He writes a weekly Fantasy column in addition to his beat writing duties.

@JaySkurski |