Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Ten Surf-Stopping Movies

John Fraissinet recently challenged me on Facebook to come up with "Films That Made an Impact on You the First Time You Saw Them and Remain on Your Watch List to This Day." I have shortened the title to the one above. The idea is that if I am surfing the channels on television and come upon it, I'll stop and watch it at least for a while. They are, of course, older films. There are plenty of new ones I like too, but these have been part of my life for a while.

It's also a chance to go into depth with stories about movies and me that in some cases you never heard. The first two are from my childhood, and the rest are presented in chronological order of release. Here goes:

1. Good Neighbor Sam (1964) - Jack Lemmon, Romy Schneider. Like most kids in my generation, some of my first movies were seen at drive-ins. Mom and Dad were in the front seat, while sister Jane and I were in the back. My parents were hoping the kids would fall asleep during the first motion picture, so they'd have peace and quiet in the second. (Note: when they started falling asleep before the kids did, we knew it was time to end this sort of family outing.)

Anyway, this was a simple comedy in which Lemmon had to pretend he was married to the woman next door so that she could inherit a fortune. There was lots of silly chase scenes and other obvious laughs, which we all - emphasis on all - enjoyed. You really do feel like a family when you are laughing at the same thing.

By the way, the flip side was shown when we went to see "The Ugly American," starring Marlon Brando. This was made in 1963 about an ambassador going to a Southeast Asian country and realizing that unrest there was more complicated that capitalism vs. communism. Do you really want to take your 11- and 7-year-old kids to that? Probably not. Jane and I made fun of how boring it was for months. But in hindsight, considering what we know about Vietnam now, it might be interesting to see at this point.

Movie Quote: "Good, clean-living, family type men, don't go around making love with their next door neighbors on the street corners."

2. A Hard Day's Night (1964) - The Beatles. This was supposed to be a quick movie based on the Beatles' incredible and quick rise to fame - a sort of "day in the life" format. The songs are great, naturally, and the boys are in full charm. It's hard to resist all that.

Remarkably, director Richard Lester did something more with it. He used the quick-cutting techniques that had just become popular, and adapted it to movies for the first time. It was a perfect match for the subject, and the movie became significant in an historical sense.

My sister and I saw this at the Brockton (Mass.) Theater during a visit to our grandparents. We were dropped off a few minutes late, and were both thoroughly charmed in moments. My sister was at a great age for those Beatles, and no doubt would have done some serious screaming at the Ed Sullivan Show if given a chance. We watched the movie once, and convinced ourselves that we should stay for the start of the next showing. We did that, and kept watching ... until it was over the second time. My mother even came in to the theater and walked the aisles looking for us - unsuccessfully. "Oh, I thought someone looked familiar," my sister said later. I don't recall any punishment involved.

If you like your filmed music in concerts instead of actual stories, it's tough to do better than "Stop Making Sense." It instantly made me a Talking Heads fan. 

Movie Quote: "Are you a mod or a rocker?""Um, no. I'm a mocker."

3. Duck Soup (1933) - The Marx Brothers. I had never watched a Marx Brothers' movie until I went to college. When I finally saw one - I believe "Animal Crackers" was finally released after being held up in legal limbo for years - my immediate reaction was, "Where has this been?" I think Jim Cummings, who was on my sophomore floor at Syracuse, was responsible for this discovery, and I thank him to this day.

I caught up with the rest of the films eventually. Almost all of them hold up well, as the New York City boys attacked almost all of our institutions with vigor for the rest of their days. While I took to Groucho immediately because of his word play and because I was more familiar with his work than the others ("You Bet Your Life"), I came to appreciate Harpo's work overtime. As Groucho once said after Harpo's passing, you can hear his sweetness in his voice.

While some prefer "A Night at the Opera," "Duck Soup" was always my favorite. Director Leo McCarey compressed everything into 70 minutes, making it race along and thus matching the mood. This was Zeppo's last movie, as he became an agent. Oddly, future Marx Brothers movies always had a Zeppo-like character in it, even thought it was played by actors like Allen Jones.

Any sighting of Groucho, Chico and Harpo on television these days is worth celebrating. 

Movie Quote: "As chairman of the reception committee, I welcome you with open arms." "Is that so? How late do you stay open? "

4. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) - Jimmy Stewart, Jean Arthur. It's at heart a "stranger in a strange land" story. An Eagle Scout finds himself appointed to the United States Senate. Stewart is nicely cast as the Scout leader in question, but the real star is Frank Capra's story and direction. It's impressive how Capra stacks up the cards against good old Jeff Smith, one by one, only to see those cards tumble and crush the bad guys.

By the way, I distinctly remember my first viewing of this. It was in the basement auditorium of the HBC building at Syracuse University, as Ben Walker (who is headed for the Baseball Hall of Fame as a writer for AP), his friend Mary Gianchetti, and I saw it one Friday night in 1976-77. It was a double feature with "The Great McGinty," which isn't bad either as political movies go but was something of a letdown after seeing the first film.

You could slip "It's a Wonderful Life" onto this list here too. Same Stewart and Capra, same house of cards, same happy ending.

Movie Quote: "Yield? Oh, no. I feel fine! The Constitution of the United States!"

5. Pillow Talk (1959) - Rock Hudson, Doris Day. Hudson and Day did a few movies together back then, and they all seemed to be pretty much variations of the same theme. Hudson and Day meet, and they have to overcome impossible odds to get back together again. And they do. "Lover Come Back" is the best of the others.

The dialogue is always snappy in these movies, and the supporting characters are usually in great form - particularly Tony Randall. There are even some unintentional laughs along the way, as some of the lines are a little dated at this point due to changing times.

This one hit me unexpectedly. I never heard of it when it was part of a "Film Forum" class I took at Syracuse, in which we watched a movie every Tuesday night. The audience and I laughed a lot. By the way, "Creature from the Black Lagoon" was also part of that series in Gifford Auditorium, which I took as a pass/fail course.

"What did you today in college, son?" "Oh, watched a movie."

Movie Quote: "Cry? I never knew a woman that size had that much water in her."

6. Blazing Saddles (1974) - Cleavon Little, Gene Wilder, Harvey Korman. Yeah, like I could ever turn the channel after seeing this one. It's an all-out assault until the last handful of minutes, where the writers probably had a little trouble figuring out how to end it.

I'd group this movie with "Airplane," "Slapshot" and "Animal House." Every generation has those rites of passage when it comes to comedy movies. Those were mine, and "Blazing Saddles" came first and so gets listed here.

After watching "Blazing Saddles," I couldn't wait to tell Kevin Chase about it. So the next time I saw him, I launched into a 20-minute recap of it - including many of the lines. (In hindsight, I probably was imitating Carol Burnett, who as a child used to act out movie scenes for her grandmother.) I think after my performance, he probably didn't need to go see it, but did anyway if only to know what I was talking about. Later, I was talking to college friend Joe Flack about it - and he said he had entered the theater thinking it was a standard Western. Imagine his surprise at the sung words, "I get no kick from champagne." He never got up to speed.

I should mention that I once rode a bus with the Sabres from Hartford to Boston, and I brought a copy of "Slap Shot" for viewing. Every player knew every line of the movie. They made fun of Donald Audette's accent when the goalie described a trip to the penalty box - "And then you go free."

Movie Quote: "Mongo only pawn in the game of life."

7. Network (1976) - William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Peter Finch, Robert Duvall, and many others. OK, the real star of this movie is Paddy Chayefsky, who wrote the screenplay (and won an Oscar for it). It's one of the best pieces of writing in cinematic history. Chayefsky did plenty of work in television in the 1950s, including "Marty" - which was soon turned into an Academy Award-winning film with Ernest Borgnine. The writer was frustrated as how television had evolved by the mid-1970s, and a comedy script turned into something bigger and with more anger. Watch it now, and see how on target Chayefsky was.

Meanwhile, the cast is all terrific. You'll never forget Finch's "I'm mad as hell and I won't take it any more" speech. Dunaway's character is believed to be based on Lin Bolen, who was in NBC programming department in the 1970s. Bolen, who died in 2018, supposedly was the person who brought "The Magnificent Marble Machine" to daytime television. I'm not sure if veteran game-show host Art James ever put that one on his resume.

To learn more about the movie, read "Mad as Hell." There's lots of great information there about how the cast and story came together.

Movie quote: "Television is not the truth. Television is a goddamned amusement park."

8. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) - Richard Dreyfuss, Melinda Dillon. Richard Dreyfuss, Melinda Dillon. I know I like this movie more than most, even though it's generally listed in the list of top 100 movies of all time. The most memorable person associated with this one is Steven Spielberg. He had announced his arrival as a first-tier director with "Jaws," and then solidified his spot with this movie of how would we react if aliens turned up on the front door of our planet. Luckily, we bring curiosity, intelligence and kindness to the meeting instead of guns. 

The run-up to the final 45 minutes does its job nicely, but the end of the story is particularly good. Spielberg once said if people come out of this film looking for their car keys instead of looking up, he'd be in trouble. He need not have worried. The director has had quite a career since then on a wide variety of films - and I've seen just about all of them (with the exception of 1941, which even Spielberg admits didn't work well).

On a personal level, I loved this one from the start. I first saw it in the theater. Then when Karen Sacks was looking for company to see it, I quickly volunteered to go again for the special edition. And when it popped up on HBO, I brought my VCR to Mark Derringer's apartmente to record it. (Who could afford an actual copy back then?)

Years after seeing the movie for the first time, when possible vacation spots were discussed, I argued successfully for passing by Devil's Tower in Wyoming - the setting for the ending - on a trip to that part of the world. I had never even heard of it until seeking the movie. It was great. They even show the movie on Friday nights in the campground next to the mountain.

In the sci-fi category, "2001 - A Space Odyssey" usually makes me stop and watch too, and not just because it was the first movie I ever saw with a girl (trust me, no one would call it a date). "Them!" usually lures me in. The 1954 movie is about giant ants that invade the Los Angeles sewer system. It has B-movie production values, but it is done extremely well.

Movie Quote: "If everything's ready here on the Dark Side of the Moon... play the five tones."

9. The Natural (1984) - Robert Redford, Glenn Close, Kevin Lester, etc. This is a baseball fable, with a happy ending surgically attached to a rather dark novel. I never bothered with the book, because this worked out just fine for me. Redford is quite believable as Roy Hobbs; he wore No. 9 in tribute to his boyhood idol, Ted Williams. The cast is absolutely full of good actors.

Even so, War Memorial Stadium is the star of the show for me. I spent a lot of time watching baseball in that building, and the movie crew received permission to fix it up to look like it was 1939. It made for a magical summer. Besides, Glenn Locke, Pete Weber, Mark Derringer and I turned up at 1 a.m. of an all-night shoot, and watched Redford round third a few times in the climatic scene of the movie. (I believe there was alcohol involved that night).

And now, when I work at Bisons' games, I sit next to one of the stars of the film. Lester was the baseball advisor of the movie, and was promised a key role even if he wasn't allowed to get a speaking part. Remember when a note arrives in the dugout, and Hobbs finds out that he has a son? Lester passes him the note. The former Williamsville South athletic director sure can act. He has a roomful of stories about that movie that I should get down on paper some time.

I tend to like baseball movies, any baseball movie. Heck, the original "Babe Ruth Story" can still get me to watch. (Pete Weber and I still laugh at the scene where Ruth staggers into a hospital, obviously very ill, and a fan says, "Had one too many, Babe?') "Bull Durham" is terrific, and "Field of Dreams" always makes it dusty in my room. I'll even watch "Fear Strikes Out" - if only to see the scene where there are palm streets behind a short fence in what was supposed to be Fenway Park. 

Movie Quote: "Pick me out a winner, Bobby."

10. Dave (1993) - Kevin Kline and Sigourney Weaver. The motion picture just hit a chord with me. Kevin Kline is Everyman who makes a few bucks on the side because he looks a great deal like the current President of the United States. When a stroke leaves the real President close to death, Dave is brought in to follow orders and continue the President's work. Ever think about what you might do if you were President, even for a little while?

Kline is really good in the title role, and you couldn't ask for a better First Lady than Weaver. Charles Grodin adds a lot along the way too. It's something of a romantic comedy in the Capra tradition, and everyone - including some fun cameos - helps make the story more believable. It's not a great movie, but it still makes me stop and watch it go by.

That last sentence could be applied to a slightly earlier movie, "War Games." I like the way the story builds to the climax. Besides, as an original owner of "Pong," I went for the idea that a video game could threaten the world.

If you like Presidents in your movie, here are two otheer personal favorites. "Fail Safe" was overlooked because it came out just after "Dr. Strangelove" (which you need to see too),  but it was well done and believable. I really should read the novel of "Seven Days in May," which is about a military takeover of the United States. The movie version, though, works quite well.

Movie Quote: "What is with President Mitchell lately? I mean has this guy been having too many "Happy Meals"?

Others: I hated to leave Citizen Kane off the list, because it's one of my favorite movies, but it didn't come with any great personal stories. Still, I own a DVD copy. It's entertaining in so many ways. Next time you watch it, think about how the life of Charles Foster Kane parallels the life of Orson Welles (and not just William Randolph Hearst). ... Two English Girls from Francois Truffaut blindsided me. It's the story of a romantic triangle that blows up and shatters everyone. As my wife said about the plot, "How Truffaut!" ... The Rocky movies sometime make me stop and watch, although I don't sit and watch all six of them at a time. As they progressed from one to five, they became less entertaining - which meant we forgot that the original had all sorts of charm. ... Bill Murray Division: Stripes and Groundhog Day can sweep me along, but oddly Caddyshack is on almost everyone else's list but mine (liked it, didn't love it). ...  Titanic and Nashville can keep you riveted in their epic stories rather easily. Speaking of Robert Altman (Nashville), M*A*S*H's holds up very well today too.... Juvenile Division: I would watch Dumbo and Babe again the next time I had the chance. I was unprepared the first time I saw Dumbo (only a couple of years ago) about how touching it is, and Babe remains one of my wife's all-time favorites.

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Thursday, June 28, 2018

Buffalo's Uniform Numbers, Part 2


I had wanted to do an update of a story on Buffalo's best uniform numbers for sometime. But, for one reason or another, it never got done.

Until now. Buffalo Sports Page is getting it done. 

Here for posterity (?) is the list of the bottom 50 numbers. I'll have another post on 0 to 49 later.

50 – Al Bemiller, Bills. After winning a national championship with Syracuse in 1959, Al joined the Bills in 1961. He stayed nine years, and never missed a game. Bemiller stayed in Western New York after retirement in a number of roles. Others: Ray Bentley, Bills; Jim Cheyunski, Bills; Sam Pellom, UB.

51 – Jim Ritcher, Bills. He came out of North Carolina State as an All-American center, and was Buffalo’s top pick in 1980. Jim stayed through 1993, moving to guard along the way. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. Others: Brian Campbell, Sabres; John Tracey, Bills; Shawn Williams, Bandits. 

52 – Preston Brown, Bills. The linebacker was a third-round pick by Buffalo in 2014, and didn’t miss a game in the next four years. In fact, he didn’t start in two of those 64 games. He left as a free agent this winter to sign with the Bengals. Others: Mike Smrek, Canisius; Curtis Blackmore, UB; Tom McMillen, Braves.

53 – Greg Sanders, St. Bonaventure. He came out of a Washington, D.C. high school (coached by John Thompson) and became the Bonnies’ all-time leading scorer. Greg was a standout on the 1977 Bona team that won the NIT. His number has been retired. Others: Will Grant, Bills; Mike Montler, Bills.

54 – Henry Nowak, Canisius. Nowak graduated as the Golden Griffins’ all-time leading scorer and rebounder. Nowak was drafted by the NBA’s St. Louis Hawks, but he went to law school instead. Nowak ended up serving 18 years in Congress. Others: Fred Crawford, St. Bonaventure; Eugene Marve, Bills; Dale Schuelter, Braves.  

55 – Paul Maguire, Bills. His pro football career started when the AFL began in 1960 when he played in Los Angeles. The Bills added him in 1964, and he won two championships. After retiring after the 1970 season, Paul moved smoothly into a long broadcasting career. Others: Jim Haslett, Bills; Jochen Hecht, Sabres; Rasmus Ristolainen, Sabres; Jerry Hughes, Bills.

56 – Darryl Talley, Bills. The linebacker was a second-round pick by the Bills in 1983, and he stayed through 1994. Talley is considered one of the best players in his position during his era, and was a big part of Buffalo’s Super Bowl teams. Others: Sam Cowart, Bills; Keith Ellison, Bills, Archie Matsos, Bills.

57 – Tyler Myers, Sabres. The 6-foot-8 defensemen didn’t need much time to make an impression after he was a first-round pick in 2008. He won the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie in 2010. But his play slipped after a while and eventually he was dealt to the Jets. Others: Lucius Sanford, Bills; Lorenzo Alexander, Bills; Steve Heinze, Sabres.  

58 – Mike Stratton, Bills. He ranks as one of the great linebackers in Bills history. Mike was picked as an All-AFL first-teamer for six straight years, and is on the Bills’ Wall of Fame. He’s best remembered for a hit on Keith Lincoln in the 1964 AFL title game. Others: Shane Conlan, Bills; Isiah Robertson, Bills.

59 – London Fletcher, Bills. This was one of the best free-agent signings in Buffalo’s history. Fletcher joined the Bills from the Cardinals, and he led the NFL in tackles in his first season (2002). London stayed five years before going to Washington. Others: Sam Rogers, Bills; Shane Nelson, Bills; Paul Guidry, Bills.

60 – Jerry Ostroski, Bills. For a tenth-round draft choice, the offensive lineman worked out quite well. He played in 106 games over the course of 10 years, and started at guard, center and tackle along the way. A knee injury ended his career in 2001. Others: Kraig Urbik, Bills; Dave Behrman, Bills.

61 – Bob Kalsu, Bills. Kalsu made the ultimate sacrifice for his country during the War in Vietnam. The All-American for Oklahoma was a starting guard as a rookie for the Bills in 1968. Then he joined the U.S. Army. Kalsu was killed in action on July 21, 1970. Others: Maxim Afinogenov, Sabres; Willie Parker, Bills; Dusty Zeigler, Bills.

62 – Jeff Yeates, Bills. The defensive lineman played for his hometown team after suiting up for Cardinal O’Hara in Tonawanda. He spent parts of three seasons with the Bills, and then had a long stay with Atlanta. This is the first number, counting up numerically, that has never been worn by a Sabre. Others: Ervin Parker, Bills; Dick Cunningham, Bills.

63 – Tyler Ennis, Sabres. The 5-9 forward was a first-round draft pick in 2008. Ennis had his best season as a rookie, with 49 points, and he finished with three 20-goal seasons as a Sabre. After two injury-filled years, Ennis was traded to Minnesota. Others: Adam Lingner, Bills; Geoff Hangartner, Bills; Tom Montour, Bandits.

64 – Harry Jacobs, Bills. He was the middle linebacker for the great unit of the Bills’ glory days in the mid-1960s, teaming with John Tracey and Mike Stratton. They played 62 games together, a pro football record. Harry played in all ten of the American Football League’s seasons. Other: Richie Incognito, Bills.

65 – Mark Napier - Sabres. The veteran forward requested this number because of his involvement with “65 Roses,” a group involved in the fight against cystic fibrosis. Napier had his best days with Montreal, but finished his good-sized career in Buffalo.  Others: John Davis, Bills; Tim Vogler, Bills; Dave DiRuscio, Bandits.

66 – Billy Shaw, Bills. The offensive lineman came out of Georgia Tech as a 14th-round draft pick. He was all-AFL seven times, and helped the Bills win two championships. Shaw is the only member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame who never played a game in the NFL. Others: Jerry Crafts, Bills; Mike Thompson, Bandits; Ed Ellis, UB.

67 – Kent Hull, Bills. He was one of the most beloved members of the Buffalo teams that reached four straight Super Bowls. Hull was signed after a stint with the New Jersey Generals in the USFL, and then played 11 years – starting all but one game. He retired after the 1996 season. Others: Reggie McKenzie, Bills; Joe O’Donnell, Bills.

68 – Joe DeLamielleure, Bills. The offensive lineman was an All-American at Michigan State, and went in the first round to Buffalo in the 1973 draft. “Joe D” stayed here through 1979, and then played for the Browns. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2003. Others: Mike Williams, Bills; Langston Walker, Bills; Corbin Lacina, Bills.

69 – Larry Costello, Niagara. He played 69 minutes for the Purple Eagles in a famous basketball game against Siena in 1953. That prompted him to change numbers from #24 to #69. Larry was a second-round pick of Philadelphia in 1954, and was a player or coach for more than 30 more years. Others: Will Wolford, Bills; Conrad Dobler, Bills.

70 – Tom Sestak, Bills. He was a 17th-round pick by the Bills out of McNeese State, and found a home as a defensive tackle right away. Tom quickly became one of the most dominating defenders in the game. His career was cut short by a knee injury, and that’s why he’s not in the Hall of Fame: Others: Eric Wood, Bills; Joe Devlin, Bills; John Fina, Bills.

71 – Jason Peters, Bills. He was one of the great undrafted rookie signings in Bills’ history. Peters was raw coming out of Arkansas, but eventually developed into an All-Pro offensive tackle. His relations with the team soured over contract issues, and Peters was traded to the Eagles in 2009. Others: Mike Kadish, Bills; Mack Yoho, Bills; Brandon Goodwin, Bandits.  

72 – Ron McDole, Bills. The defensive end had one of the great nicknames in team history – “The Dancing Bear.” McDole was a Bill from 1963 until 1970, and combined size and speed to become a top defender. The Bills traded the 32-year-old to the Redskins in 1971, and he played eight years there. Others: Ken Jones, Bills; Art Still, Bills; Luke Adam, Sabres.

73 – Gerry Philbin, UB. He was a four-year starter on the defensive line for the Bulls, earning several honors. Philbin was a third-round pick of the Jets in 1964, and he became a two-time All-AFL pick and played a key part in New York’s Super Bowl win over the Colts in 1969. Others: Jon Borchardt, Bills; Earl Edwards, Bills; Cory Bomberry, Bandits.

74 – Jay McKee, Sabres. The defenseman was a No. 1 draft choice of the Sabres in 1995. He arrived on the roster a year later, and stayed 10 years. Jay became known as one of the best shot-blockers in franchise history. He finished up his career with St. Louis and Pittsburgh. Others: Glenn Parker, Bills; Donnie Green, Bills; Jeremy Thompson, Bandits.

75 – Howard Ballard, Bills. He wasn’t really as big as a house, but at 6-foot-6 and 325 pounds, he earned that as a nickname. The 11th-round pick was something of a project as an offensive tackle when he was drafted out of Alabama A&M. He made two Pro Bowls before going to the Seahawks. Others:  Marcellus Wiley, Bills, Jay Thorimbert, Bandits; Jonas Jennings, Bills.

76 – Fred Smerlas, Bills. The defensive tackle’s selection in 1979 showed the Bills were serious about improving their defense, and he worked out perfectly. The Boston College graduate made five Pro Bowls, filling up plenty of space in the middle of the line along the way. Others: Andrew Peters, Sabres; Wayne Primeau, Sabres; John Miller, Bills.

77 – Pierre Turgeon, Sabres. He was the second player ever taken first overall by the Sabres (1987). Turgeon was very good at times in Buffalo, but might be best remembered as the centerpiece in the deal that brought Pat LaFontaine here. Pierre did finish with 500+ goals. Others: Ben Williams, Bills; Stew Barber, Bills; Cordy Glenn, Bills.

78 – Bruce Smith, Bills. Buffalo had the first overall pick in 1985, and wisely took the defensive end from Virginia Tech. He merely set the NFL sacks and led the Bills’ defense in four Super Bowl appearances, terrorizing QBs along the way. Bruce might be the best defensive end to ever play football. Others: Jim Dunaway, Bills; Dave Foley, Bills; Jordan Durston, Bandits.

79 – Ruben Brown, Bills. The offensive guard wasted no time becoming the best player on the Bills’ offensive line as a rookie in 1995. A starter from Day One, he played nine years here and made eight Pro Bowls. Brown finished his career with the Bears, and started all 181 games of his career. Others: Dick Hudson, Bills; Eric Pears, Bills.

80 – Eric Moulds, Bills. It took Moulds a couple of years to grab a starting spot at wide receiver. Once he did, though, he was invaluable to the Buffalo offense. Eric caught 675 passes in his 10 years as a Bill, including a total of 100 in 2002. He also caught nine balls for 240 yards in a 1998 playoff game. Others: Jerry Butler, Bills; James Lofton, Bills; Geoff Sanderson, Sabres.

81 – Miroslav Satan, Sabres. The forward played for five different teams, but his best work was done here. Satan spent seven full seasons as a Sabre and had at least 20 goals in all of them – topped by 40 in 1998-99. He led the team in scoring six different times. Others: Bob Chandler, Bills; Peerless Price, Bills; Roger Vyse, Bandits.

82 – Frank Lewis, Bills. The wide receiver spent the second half of his career here after a stint in Pittsburgh, and he still could catch a deep pass once he put on a Buffalo uniform. Lewis had his best year in 1981 at the age of 34, catching 70 balls for 1,244 yards. He finished with 269 receptions as a Bill. Others: Don Beebe, Bills; Josh Reed, Bills, Marcus Foligno, Sabres.

83 – Andre Reed, Bills. He is Kutztown University’s contribution to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Reed was a fourth-round draft choice in 1985, and he became an immediate starter. Once Jim Kelly showed up a year later, the Bills had a throw-catch combination for more than a decade. Others: Lee Evans, Bills; Chet Mutryn, AAFC Bills; Sherman White, Bills; Darrick Branch, Destroyers.

84 – Ernie Warlick, Bills. The tight end only played in four seasons in Buffalo, but they were good ones. Warlick won two championships with the Bills. Twice he averaged more than 20 yards per catch, amazing for a tight end. Warlick later became a popular sports broadcaster in Buffalo. Others: Scott Chandler, Bills; Keith McKeller, Bills; Brandon Francis, Bandits.

85 – Kevin Everett, Bills. The tight end was drafted out of Miami (Fla) in the third round in 2005. In the opener in 2006, Everett suffered a severe neck injury on a kickoff that was considered “life-threatening.” He was forced to retire, but beat the odds to walk again. Others: Walt Patulski, Bills; Jay Riemersma, Bills; Charles Clay, Bills.

86 – Marlin Briscoe, Bills. He had a very odd-looking pro football career. Marlin is best remembered as one of pro football’s first African-American quarterbacks (Denver, 1968). When he moved to Buffalo a year later, he was a wide receiver. Briscoe caught 133 passes in three years as a Bill. Others: Mark Brammer, Bills; Dave Washington, Bills.

87 – Paul Seymour, Bills. He may have played tight end for the Bills in 1973, but he was best-known as a blocker and not a receiver. Seymour was a big part of the offensive line that helped O.J. Simpson rush for 2,003 yards that season. He only missed one game during a five-year career in Buffalo. Others: Butch Rolle, Bills; LaVerne Torczon, Bills.

88 – Tom Day, Bills. “Tippy” spent seven years as a Bill, and was an excellent defensive end during that time in the 1960s. He also was something of the center of the locker room, quick with a joke and a laugh. Day wore #88 for three seasons – winning two AFL crowds in that uniform. Others: Pete Metzelaars, Bills; Reuben Gant, Bills.

89 – Steve Tasker, Bills. It’s not easy to make a name for yourself playing special teams, but Tasker did that. He played in seven Pro Bowls in 12 years as a Bill, and was named the game’s Most Valuable Player in one of them (1993). Since then, he had a fine career in broadcasting on a national and local level. Others: Alexander Mogilny, Sabres; Lou Piccone, Bills.

90 – Phil Hansen, Bills. The defensive end was used to winning, playing on a pair of Division II national champions for North Dakota State. Then Hansen was drafted by the Bills in 1991, and contributed to three Super Bowl teams in Buffalo. He’s on the Wall of Fame at New Era Field. Others: Chris Kelsay, Bills; Ryan O’Reilly, Sabres; Clark Gillies, Sabres.

91 – Jeff Wright, Bills. The nose tackle had a short career but a significant one. He arrived in 1988 as an eighth-round draft pick from Central Missouri State, and left in 1994. In between, Wright played in four Super Bowls and had 31.5 sacks. After retirement, he went into the cattle business. Others: Manny Lawson, Bills; Ken “Baby” Johnson, Bills.

92 – Dhane Smith, Bandits. Buffalo hasn’t had that many Most Valuable Players on its teams’ rosters over the years. Smith is on the short list, earning that honor for his spectacular 2016 season. Dhane broke a variety of team and league records for scoring that season. He was a top draft pick in 2012. Others: Ted Washington, Bills; Ryan Denney, Bills.  

93 – Pat Williams, Bills. He was undrafted coming out of Texas A&M, and it took some time to figure pro football out. But by 2001, his fifth year, he was ready to claim a starting job. Williams held it for four seasons, and then jumped to the Vikings as a free agent. Others: Doug Gilmour, Sabres; Bobby DiNunzio, Blizzard; Anthony Malcom, Bandits.

94 – Aaron Schobel, Bills. You almost had to be in Buffalo to know how good Schobel was – or at least played against him. The second-round pick in 2001 had 78 sacks in 133 games as a Bill. He retired in 2009 after nine years, and never played with any other team. His quiet exit was in character. Others: Mario Williams, Bills; Mark Pike, Bills.

95 – Kyle Williams, Bills. Here’s one of the great draft bargains in Bills’ history. He was a fifth-round pick in 2006, and has started every game at defensive tackle since his rookie year ended. Williams has become a beloved figure among Bills’ fans, who were thrilled when he finally reached the playoffs last season. Others: Bryce Paup, Bills; Sam Adams, Bills.

96 – Leon Seals, Bills. Here’s a defensive end who arrived in Buffalo with a memorable nickname, “Dr. Sack.” He came out of Jackson State as a fourth-round pick in 1987. Leon stayed in Buffalo for five seasons, and two of them were Bills’ Super Bowl teams. Others: Jeff Posey, Bills; Torell Troup, Bills; Erik Flowers, Bills.

97 – Cornelius Bennett, Bills. He came to Buffalo in a spectacular three-way trade with the Colts that also involved the Rams. Bennett was famous described as “Mickey Mantle in cleats” by then-Bills general manager Bill Polian. The linebacker played in five Pro Bowls during a nine-year stay here. Others: Corbin Bryant, Bills; John McCargo, Bills.

98 – Ron Edwards, Bills. The defensive tackle came out of Texas A&M in the third round of 2001 and spent five seasons with the Bills. He started every game in 2002, and saw spot duty in other years. Then it was on to the Chiefs, where he was a regular for four of the next five seasons.  Others: Larry Tripplett, Bills; Dwan Edwards, Bills.

99 – Marcell Dareus, Bills. The defensive tackle was the third overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft. The Bills moved him right into the lineup. Dareus peaked in 2014 when he was named a first-team All-Pro. But his play slipped and eventually he was traded to the Jaguars in 2017. Others: Marcus Stroud, Bills; Hal Garner, Bills; Delby Powless, Bandits.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Filling in for John Tavares

(Photo courtesy of WBFO Radio)
About a week ago, I was told after a Buffalo Bandits game to stop in the coaches' office to see John Tavares. I quickly figured I had been traded and asked, "Should I bring my playbook?"

John had something else in mind. He had been selected for induction into the Western New York Lacrosse Hall of Fame. Since he could not attend the dinner since he was coaching the team that day, he needed a replacement to accept the honor and say a few words. I was delighted to do so.

I was told that my speech should be part introduction and part acceptance. After writing and then delivering it, I figured I should share it with other fans of this legendary Bandit. So here it is: 
 
John is a little busy this afternoon serving as an assistant coach, so he asked me to accept this award. He doesn’t know it, but John and I are both members of a very exclusive club. We both saw John’s first game with the Buffalo Bandits in 1992, and we both saw John’s last game with the Bandits in 2015. The only other person I know that’s in the club is Rich Kilgour of the Bandits. So I’m in good company.

The memories of that first game should live on for years to come. No one was sure what to expect when the Bandits opened for business in January of 1992. When the gates opened at Memorial Auditorium, no one knew how many people would turn out. We were all shocked that the start of the game had to be delayed 20 minutes because of the long lines to buy tickets at the box office.  A total of 9,052 showed up for the game. John has told me that he looked at the crowd that night – the largest he had ever seen for a lacrosse game – and remembered that he was getting paid $100 a game. John did the math, and decided the scalpers outside were making more money than he was.

That game started a love affair between the sport and the community that exists to this day. Buffalo is the unofficial capital of indoor lacrosse of the United States, and John is a big reason why. He won four championships, was the league’s most valuable player three times, and holds the league record for games, goals, assists and points.

John played for so long that he welcomed an entire new generation of players to the sport. If they were afraid to approach the game’s “living legend,” they quickly learned to include him in the good-natured kidding that teammates share.  He could get off a one-liner faster than a one-timer. And when John retired, he was generally considered the greatest player in the history of the National Lacrosse League.

But John was never about individual accomplishments. He preferred to talk about team achievements. In addition, he was all about “growing the game” – which gives him something in common with all of the other inductees today. John loves this game, and wants to see it achieve greater popularity in the years to come. Therefore, I’m sure John would want to congratulate the other inductees. And on a personal note, I’m thrilled that my former co-worker Tom Borrelli is one of those other inductees. Nobody loved lacrosse as much as Tom did.

John Tavares has received a bundle of honors since he retired, but he said the one that may have meant the most to him was when he had his number retired by the Bandits. Buffalo has become a second home to him since 1992, and he couldn’t be happier whenever he is saluted by a hometown audience. So I pass along his sincere thanks for this honor, and I’m honored for the chance to accept it on his behalf. Thank you.

Saturday, August 05, 2017

"Will write for food" - Thoughts on retiring

Aren't newsrooms supposed to be beehives of activity?
Here's the view from my desk before the start of work.

Retirement. It's not just for old people.

After all, I'm not old - I think.

Yet, here I am - retiring from a nearly 24-year stop at The Buffalo News. I gave my two-week notice on July 24. This is my last day.

It's quite a shock to type that in some ways. After all, I've had a lifelong relationship with newspapers in general, and I do mean lifelong. Let me tell you about the journey. I gave the short version of the story to some of my coworkers yesterday; you get the long one now.

Start with a family story: When I was four, I went to the hospital when I had my tonsils out. (I looked up the date in my "baby book" - May 27, 1960. Do they still have baby books?) My grandmother hired a private nurse for me in the hospital, because that's what grandmothers who liked to spoil the youngsters did. Mom got a phone call from the slightly panicked nurse.

"Budd says he wants me to bring him a newspaper," the nurse said. "I asked him why, and he said he wants to see how the Red Sox did. What should I do!?"

"I think you should buy him the newspaper," said Mom, realizing that not all four-year-olds could read box scores - but this one could.

I read box scores and stories through childhood, and provided a clue about my occupational dreams by becoming the editor of my junior high newspaper in Elmira. Do they have junior high newspapers any more? When we moved to Buffalo in 1970, my daily reading material jumped several notches in quality. Now I was reading Larry Felser, who was in the Sporting News every week for football, and columnist Steve Weller, who was close to Jim Murray-class when it came to funny. Farewell, Elmira Star-Gazette. Hello, Buffalo News. It was like I was called up to the majors.

Like six million other kids, I was the sports editor of my high school paper, and like several hundred other kids I went off to Syracuse in search of a career in journalism. I must have been the only student at Syracuse that subscribed to The Buffalo News for four years.

I sort of stumbled into radio after graduation, in part because I could write. I paid my dues as a reporter, covering 142 events in one memorable year. I got to know the reporters from the Courier-Express and The News in those press boxes, hoping I could figure out a way to join their ranks - if I could get good enough. People like Jim Kelley, Milt Northrop and bunches of others set the bar pretty high. For a moment, it looked like it might happen. The sports editor of the Courier-Express told me that he wanted to figure out a way to get me on the staff soon, and I told him I was ready when he was. But sadly, this was the late summer of 1982, about a month before the Courier started on the road to folding. No sale.

I plugged along, left radio for a job with the Sabres for a while, but was out of work in 1993. That's when I got a part-time, temporary job from the News. That turned into a full-time, short-term temporary job when Bob DiCesare went on paternity leave - thank you, Bob. When the buzzer sounded on that position, it was hinted that I might have a good chance to land a full-time position when one opened up. After a stay at the Cheektowaga Times in the summer/fall of 1994, a spot at The News opened up - I'll always remember you, Lowell Keller - and I got it.

I didn't do every possible job in the sports department in almost 24 years but it wasn't for lack of trying. I covered the Sabres, the Bandits, running and high schools on the outside, and did rewriting and editing as well as serving as the "slot man" and "night sports editor" in the office. I also wrote Buffalo's sports history one day at a time, book reviews for the features department, a couple of travel articles, and jokes for a feature called "Five Spot." Coworker Greg Connors used the baseball term "five-tool player" to describe my work, while editor Mike Connolly called me a "utilityman." That puts me somewhere between Willie Mays and Ben Zobrist. I did very little writing about my two favorite sports, baseball and basketball, but I hit almost everything else. No matter what the subject, it was always a thrill to see my byline in the paper, or to write a clever headline that made people smile and attracted attention to a story.

This business can take a toll, though, no matter how interesting it is. The work schedule changed with the sports calendar each week, so I couldn't plan anything that was more than a couple of weeks in advance. Lisa Wilson once told me that we spent more family birthdays, anniversaries and holidays with each other in the office than we did with our respective spouses. I must have set a Ripken-like record for most Healthy Choice frozen dinners consumed in a career - probably 2,500 or so. Plus, you may have heard that the newspaper business is a little different these days, with instant deadlines and few true days off. I asked co-worker Kevin Noonan once why he was retiring, and his answer was, "It's time." Now I know what he meant.

Luckily for me, writing is a skill that can be done on an occasional basis. I can write some more books and cover games, etc. as a freelance writer, and I will. But I don't have to do anything. "Gee, I'd love to cover that girls lacrosse game, but I'll be in Paris that week."

In the meantime, let me salute a few people. Sports editor Howard Smith changed my life for the better when he hired me. I went from a guy who just missed landing a civil service job at City Hall as a clerk/typist to a sports reporter/editor who was earning a good salary. I'll always be grateful for that. Howard was succeeded by Steve Jones, one of those bosses who was such a good guy that you'd run through a wall for him. Steve came up with the idea of writing a daily item on local sports history, which was amazingly popular by my standards and turned into a book. Steve also let me cover the Bandits when Tom Borrelli died - still miss you, Tom - and that turned out to be a great experience. For starters, the people were terrific - everyone in the league couldn't be more cooperative. Then, there were some bonuses. For example, I covered playoff games. I must tell our Bills and Sabres' reporters what that's like. And I just might be the only sportswriter in town who covered professional athletes who earned less money than I did. 

More recently, I've shared the high school beat for the last two years with Miguel Rodriguez. We haven't been Woodward and Bernstein on the job; more like Felix Unger and Oscar Madison. Yes, I'm Felix. If Miguel isn't the hardest working person in the building, he's in the top five. And he's always good for a food tip before you visit the concession stand at a high school football game. Then there's Jim Wojtanik, who arrived just after me and probably has worked with me more than anyone else. Day after day, Jim has concentrated on getting the section out on time and without mistakes. He's never failed to be a professional. Jim also was the unofficial morale officer, the guy who ran the office pool for the Kentucky Derby and bought pizza when staff birthdays came along. He's indispensable. Who knew I could respect a Yankee fan so much?

They are part of a larger group of sports department workers. You know some of them by their bylines. You don't know the clerks who take phone calls, the photographers who take such great pictures for stories, and the layout people who package everything to look so good. They all made my work better, and it was appreciated.

Getting back to financial matters for a moment, I probably wouldn't be ready to retire from The News without the fabulous work by the members of my union. I received $6 per hour from the Cheektowaga weekly. The negotiating team made sure that union members had a good salary through the years to go along with a lot of professional satisfaction. (Footnote: One longtime union leader and old friend, Phil Fairbanks, gets serious extra credit for introducing me to my wife.)

Finally, the whole editorial staff doesn't simply have writers, editors, photographers and layout specialists. They are miracle workers who make magic happen all the time. When I mentioned I was working for The Buffalo News to a stranger, he or she immediately assumed that I would be fair and professional. The reputation of the rest of the staff always preceded me. Allow me to tell a couple of stories about this group that are typical.

One night at 9:45, a story came on the wire about the Bills that was new and noteworthy. Remember, in this town, if the team's kicker gets athlete's foot, it goes on page one of the sports section above the fold. I called Vic Carucci, told him what was going on, and what our deadlines were. Ninety minutes later, he had confirmed and written the story clearly and fully - with quotes. I could tell that story about any other reporter on the staff, with just the subject switched.

There are heroes in the office too. One night I was monitoring Twitter on a Friday night when my feed exploded at 6:30 with the news that Ryan Miller hadn't taken the ice for the pregame skate a block away. Therefore, a trade seemed likely. Jim Wojtanik looked skyward for a moment, may have said a bad word, and tore apart the sports section to reflect the deal that was confirmed a short time later. The story was fully covered by our reporters at the game, who had to do it while keeping an eye on that contest that was taking place at the same time. We all came back the next night, and again I spoiled Jim's night at 5:30 p.m. by telling him there were reports that Pat LaFontaine had resigned from the Sabres' front office. Here we go again - same new layout, same great coverage. The Sabres should work so well together.

The point is that this sort of effort happens constantly at newspapers. It's not called "the daily miracle" for nothing. Reporters and editors like to complain, but they always come through when it is necessary - and it's always necessary. It was always a privilege to work with such people, and they often inspired me to at least try to go that extra mile.

No matter what happens to me in retirement, I'll admire the work of my now ex-co-workers at The Buffalo News from a distance. As you know, journalism matters now more than ever. Wherever the stories and photographs from The News are located - paper, tablet, phone, etc. - I'll find them and continue my 47-year reading streak.

It's been an interesting ride. I'm glad I was able to take it.    

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Monday, May 15, 2017

Past meets present

Was I ever this young? Apparently so. Say hello
to my third-grade class in Pines Lake. Wonder what
happened to everyone else over the years?

If you ever doubt that it's difficult to out-run your past life, I have some proof to convince you. It's an unlikely story spanning more than 50 years.

I received an email from a woman named Casey in Delaware last week. She had forgotten about the names of some of her elementary school teachers way back in the early 1960s. Casey did, however, remember a teacher she didn't have - Miss Bosland of Pines Lake Elementary School in Wayne, New Jersey. So she headed for the nearest search engine and tried her luck.

There, she found a link to a newspaper article. The beginning was this: My first-grade teacher, Miss Bosland of Pines Lake Elementary School in Wayne, N.J., once told my mother that I was a vast storehouse of worthless information.' Thursday night I will appear on the game show 'Jeopardy!' Still think the information is worthless, Miss Bosland?" This was how I started a preview for my appearance on the game show for the Buffalo News.

I assume Casey said "Eureka" or some similar thought. With my email address at the bottom of the story, she sent me a note. Casey explained that she had attended the same NJ school from 1960 to 1966, and wondered who my teachers were to see if they could jog her memory.

I wrote right back and said, "You've come to the right place." Heck, I've still got a couple of report cards from that school. I went over my teachers, including Miss Bosland - who I discovered in a visit to Wayne in 1996 or so had just retired. Casey and I figured out that we were in the same classroom and did indeed have the same fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Link - but maybe not at the same time. Pines Lake had something called split session around the time, which meant one group went to school in the morning and another went in the afternoon. My guess is that attendance was done by geography, so kids in the same neighborhood stayed together, more or less. I'm not sure if that was the case in this particular year, but we do remember some of the same people. By the way, that classroom had the unforgettable advantage of having its very own bathroom; I don't think I ever heard the reason why.

This all prompted a furious exchange of emails between us for the next couple of days. We both remembered Mrs. Rodda, the school principal. Her biggest impression came during school lunches, when she walked into the cafeteria with a scowl on her face because there was too much noise. (Seven-year-olds making noise at lunch? I'm shocked.) Casey had another memory of the usually sour-faced principal. When President Kennedy was shot and killed in 1963, a sobbing Mrs. Rodda came into each classroom personally to tell the children about it. (Me, I was home after school, eating lunch as my mother watched "As the World Turns.")

Casey mentioned that she was in some sort of Christmas pageant as a singer. I responded with a distant memory of being "the funny elf" in some sort of similar activity. Maybe we were costars. I had just rediscovered the picture shown above and sent it to her. She sent me a shot of her third-grade class on the same auditorium stage, along with some memories of the people that I had identified in my photo. Where have you gone, Elizabeth Cleary (bottom row left) and Terry Spivak (next to Elizabeth)? I'm in the top middle of the photo, wearing a red bow tie and sport coat. Pretty snappy, I'd say, for eight.

A few other memories popped up as well. Like everyone other kid in that area, we both loved to go to the Old Barn Milk Bar for burgers and onion rings at dinner and/or ice cream. Especially ice cream. A cone was a quarter. Yum. One of my Police Athletic League baseball teams was sponsored by the Old Barn, and we received a free cone after wins. Too bad we didn't win more games; it was a much better sponsor than T-Bowl Drugs. The Old Barn itself was eventually sold to a car dealer. Sigh.

Casey filled me in on the name of the junior high school, Schuyler-Colfax, which apparently had nothing to do with the crooked vice president of the 1870s but with his ancestors. We both played the harmonica in elementary school, which may have been my last first-hand exposure to a musical instrument. And I thought about my speech teacher, Miss McCullough, at school. Not only did she teach me to say "leaf" and not "weaf," thus enabling me to go on to a brief career in radio, but she was the first African-American I ever met. There sure weren't any in the student body.

Wayne was a place back then where the truck would come down the street at dusk and spray pesticides in the air to cut down on the bugs. I'm surprised everyone hasn't gotten cancer by now. It was where Chicken Delight ("Don't cook tonight!") and Charles Chips were, not to mention the Good Humor Man. My neighborhood was filled with young businessmen who were on their way up and had plenty of kids. I'm sure all sorts of things went on there that I didn't know about and may not want to know about now, but - with a playmate at almost every house and a beach on the lake down the hill - it was a happy spot for the youngsters to grow up - swimming in the summer, skating in the winter.

Casey, by the way, did ask how I did on Jeopardy, so I scanned a three-page note about the experience that I had sent friends at the time and fired it off to her. We ran out of stories after a while, so we agreed to save the others' email. Since she was from Delaware, I told her to drop in on my Syracuse U. friend at the Delaware Historical Society for the greatest tour ever of the area. Some day, I hope, robin will get an unexpected visitor who knows a lot about where one of her college friends went to elementary school.

My memories of that time (we moved there in the summer of 1961, and moved out four years later) are mostly snapshots, but it was nice to have a few more such thoughts "developed" from my new and unexpected friend.

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Thursday, May 04, 2017

Character

From the Buffalo Sabres' 1970-71 media guide
If you follow the world of fun and games long enough, you'll know that every coach will say at some point that sports build character. Me, I'm more out of the school that sports reveal character. But, more to the point here, they create characters.

And if they ever get around to building a Hall of Fame of Memorable Characters, Paul Wieland should be in it.

Paul finally and allegedly is retiring from the working world. "Professor Wieland" has been teaching communications at St. Bonaventure for the past several years. While I'm sure he was a wonderful teacher who cared about his students deeply - I've heard about some of the great feedback that those students have offered - in some ways Paul is still the Merry Prankster that probably terrified and delighted all those he encountered throughout his life.

In other words, he may have grown older, but he never completely grew up. 

Wieland's long list of professional stories begin for me when he was at The Buffalo News in the 1960s.  I remember him telling me about the time the phone rang one day at the News office. The person who answered the phone yelled out, "Does anyone know what the world's longest river is?" Paul said, "Transfer that to me," and answered the phone, "River Desk." The caller repeated the question, and Paul quietly had someone get an almanac while he stalled. "It's really nice of you to call us today. I don't get too many calls about the length of rivers here at the River Desk. The Missouri, of course, is the longest American river ..." For the record, that job at The News has gone unfilled since Paul left.

From The News, it was on to General Motors. I'm no business major, but if there's a better example of straight-laced organization and structure in a corporation than General Motors in the 1960s, I can't think of it. In hindsight, Paul was either the one breath of fresh air in the entire corporate structure, or an outsider who the guys in the red ties and blue suits just couldn't understand. It must have been an odd fit.

But the hockey business - that was different. Paul was an amateur goalie and loved the game, and had the chance to jump to the Buffalo Sabres when they were just getting started in 1970. Get in on the ground floor of a pro sports franchise? How could he resist? The photo above is from the first Sabres' media guide for the 1970-71 season. Not only does it display the young and good-looking assistant public relations director (I think he used that photo for the next 25 years in the annual guide, thus becoming ageless), but it also has him above comptroller Bob Pickel on the page. That probably wasn't a wry statement on the front office, but it should have been / could have been.

That first year offered a couple of unique attractions for a young business professional/goalie. The Sabres had a veteran in the nets in Roger Crozier who was good when he was healthy, but he frequently wasn't healthy. It was always handy to have an extra goalie around the office who could be the equivalent of a tackling dummy in practice when needed. Paul even made a save or two on Gil Perreault every once in a while. Besides, as Paul pointed out, the early Sabres weren't too good ... but they sure could drink after practice. "How was work today, honey?" "Same old, same old."

You've heard about some of the stunts that Paul pulled. He had a willing partner in general manager Punch Imlach, who would go along with anything as long as he had a little notice. When the 1974 Entry Draft threatened to go so long that it would delay the start of the regular season, Wieland helped create a fictional player, Taro Tsujimoto, who was drafted by the team. The Sabres even set up a locker for him in training camp. Interestingly, a couple of decent NHL players were drafted after Taro - Dave Lumley and Stefan Persson. You still see people wearing jerseys with Tsujimoto on the back.

I stole this image from a Sports on Earth article,
which stole it from Time magazine.
Then there were the April Fools' jokes, planned better than some military maneuvers - and more successful. Thus the Sabres were involved in Sliderex (plastic ice), the purchase of a battleship as a training vessel, and the naming of the Sabres as "America's Team" by the White House. Later I heard about when the Sabres' hockey department was acting, um, defensively toward everyone in the rest organization, Paul bought toy plastic soldiers that were placed on the top of the hockey department's office dividers - with the rifles aiming out at the rest of the staff. By the early 1980s, I had figured out that Paul was a kindred spirit, and got to know him a little bit in my days as a radio reporter.

Besides all the laughter, though, there was a rather sharp businessman lurking in Paul's head. When the Sabres were selling out their building every night, he and vice president Dave Foreman worked on bringing the home games to cable television. It worked, and it could be said that their actions helped to revolutionize professional sports. Think of what a revenue stream that single idea created. It probably should be in the first paragraph of his obituary, whenever that day comes - it really changed the industry. Paul's responsibilities concerning the television seemed to grow by the year.

By 1986, I had more or less figured out that the radio business was not going to work for me, and Paul threw me a life preserver with a job offer in public relations. There were even benefits to the position - such as health insurance and working with Paul every day. Who could resist a job where you couldn't take calls because you were giving a presentation about the next April Fools stunt? Who else would order you to leave work early to fill out a doubles tennis match in Snyder? But around the office, Paul was always willing to listen to an idea, support it when appropriate, and give you the credit when it succeeded. You couldn't ask for more from a boss.

Paul didn't always laugh at everything. When annoyed by something that went against his principles, Paul could argue with the best of them. For example ... there was the time he was ordered to dump out of a Sabres' broadcast early so that Channel 49 could join a showing of "Gomer Pyle" already in progress. That was the moment when WNYB-TV forever became "The Gomer" around the office.

(Tangent: I was put in charge of the Sabres media guide, which always included some sort of joke on the media information page. One year featured this line: "Press box seats will be filled on an as-available basis. Gate crashers in the press box will be forced to watch reruns of 'Gomer Pyle' for four hours.")

You never knew what might happen in that office, which also featured another memorable character in John Gurtler. One time Paul was sitting at his desk when Seymour Knox III walked in. "What are you doing, Paul?" "Planning the parade, Seymour." "What parade?" "Well, if we win the Stanley Cup, we'll have a parade, right?" "Right." "And if we have a parade, we need to plan for it." "Good work, Paul."

By the late 1980s, Paul spent more time in the television business, having little oversight on the rest of the communications department. Our loss, as others like to stick their noses into the operation for better or for worse.

And by the early 1990s, he was starting to become a little unhappy at times. He grew to enjoy the TV business, but he was the first person I know to recognize that professional sports was losing its sense of humor. His stunts, such as making up a "Buffalo Sabres Universally" car sticker, had only improved the Sabres' image in the community. But by then the money had gotten more serious, and so the people took themselves seriously. Too seriously.  I remember how Paul talked to a Sabre marketing person once who couldn't understand why the fans went home unhappy after a game, even though the team lost that night.

And so, after I left the team, he was off to Massachusetts for several years to work in cable television, where he learned to understand my affection for all things Boston Red Sox, and then he returned to Western New York to work at St. Bonaventure. I have been to the house in Great Valley once, and I have no confidence that I could find the place again with a dogsled armed with a GPS unit. We try to get together once in a great while for a leisurely lunch - two old friends discussing a variety of subjects old and new. It's the best possible conversation. I'm the one trying to age gracefully; he's the one who still sounds like a fired-up junior in college when discussing the latest bizarre development in politics.

It's always good to see someone reach the finish line of a professional career like this, even if he did take a few extra laps than most. The thought of Paul with no work duties, however, is an interesting one. How will he get into mischief? Luckily, our professional sports teams don't seem to have lost their ability to self-destruct in spectacular and imaginative ways. He'll have plenty of bubbles to burst with his mouth and his keyboard, and we'll have plenty to discuss over lunch.

Sports really did reveal a character in Paul Wieland. I'm so glad I got to come along for part of the ride. May he have a long and happy retirement.

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