Sunday, December 27, 2009

In the spirit of the season

This is a good time of year to be charitable.

Therefore, let's say something good about Terrell Owens.

Remember all of the dire predictions about Owens? How he would ruin the Bills' chemistry simply by walking through the locker room? How he was an overpaid diva who would be complaining as soon as a pass was thrown elsewhere?

Let's settle up here. It hasn't happened. It's tough to know if he's been a model teammate behind closed doors, but based on an outside perception you'd have to say he hasn't been a problem child. Owens has shown up for every game, apparently worked hard in practice, and given some coaching to younger players after workouts.

That's not to say that the Bills acted correctly in signing Owens, at least in hindsight. The $6.5 million spent on Owens probably could have gone elsewhere -- yes, I'm thinking of the offensive line. He was something of a luxury that the Bills really couldn't afford at this stage. And he did take playing time away from young players like James Hardy and Steve Johnson; the Bills needed to know if those performers had any sort of future before going forward. We still don't know.

Still, you can't blame Owens for taking the money, especially since he probably wasn't going to get an offer like that from any other team. And he sold some t-shirts and jerseys around town.

My friends have joked that Owens may walk straight out of the stadium next week and head for a limo to the airport, littering the tunnel and parking lot with his equipment as he goes along. Owens only has had a few good moments in Buffalo this season, the touchdown against Miami topping the list, but he hasn't been a disaster.

But the dreary standards of the 2009 season, that counts for something.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


Material on books usually pops up in my book review site. But that wouldn't be proper in this case.

My fingerprints can be found in portions of Suzanne Taylor's book on Memorial Auditorium, "AUDieu." So you think I'm not going to like it?

I didn't do that much for the book. A few quotes of mine pop up in the text, and my name appears in the credits and in the index. Even that much, though, is something of a thrill. I've been in a couple of book acknowledgements over the years, but never in an index. My name is even spelled right and everything.

This is an interesting idea for a book. For those of you who don't live in Western New York, it's difficult to describe what happened in the community as the Aud came down. It was something of a summer-long wake. People trickled down to the foot of Main Street, all to take a look at the place for one of the last times. And, of course, to ask for a rock. (Public disclosure: I've got one myself. But I'm not telling where it is.)

"AUDieu" can be split into two portions, essentially. The first half is about the Aud when it was a working building. There are plenty of good stories about what happened there, what it was like to work there, what it was like to sneak in (apparently everyone but me did so), etc. It's easy to tell this portion works well; most readers who went to the Aud will find themselves thinking of their own stories about the place. At least I did.

There are plenty of great pictures, too. John Boutet, who is the area's leading collector of sports memorabilia, allowed Taylor to take plenty of pictures of his material. There are many shots of ticket stubs and programs too.

The second half centers on the demolition, with several pictures of various parts of the building coming down. You still may recognize many of the scenes, despite the chaos around it. ("Say, I used to meet friends in the Beer Garden for the second intermission...")

There's one little feature of the book that I missed at first that is a very good one. The corners have a series of small photos of the Aud coming down, almost day by day. If you flip through the pages from front to back, you can watch the demolition from start to finish. Or, if you miss the place, go backwards and watch the Aud go back up.

About the only problem with the book is that Taylor and the publishing crew obviously didn't have much time to get it out. It missed the start of the holiday shopping season by about two weeks as it is. I found myself wondering why pictures of the demolition were placed in the front of the book at times, where they seemed out of place. And one more reading for fact-checking purposes probably would have cleared up a couple of minor issues.

Taylor also takes the unusual step of quoting herself for sections of the book, including using her own thoughts in breakout quotes. I can't say I've ever seen that before, and goes against my usual belief that history books usually should be written from a distance if they aren't autobiographies.

Still, that's a sign of how personally Taylor felt when the Aud came down. And that's exactly the audience (or if you prefer, AUD-ience) she's trying to reach. For those who feel that connection to the Olde Gray Lady of Main Street, "AUDieu" ought to keep the spirit alive.

(Learn more about this book.)

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Crossing your fingers

The University at Buffalo has hired a new football coach.

Good luck, Jeff Quinn. Bulls Nation is counting on you.

The reaction around town to the departure of former Bulls' coach Turner Gill has been quite remarkable. Sometimes you hear bitterness about someone leaving Buffalo at a better opportunity. This time it's almost as if a favorite son has left the area, and no one has nothing but good wishes for his success. "And come back to see us soon, Turner."

Gill did a remarkable job at UB. His hiring was a surprise several years ago, mostly because he had a lack of experience as either a head coach or coordinator. Gill moved into what was considered the worst job in America at the time, and built up the talent level to the point where UB won a conference championship and made it to a bowl game.

Still, the team was well ahead of the fan base. Attendance, at least in terms of actually bodies in the seats, rarely hits five figures. But at least some enthusiasm had been generated, which may have lead to more ticket sales, more alumni contributions, etc.

With Gill off to Kansas, the UB athletic department needed to get the successor right. Have you ever seen a conference that had a better example of the haves and have-nots than the Mid-American Conference?

The good teams can be decent. Ball State last season was ranked in the top 25 until losing to UB in the conference championship game.

But when the MAC teams are bad, they have been really bad. Plenty of sources rank the teams in college football, and the bad MAC teams usually are somewhere between 100 and 120. That's out of 120. Look out below.

The dramatic differences are a bit unusual, but such problems are pretty typical of the mid-majors. You really do need a good coach. When one leaves and you don't have one, it's look out below. In basketball, Canisius has had trouble replacing such coaches as John Beilein and Nick Macarchuk. Where would Niagara be without Joe Mihalich, who has done a great job year after year keeping the Purple Eagles near the top of the MAAC?

You never know where the next great coach is coming from. Quinn helped to run one of the nation's best offenses at Cincinnati, but he's never been a head coach. If he's good, he'll have a nice run at UB ... and then move on to a place with better facilities and a bigger contract. If he's not so good, the Bulls move almost to the point where Gill started.

No pressure, Jeff. So win that Sugar Bowl game against Florida, and then get to work here.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

It's all relative

Here's a story filled with the Christmas spirit.

One of my distant relatives (great-great-grand-uncle, or something like that) is Ellwood Cooper, born in 1829. Cooper eventually lived in Santa Barbara, Calif., where he was the first American to manufacture olive oil and put in on the market for sale. Cooper later was the head of Santa Barbara College, and he also planted eucalyptus trees in the area that are still present today. Cooper died in 1918.

His old house was bought for about $4,000 in the late 1930's from a family member. It was somewhat furnished, and had some books in the house that Helen Louise Cooper had owned. My guess is that she's a daughter, although I don't have her in the family tree. Helen even wrote her name in the books as well as the date - March 20, 1905.

Here's the way it looks:

The relatives of the purchasers held on to the books for about 70 years, and decided to see if they could find one of Ellwood's relatives. They went on and found me. My cousin Mary loves this stuff, so a couple of books are being sent without charge to her by the purchaser's family. Mary, therefore, will have an unusual Christmas gift, sent through the generosity of someone she's never met.

Pretty nice.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Three and counting...

The third annual holiday music CD has gone out to friends and family, causing all sorts of people to listen to songs by everyone from Jethro Tull to the Singing Dog. I gave the first one out as a thank-you present for those who showed up at my house in 2007 for a book signing -- besides, it was fun to have some of my favorite songs on one CD.

The idea was copied from my friend Jay Bonfatti, who had been doing it for years and years. Sadly, Jay died in August of 2008, so I picked up a small part of his tradition by making a 2008 CD and giving it to what common friends we had, plus my own group. It went over well enough for a 2009 version. (Heck, I'm about done with 2010 already -- hard to find tunes in the summer and fall for this sort of thing.)

A few comments and tips on the process:

* For a smart look at the whole holiday music scene, it's tough to beat Hip Christmas. There are all sorts of lists and updates, plus some free rare songs. If you are looking for good downloads, then Santas Working Overtime is the way to go. The Webmaster updates that site at least once a day, and sometime more.

* Since this is the third such CD for me, I'm running out of tunes that turn up on the radio with any regularity. You do hear "River" by Joni Mitchell, "2000 Miles" by the Pretenders, "Christmas Canon" by Trans-Siberian Orchestra, and "Jingle Bells" by the Singing Dog. I got married to Pachelbel's Canon, so it was an easy choice to use here (and thus continue family harmony). And I always giggle when I hear the Singing Dog.

* There's a group of songs from Little Steven's CD from a year ago; it's definitely worth a look if you like this sort of thing. The Darlene Love song "All Alone on Christmas" was recorded with the E Street Band, and sounds like it ... and except for the missing Mr. Springsteen on lead. "White Christmas," by Tina Sugandh, is proof that a good song is a good song even when the tempo is changed.

* I also laugh when I hear "Santa Claus Llega a la Ciudad," by Luis Miguel. It's a great swing version, and the Spanish is a definitely change of pace.

* "Santa's Gonna Come in a Stagecoach" has Buck Owens in good voice. Who can resist Buck? Hee haw.

* My thanks to the Clarence library for supplying "Jing-A-Ling, Jing-A-Ling" by the Andrews Sisters. No, I couldn't find any Snooky Lanson songs.

* When people look at the list of songs, Jethro Tull always gets a reaction. The flute works really well, though.

* The last song added was "Good King Wenceslas" by the Roches. It bumped "The Closing of the Year," in part because I couldn't find the original version from the soundtrack of the movie "Toys" anywhere, and a cover wasn't as good.

Happy holidays.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A textbook example

I'm not sure how many textbooks I bought and used in college -- a few dozen, I suppose.

I remember the author of exactly one of them.

That would be Paul Samuelson, who died the other day at the age of 94.

The obituaries contain all sorts of facts on Samuelson. He won a Nobel Prize for economics, the second person to do so. He worked with the Kennedy Administration on economic policy, and was considered one of the architects of the tax cut that created a growth spurt.

But Samuelson had a more lasting influence in some ways. He wrote the definitive college textbook in "Economics," which was first published in 1948. I think just about every college student who took economics was assigned to go out and buy it.

(Note to self: Stop writing hockey books; start writing economic books. More residuals.)

And why did everyone use it? Because it was good. Not only was the book comprehensive -- we got through about half of it in a year -- but it was easy to read. This is not easy; they don't call economics "the dismal science" for nothing.

Here's how good the book was. It was about the only textbook in which I actually looked through other sections of the book just for the heck of it. Even though the guns vs. butter argument rarely comes up while covering running, I have little doubt that I have used Samuelson's wisdom in discussing economic matters throughout my life.

Samuelson said at some point that the textbook was "my baby," that his goal was to make the subject understandable and enjoyable. I'd say he did that, paving the way for such authors of Steven Levitt of "Freakonomics" fame.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Three stories

A tale of three people:

1. A few months ago, the word "unknown" wouldn't go far enough to describe Susan Boyle. She was simply an Englishwoman who liked to sing. Then she appeared on a talent show in Great Britain, apparently without even bothering to comb her hair. As has been written before, she walked on stage as the subject of ridicule, and walked off a star. There were some bumps in her life after the show, but Boyle did indeed get a recording contract.

Now here we are in December, and Boyle has a compact disc out. Care to guess how many copies that CD sold in the first week of release? Try 701,000. That's the biggest such number of the year.

All of a sudden, every single dream that Boyle ever had about music has come true, and then some. Her life has been changed forever, hopefully for the better. Even music company accounting won't be able to keep her from being financially secure for the rest of her life, assuming she gets a good team behind her.

And now comes the tough part. I'm not sure there's anyone who has been less prepared for this rush of fame than Boyle. Let's cross our fingers and hope that she comes out the other side O.K.

2. We may never know the whole story of what happened in the Tiger Woods family household late Thanksgiving night. We may not want to know, come to think of it. But we do know that Woods' life has been changed, perhaps forever.

Woods tried to successfully balance being the most public of figures in some ways -- television appearances through golf, commercials, etc. -- with the most private of personal lives. There were whispers about extra-curricular activities a couple of weeks ago, but he probably could have dodged them ... until he drove into a tree at 2:30 a.m. That unleashed the hounds in the form of the world's tabloid press. All of a sudden, we've had claims of so many affairs that I expect to see a bumper sticker that reads "Honk if you've slept with Tiger."

No matter that it's not exactly our business, it is interesting to wonder what Tiger's motivation was for the transgressions. Does he live such a cocooned life that his super-competitive side pushed him to engage in risky behavior? Can he rebound from this, something that Kobe Bryant apparently has done to some degree in spite of worse allegations? Stay in your seat belts, it's going to be a bumpy flight.

3. When Bruce Springsteen first played in London around 1975, the promoter plastered fliers all over the city saying something like, "Is London ready for Bruce Springsteen?" Bruce reportedly went around tearing the papers off the walls, saying something like, "This is not what I bargained for."

Then, looking back years later, he said he realized, "That was exactly what I bargained for." He probably could have a talk with Woods about that, and have some good advice for Boyle.

Friday, December 04, 2009

At a book signing

One of the best parts of C-SPAN is the way it shows everything at an event. For example, it will spend a half-hour at a political picnic in New Hampshire in the summer of 2007, as potential candidates drop by to court a handful of voters. It's a great way to see the candidates in action, as well as hear what the voters are thinking.

The same applies to book signings too. C-SPAN recently was in Cincinnati, where camera were ready for an appearance by Sarah Palin at a Barnes & Noble. The store had closed early to non-ticket holders for autographs in order get ready for the former Governor, and the cameras even shot people trying to get in the building to try to buy a magazine. ("Sorry, come back in five hours.")

Before Palin even showed up, some of those waiting for her were interviewed. And it was fascinating to watch those conversations. In fact, it probably was more interesting than listening to Palin, who kept the chit-chat to a minimum.

The parade of people interviewed were all women, which I don't think was a coincidence. Those in line seemed to say something along the lines of "She's one of us" every chance they got.

That raises the question, is this a good way to determine your favorite politician? I would argue that it doesn't.

When it comes to my representatives in government, I don't want them to be my equals. I'd prefer them to be smarter and better-informed than I am, with well-thought-out positions. In other words, I lean toward representatives who use their own good judgment on the issues of the day, and not do something because it's popular. There's a balance here, of course, but I'm willing to give representatives the benefit of the doubt if they make an effort.

One of the best political discussions I've heard in the past few years was a forum featuring Mario Cuomo and Newt Gingrich out of New York City. You couldn't find two more different viewpoints, but both men presented those viewpoints extremely well after what was obviously a lot of thought.

I don't think you'd get that sort of depth out of Palin. A friend once told me that Palin reminded her of a woman who shows up at every PTA or Board of Education meeting across the country, a woman who knows just enough to be wrong. That's why (in part) for me to get enthusiastic for someone like Palin, but there are some women in Cincinnati who definitely have the right to disagree with me.

After all, I'm not one of them.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

A sad duty

Boy, this is a painful essay to write. I have come to praise the New York Yankees.

Sort of.

In our Sunday's sports section at The News, we have a letters to the sports editor section. When the Yankees won the World Series, we got a couple of letters saying that it was another case of New York buying a championship. The authors pointed out that the team had promised more than $400 million dollars for three players -- CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Mark Texeira. That was about the same as what the government spent on the last stimulus package, although a bit more concentrated.

The Yankee fans came roaring back; apparently the letters struck a nerve. They pointed out that the Yankees haven't bought all of their best players -- just some of them. They actually developed Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Robinson Cano, Jorge Posada and Phil Hughes from the farm system, and made trades to acquire other players such as Nick Swisher (the Alex Rodriguez acquisition was a trade, but more of a contract dump to a willing partner than player-for-player).

One fan even whined that the Yankees don't get their fair share of postseason awards ... as if Joe Mauer's fabulous season at a crucial defensive position didn't make him the most valuable bit of talent in the American League right now. You'd think a championship would be enough to make the guy happy. (ESPN's Bill Simmons once said that Yankee fans get too much self-esteem from how their favorite team does. He could be right, at least in this case.)

The authors ignore the fact that many teams often develop plenty of talent -- there is a common amateur draft, after all -- but only the rich teams can afford to keep most of it. If Jeter had been drafted by the Pirates, he might have joined the Yankees some time ago because he probably wouldn't have stayed put for economic reasons.

Still, we have to give the Yankees credit for two critical points.

1. They have plenty of resources, and they spend them on the team.

It would be very easy to sit back and count the money acquired through ticket sales and through the YES Network. The Yankees have plowed a lot of money back into the team. Not only is it a good business move (keeps the brand strong and the television ratings up), but it does reward the fans for loyalty.

In other words, the Yankees could spend $150 million a year on payroll instead of $200 million, and save several more millions because of decreased luxury tax payments -- and even the biggest fan wouldn't complain that the franchise wasn't committed to winning.

2. When it comes to spending money, they are pretty good at it.

The Yankees have only missed the playoffs once in the last decade. That's a pretty good record. Sure, they have guessed wrong on a number of players -- thank you Kevin Brown, Carl Pavano, etc. -- but overall the record is good.

This is not an unimportant fact. Compare it to other teams in other sports.

The New York Rangers traditionally spent more money than any other team in the NHL, at least until the salary cap era started. They haven't won a Cup since 1994, when they collected ex-Edmonton Oilers and got over the hump. Since then, nothing but mediocrity. (This doesn't apply to just New York teams. The Maple Leafs and Flyers have spent lot of money over the years, and there aren't any banners flying there from recent years either.)

Then there are the New York Knicks, the NBA's poster boy for bad spending. The Knicks always seem to shell out money for a luxury tax for no apparent advantage. Team executive Donnie Walsh has been busy trying to install some sort of financial discipline to the team, if only to put the Knicks in position to get someone from the free agent class of 2010 (hello, LeBron).

In fact, the best comparison to the Yankees is probably the Lakers. Los Angeles has never let money get the way of going after top talent, spending more than $100 million this year on payroll. As a result, the Lakers usually seem to be in the argument at the end of the season.

With the Yankees' resources and approach, they always should be close to the top of the standings under the present rules -- and that means they almost have to win once in a while. Yes, they can be beaten -- witness the the 2001 to 2008 period. But the Yankees are always around.

I never bought the argument that it's good for a league to have one team dominate year after year. For every fan that watches the Yankees, there are probably three in Kansas City, Pittsburgh, etc. who have lost interest in the game because their favorite team isn't competitive any more. But I can't be too critical of a team that plays the game under the rules that are written.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

James Litz, artist

Friends might say that I'm probably the last person to have a connection with any sort of artist. And they'd be right. I'm creative with a typewriter, not a paint brush.

But I did have a tie to Western New York painter James Litz, who died this week at the age of 61. You can read his story from The Buffalo News here. You can read my story here.

Back in 1994, I was working for the Cheektowaga Times, a suburban weekly and not to be confused with another of my employers, the Cheektowaga Examiner. My boss, Margaret, said she had just read about a local artist who was gaining a national reputation, and that he'd make a great story. She told me to go find him and write it. I believe I did a little whining; see the first two sentences of this blog for details. But Margaret was persuasive and firm. Yes, boss.

So off I went to talk to Jim Litz, and asked him to tell me his story. It took an hour, and it was a fascinating 60 minutes.

Litz had served in Vietnam and returned home, by his own admission, a mess. He couldn't hold a job for very long, and drank. Then his sister asked him to serve as a baby-sitter one night. Litz objected, saying that he didn't know what to do with kids. The sister said, paint with them or something. OK. They started painting until it was time for the young ones to go to bed. After that, much to his surprise he went back down to the basement to the paint set, where he worked some more. Soon he bought a paint set of his own, and kept at it.

Someone took a look at his work and realized that all of the houses in Litz's paintings were of a Southeast Asian nature, with a particular type of roof. That started the catharsis, and Litz painted his memories of his time in Vietnam, crying along the way.

Eventually, he decided he wanted to work on happier scenes, so his work featured parks and baseball games and area scenes and the like. His was a very child-like style, filled with bright colors, and it was difficult to not look at the work and smile. You can see a copy of one here, copied from the site for Benjaman's Works of Art. Original works by Litz in some cases eventually went for four figures. He became functional in society again.

I came back to the office, filled with an enthusiasm that must have stunned Margaret. This was going to be a great story, I told her. Who is this guy, she no doubt thought. Basically, it was an easy story to write, too. I simply got out of the way and let Litz tell his own version of events. It was the longest article the Examiner may have ever printed, which got a questioning look from the owner, but those who read it all were fascinated.

Litz did two things that are unique in my journalism career. He asked for a tape of the interview, so that he could listen to it and try to prepare to give better interviews in the future. He also gave me an autographed print of one of his paintings, which I still have about four feet from where I'm typing this entry. A few months later, the article won a state-wide award, with the judges saying something like "a wonderful story simply told."

The newspaper story today has the epilogue of the tale. Litz stopped painting some nine years ago due to severe depression and diabetes. It might be an overstatement to say that the Vietnam War claimed another victim this week, but maybe not a large overstatement.

Even so, Litz helped teach me a valuable lesson in the journalism business that probably applies to a variety of other professions.

Sometimes, the boss is smarter than you think.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Saving grace

The other day at work, my boss mentioned that a co-worker has got every press pass he's ever been issued over the years.

Then I picked up a copy of Entertainment Weekly today, and there's an article in the TV section on a show called "Hoarders" -- all about people who can't bear to throw out practically anything. I wonder how many DVD's of the shows the subjects will save down the line.

Yup, we all save something. But what? And to what degree?

I've actually become pretty ruthless on making sure my house doesn't fill up with clutter. I used to save sports programs and sports cards in large numbers. It was a nice reminder of sporting events that I either attended in person or, when they were available through mail order or collectors' shows, watched on television. Then I moved in the mid-1980's -- only a couple of apartment buildings down, so no movers were involved. I had to carry boxes of programs down two flights of stairs, around a building to the next one, and then up two flights of stairs to my new home. Over and over and over.

At some point I said, "I need a lighter hobby." Therefore, I've sold almost all of that stuff -- Super Bowl programs, Final Four programs, World Series programs, Red Sox yearbooks. One time I opted to choose between saving pieces of cardboard with baseball players' pictures on them, or new golf clubs. Hmmm. Guess which won? Fore!

Most of the stuff I have now in the publication department is kept for reference (local media guides and books), and the proceeds of the sales of the other stuff on eBay has paid for some good trips. Boy, where was eBay in the 1980's?

What else do I save? Let's see. I've got most of the ticket stubs from concerts I've attended over the years. We're talking late 1970's for the earliest of them, even if that Doobie Brothers/Outlaws stub from the Niagara Falls Convention Center didn't exactly increase in value.

And somewhere along the way, I decided to take any sort of ticket stub collected along the way from events, trips, etc., then add press passes and other similar items, and make collages out of them. It really works well. A 16 x 20 frame holds two or three years of material, depending on the amount of traveling. It's a great way to remember that trip to the Rutherford B. Hayes burial site in Ohio. (Yes, I've been there.)

Then there are articles that have appeared in print. I've got notebooks and notebooks of bylined stories from my time in the business. In fact, I still have some junior high newspapers. Somehow I was picked as the editor in ninth grade, which was junior high then, and I still have some of the papers. In fact, when I went back to a high school reunion in Elmira (I moved from there after ninth grade), the papers were a big hit because no one had seen them since 1970. Then I've still got articles from high school and college. As my coworker Jerry Sullivan once said, if you don't get a bit of a thrill seeing your name in print, you probably are in the wrong business.

I do have some autographed books, which can be broken into two categories for the most part. There are authors I actually know, so owning a copy is a must. Then there are the big stars, with many of the autographs obtained in person or through some sort of special arrangement (Jeremy Schaap, Clarence Clemons, Terry Anderson, Bob Woodward, etc.). (Think those names have ever been together in a Google search?)

I'm not sure I'd call it a "collection," but I have plenty of compact disks covering a variety of musical types. The holiday stuff is starting to grab some space as the annual search for tunes for my mix CD continues. Then there's a cabinet that has some videos in it. There are a few movies and other documentaries there. For example, whenever I'm a little down about the baseball season, I can get out a disk and play it. Suddenly, it's 2004, and the Yankees are leading the Red Sox, three games to none ... and then Dave Roberts steals second.

So, dear reader, what do you save?

The holiday season...

So with Thanksgiving now in the rear view mirrow, I guess Christmas tunes are now fair game. This song has been getting a little buzz on the Net, it seems. It's an interesting mix of humor and a lullaby from Tim Minchin, called either "White Wine in the Sun" or "The Christmas Song." Whatever you call it, it's nice.

Too bad the only version I could find for purchasing purposes is 10 minutes -- too long for the annual holiday mix. I should keep looking.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Still the boss

I sent out a Facebook update at 1 a.m. on Monday, essentially saying: "Quick review of Springsteen in Buffalo: Best. Show. Ever." Strong words for me, but I'll stick to them 18 hours later.

Why do I say that?

1. The talk of the band making its last show in its last full tour added an edge to the proceedings. Haven't seen that sort of electricity around here since the Who played the Aud the night after the Cincinnati tragedy. The building was just jammed with fans who seemed to wake up a week or so ago and said, "Hey, this is the end of the tour, and these guys aren't getting any younger. I gotta go." It included Pat Riley, the NBA executive who wrote a book blurb for Clarence Clemens' book, "Big Man."

It's pretty unusual to get an audience that's filled with true believers, fans that know every song and would rather be at the show than any place on earth. That's what it felt like.

2. The complete playing of "Greetings from Asbury Park" helped make the night an event, since it hadn't been done before. I don't think I've heard "Spirit in the Night" since the late 1970's, although I haven't checked.

And I noticed what could have been a sense of relief from the band once the album had been played. "OK, the tough part is over, so let's have some fun."

3. The attitude was very playful from the gang, particularly Springsteen himself. Can't say I've seen too many kids pulled out of the audience to sing at a Springsteen show. Helping that approach was Steve Van Zandt's birthday, complete with cake, and the coming Christmas season (good for two songs).

4. If you felt like a birthday or Christmas party, this was the best set list imaginable. This was not a time to hear "41 Shots" or "The River," worthwhile songs but not a good fit here. The only really slow tunes were in the "Greetings" portion. Otherwise, it was clear the decks and start rocking. My back is still sore from all the standing. (Just wondering: When was the last time I saw a show without "Badlands"? I think it was 1977 in Utica.) What's more, there were a ton of songs that most bands would have been happy to use as a set-closer. For Springsteen, they were just another tune.

I've learned never to say never when it comes ever playing together again. Even with these guys. But if this was a farewell show to this particular combination, except on special occasions, it was a great one.

For a more enthusiastic review, click here.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Another first

You try to be a nice guy, and it backfires. Ask Anaheim's Scott Niedermayer after he was named first star at a recent game:

Thanks to Mike Harrington for pointing this out.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Track record

I just finished reading Brian Billick's book on the current state of the National Football League. You can read a full review of the book here, but there are a couple of applications to what has been going on at One Bills Drive lately.

First, Billick talks about how well he worked with Baltimore Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome during the time he was head coach there. Newsome basically stayed in the home office and watched every practice and game as he did his job. He sent scouts to look at other players; he was only interested in his own team. Therefore, when something came up, Newsome was very familiar with the situation. He could give a direct, face-to-face, reason why the team was taking a specific action, such as cutting a player or starting one player over another.

The Bills lately have not had a football man as general manager, preferring to use a committee that included a variety of people working under team president Russ Brandon. And we all see how well that has worked in the last couple of years.

Owner Ralph Wilson has had a couple of bad experiences with something along the lines of "director of football operations." Apparently Bill Polian made Wilson feel uncomfortable visiting the team offices, and Tom Donahoe didn't exactly work out to his liking either. But it's nice to have someone in charge, and that's why apparently we're headed back toward that organizational structure ... and a few years too late, at that.

Billick also discusses the need for good drafts in a salary cap world. Drafted players represent relatively cheap labor, particularly after the first round. If you don't make good on those picks, and then keep them around as long as you can, you start furiously plugging leaks. And you never catch up.

Need proof? Let's examine the Bills' first-round picks for the last 10 years:

2000 -- Erik Flowers wasn't much help at all. A whiff.

2001 -- Nate Clements was a very good pick; too bad he left for a huge contract.

2002 -- Mike Williams was the fourth overall pick and never justified the pick. If he had worked out, he'd still be a cornerstone of the offensive line -- and life would be much easier to this day in that area.

2003 -- Willis McGahee was a big gamble, considering the Bills knew he'd miss a year after knee surgery. He had a couple of moments in a Buffalo uniform, but this swing for the fences resulted in a pop-up.

2004 -- After giving up a first rounder for Drew Bledsoe, Buffalo saw Bledsoe start to decline and took J.P. Losman as the "quarterback for the future." When Bledsoe's career took a continued dive, Losman never was able to take over. Lee Evans was much more like it.

2006 -- Donte Whitner has at least started whenever he's been healthy. The Bills tried to trade John McCargo, but the defensive lineman flunked his physical and has been a backup since then.

2007 -- If McGahee had come through, the Bills wouldn't have needed to draft Marshawn Lynch here. They could have addressed another need.

2008 -- If the Bills hadn't lost so many cornerbacks to free agency in the decade, the selection of Leotis McKelvin wouldn't have been necessary. We'll see how he does after losing almost all of 2009 to injury.

2009 -- Aaron Maybin signed very late and has done little this season. He shouldn't be written off yet, but early returns are discouraging. The jury is still out on Eric Wood.

Get the idea?

Dick Jauron made some mistakes in his three and one-half years as head coach of the Bills. The no-huddle offense this season in particular, with a very green offensive line and a young quarterback, might have been the biggest one. It not only didn't work, but it caused a fight with the offensive coordinator that resulted in a firing just before the start of the season. Jauron also never did any sort of job of becoming a public face for the franchise, something that the team could have used and something that could have bought him a little more time.

But if you're asking me if he ever had a chance, I'd guess, probably not. And if you're asking me if it would be worthwhile for a new football executive to at least give Billick a call, I'd say, probably so.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The last stop

Word is spreading quickly about Bruce Springsteen's last show on his current tour, which will be next Sunday night in Buffalo. Springsteen has been playing entire albums on this tour, and the trend will continue with the surprising "Greetings from Asbury Park." He's never played this album, his first, live in sequence before, and he's never played one of the songs from it ("The Angel") live anywhere.

Here's the Newark Star-Ledger's take on the event. There are less analytical descriptions at and

So the question that's going to come up is, Will this be the last concert ever for the band? Or at least for a long while? Hard to say -- certainly an interesting choice of material for a closing night. I'm betting that the last song played on Sunday will be "Blood Brothers" -- just as it was when the Rising tour ended in October 2003 in Shea Stadium.

No drama

Here's a problem for Buffalo Bills' fans after the team's ninth game of the season.

There's no drama left.

National Football League seasons essentially answer question that come up from the start. The big one, naturally, is, who will win the Super Bowl? But there are sub-plots along the way as well. The idea is for the season to slowly go toward a climatic moment.

Don't look for any climatic moments here, unless you are interested in knowing if the team will run for the bus the rest of the way. In the Bills' case, we wanted to know back in September if the team was capable of making a playoff run. With seven weeks left and a 3-6 record, it looks almost certainly like the answer is no.

There were other questions. Would Terrell Owens fit in and make the Bills better? Um, it's fair to say that Owens isn't going to make the season memorable for Buffalo for the right reasons. He still has a chance to make it memorable for the wrong ones. Right now his signing looks like an interesting but less-than-successful and expensive gamble.

Is Trent Edwards going to be the quarterback of the future? You'd have to guess no. The Bills would have to come up with some major dollars to sign him long-term in the coming offseason, and that doesn't look like a good idea. In other words, it's about time to start from scratch at the position ... again. The Bills apparently haven't made a great long-term decision about a quarterback since Jim Kelly; Doug Flutie and Drew Bledsoe merely had short-term moments.

Was not re-signing Jason Peters to a big contract a good idea? Based on the problems on the offensive line, it's fair to say Peters might have helped somewhere. Unless you like false starts and concussed quarterbacks.

Is Dick Jauron going to make it to next year? My guess is that it would take a winning record at this point to keep the fan base even a little happy, and that would mean 6-1 down the stretch ... with games against Indianapolis and New England, among others. I don't like his odds.

So here we are, in mid-November, and the story of the season seems more or less written. We're going to just have to wait to see what shoes will drop come early January in terms of some sort of top football executive, new coach, new quarterback, etc.

We've seen a lot of anger about the Bills in the first part of the season. It's easy to wonder if those feelings are about to turn into apathy for the rest of the calendar year, which is never a good sign. Put another way, I'm glad I don't have to sell Bills' tickets for a living the rest of the way.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Educational process

Does it seem like that we heard more about Veterans Day today than we have in a long time? This isn't just a case of the usual TV pictures of ceremonies involving men and women in uniform, which come every Nov. 11.

Every sporting event this week has taken time out to honor veterans. ESPN set up shop at West Point today. Applebee's gave away meals to service personnel. A local barber gave out free haircuts to military members. My Facebook page is filled with tributes.

All well and good. But I think there's something else at work here, and it's something good. My guess is, we've learned something.

One of the few good things about getting older is that you have a personal memory for history. I am old enough to remember our involvement in Vietnam in the 1960's and early 1970's, a military action that dragged on indefinitely with no end in sight. Let me know if this sounds familiar.

How did Americans react to that? By protesting in the streets in some cases, and I'm a little surprised there hasn't been more of that in the last few years. (I talked to an Army vet who served in the Sixties about this, and he absolutely agreed with me.) There was a lot of anger back then, though, and some of it was directed at the people doing the actual work in Vietnam. As a result, we forgot about Vietnam veterans for too long a time. They didn't get enough "thank yous" for their thankless work, let alone parades and recognition.

This time around, there are a lot more "thank yous." You can argue about past and present policy decisions by the commanders, but you can't argue with the fact that today's military members are volunteering for jobs that the rest of us are less than anxious to do.

You're never too old to learn something. Consider this one more salute to those who deserve one.

Survey says...

I recently read about a survey done by the College of Communications at Penn State University on the ethics involved in sports writing. And let's not have any smart remarks that it was an extremely brief paper. Being the inquisitive type, as the title of the blog says, I wrote Penn State to get a copy of the results. It's interesting stuff.

The survey authors surveyed 285 sports journalists across the country. More than 91 percent were male, 85 percent were white, 91 percent were college graduates, and almost 96 percent were full-time sports journalists. That sounds about right, based on personal observation.

In terms of career conditions and outlook, about 39 percent of sports writers say they have been threatened with violence by athletes, coaches or fans. Well, John Muckler once shook his finger at me, but otherwise I think I've been lucky. About 53 percent have considered quitting the job, which sounds low if anything to me. About 94 percent say they are satisfied with their job, which seems something of a contradiction to the previous answer. And almost 75 percent say they have a good job future; those people must not have looked at the business climate in journalism these days.

Next up is the conflict of interest behaviors, as it is called the survey results. A total of 11.6 percent say they have given free tickets to friends. I was a little surprised by that; most sports organizations don't even ask that question any more. More of a surprise was the fact that 26.3 percent of respondants got free tickets for their supervisor. I could argue that it's good that the sports editor attend events when possible; it's always nice to be on the scene. But that should be in the form of a press pass and not tickets (and note the plural form, ndicating "company.")

For the record, we have a policy of not accepting anything of value. So a box of popcorn at HSBC Arena is OK, which may tell you something about its taste. However, I have turned down all offers of free entries to area running races, which usually go for about $20 each.

Now comes the most surprising part. Care to guess what percentage of sportswriters gamble on sporting events? Try 41.1 percent. Breaking it down a little more, 4.6 percent of sportswriters say they gamble on sports that they cover. I'm not sure that covers fantasy sports, but my guess would be that it doesn't.

Statistically speaking then, if you see 21 sportswriters covering a particular game, the odds are pretty good that one of them has bet on the contest you both are watching. And remember that hardly anyone is covering horse racing regularly these days, where betting is legal and predictions of winners are more or less expected and frequently followed by trips to the betting window.

Here's one last survey result. Respondants were asked to grade from one (strongly disagree) to five (strongly agree) on the statement, "If I were to gamble on a team or sport that I was covering, I think it would have an effect on my ability to cover that team or sport objectively." The median score was 3.45. That sure sounds like some writers are going to be angry if the team they bet on loses, no matter what the actual outcome is. As in "That last-second field goal cost me $500, so I'm not going to make him sound like a hero."

My guess is that the industry may have to be a bit more vigilant on this issue. But I wouldn't bet on it.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Getting punchy

Dave Kindred has an interesting column this weekend about fighting and the media. As in, punches exchanged between media members, or between a media member and an athlete. You can find it here; it is worth your time.

Kindred has seen a lot more of this stuff than I ever did. But I do have a couple of stories along these lines.

Once at then-Rich Stadium, the Bills were going through the postgame ritual of interviews at their lockers. One time, a newspaper writer was alone with one of the players. Then, a television reporter turned on the camera and stuck in a microphone, which showed a little impatience but does happen. But then the TV guy had the player turn away and do a one-on-one into the camera, leaving the newspaper guy behind.

Our print scribe patiently waited for the television interview to end. Then, and only then, did he launch a tirade against the electronic type. It's good thing the television guy got out of the way; he might have gotten a punch in the face.

The Sabres' original trainer was Frank Christie, a crusty old sort who used to challenge new, young reporters just for the sport of it. I saw an argument or two start up, but not many 20-somethings were willing to smack a 60-something, short, 140-pound trainer.

But speaking of hockey, Jerry Sullivan represented his profession well one time when working in Binghamton. He wrote a column that was critical of one of the Broome County Dusters, the local minor league team. Jerry went into the locker room for the next home game. The Duster in question looked at Jerry and said, "I ought to knock you into the wall."

Jerry paused for effect, and replied, "Well, if you do, it will be the first thing you've hit all year." The rest of the Dusters went wild, as their teammate was silenced.

We all should be so quick as Jerry was that night.

Friday, November 06, 2009

And in other video...

Elizabeth Lambert of New Mexico has once again demonstrated the power of the media. The women's soccer player turned up on ESPN today, and those clips quickly spread to the Internet. Tonight she received a suspension.

Here's the video:

This is not a woman to be trifled with.

You make me feel like dancing

One of my favorite college basketball moments ever was preserved on YouTube and popped up today on SportsbyBrooks. It came when Tim Ryan and Al McGuire were interviewing the Syracuse basketball team after the then Orangemen had just won to advance to the Final Four. Al couldn't contain himself.

We still miss Al.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

In olden days

There was an item in The Boston Globe's sports section today on an old friend of mine. In fact, it was a good reminder about how the sports business has changed over the years, and how old I am.

The item was on a player from Bridgewater, Massachusetts, who is now a pitching coach with the Philadelphia Phillies. I don't know the coach in question, Rich Dubee, but I do know the other Massachusetts player in the story, Glenn Tufts.

Tufts was an absolute terror when it came to high school baseball. I think he hit about .625 in school, playing mostly first base and doing some pitching when needed. He graduated in 1973, which was my senior year in high school as well.

Here's the coincidence: Tufts dated the daughter of my father's best friend. So when my family went up to Massachusetts around the holidays in 1972-73, I had the chance to spend a little time with Glenn. Good guy. In fact, while the grown-ups went out on New Year's Eve, the best friend's kids took over the house for the night. I had the chance to talk to Glenn for quite a while about what it was like to be one of the nation's top high school players. As I recall, he complained about not getting many pitches to hit. And remember, he still hit about .625. I saw him one or two other times as well during trips there.

Now comes the quaint part. Tufts was taken fifth overall in the baseball amateur draft in the summer of 1973. The debate was to take the signing bonus offer from the Cleveland Indians, which probably was something along the lines of $50,000, or to take a full scholarship from the University of North Carolina. The parents argued for college, saying that the education was a good safety net. I recall saying that the bonus wasn't a bad safety net either, and that you could still go to school with some of that money.

My side of the argument won, not that I ever made the case personally, as he signed with the Indians. Unluckily, he had some injury problems -- I think there was an auto accident involved -- and he never did quite fulfill his potential. Tufts stayed in baseball as a career and became a great scout and coach, I believe. But he never did grab the brass ring.

Let's compare that to today. I looked on-line at some recent signing bonuses. The number five pick in 2007's draft was Matt Wieters, taken by Baltimore. He was a special case because he had signing issues, but he eventually agreed to a $6 million bonus with the Orioles. The fourth pick, Daniel Moskos of Pittsburgh, picked up a check for $2.475 million. It's a little tough for the colleges to compete with that.

Sometimes you're just born 35 years too early.

Friday, October 30, 2009


I had lunch with baseball writer Jim Kaplan a while ago, who is working on a book about Warren Spahn and Juan Marichal. I mentioned in passing that it must be tough to make sure when working on a book that people's memories are accurate years and years after the fact.

Let me present an excellent example of that.

Mike Harrington and I were talking about the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame inductions earlier this week. He said he had read a story about Phil Housley's wife, who was delivering a baby in Buffalo during a famous Duke basketball game in the NCAA basketball tournament. Then Mike sent me a link to Karin's story, which you can find here.

If you don't want to read the whole thing, Karin Housley was dropped off by Phil while he was on his way to playing Pittsburgh at the Aud for a key afternoon game. Karin was waiting to have the baby and was in enough pain to wish bad things for Christian Laettner, whose game was on television in the hospital. She suffered to the point where the baby was nicknamed "Duke," even though it was a girl. And the Housleys ran into Laettner on the way to the Hall of Fame dinner in Buffalo years later.

We all know about the 1992 NCAA game between Duke and Kentucky, in which Laettner hit a shot at the buzzer after a long pass from Grant Hill to win one of the greatest games in history. I read Karin's story, which is connected in folklore by some to the Duke-Kentucky game. I thought, something doesn't add up here.

For starters, Housley was traded by the Sabres to Winnipeg in the summer of 1990. So Karin couldn't have been giving birth in Buffalo in 1992 -- at least with Phil as a Sabre.

And, just to add to the confusion, Pittsburgh never played in Buffalo in March during Laettner's career at Duke.

Hmmm. Well, Laettner had one other very famous moment in the NCAAs at Duke. He hit a shot off an out-of-bounds play against UConn to move the Blue Devils into the final four. That was an overtime game too. It was on March 24, 1990.

Except, the Sabres were off that day. Duke did play the first two games of the tournament on days when the Sabres were home -- including a Sunday game on March 18 against Winnipeg. That could have been an afternoon game, although I can't prove it right now. Duke beat St. John's by four points.

Duke also made it to the Final Four in 1989, albeit in less exciting circumstances. There is a match for one tournament game by Duke with a Sabre home games, but it was a Friday night -- no chance of an afternoon game there.

I'd guess that the Winnipeg game was the one in question -- even if it wasn't a crucial game in determining a playoff spot (the Sabres had wrapped up a berth early that year). There's an obviously a way to figure this out for sure -- ask Housley's daughter for her birthdate.

But this is why we have fact-checkers ... and why books can take years to write.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Tilting at windmills

There has been plenty of conversation around Western New York about converting our constant wind into energy, and how Wyoming County is actually doing that. That doesn't mean I had actually seen it happen.

Until Sunday.

I was driving home Route 20A near Varysburg when suddenly these big machines started to appear in the distance, looking like something from "War of the Worlds." We took a side trip down one road and took the picture above; you can get a bit of a perspective how big they are by comparing them to the farm house. We went a few miles down the road that goes along the top of the hill, and must have run into 50 or so windmills.

I'm not sure I'd want to live next door to one for some reason, but we'll probably be seeing more of them in the future.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Literacy test

It was a rare Sunday afternoon off in the Bailey household, so my wife and I had the chance to visit Letchworth State Park along the mighty Genesee. I'd never been in the fall, and even though the colors were a little past peak they were still beautiful.

Sure, I could show you a picture of the gorge and impress you, but I have a travel site for that. Instead, take a look at the photo above. (You can click on it to make it bigger.) I took it by the parking lot above the Upper Falls of the park. Consider it a literacy test. What does the sign say? And what are the people behind the sign doing?

The path goes up to the railroad track, which goes on a bridge over the gorge. The bridge is not designed for pedestrians, so there's no guardrail. One slip on a surface hit by a fall rain the day before and you are part of the river a few hundred feet below. It's also a working railroad track (I saw a train go on a few minutes before this). In other words, danger, Will Robinson.

If that's you in the picture, I hope the picture was worth it. Because you are so busted.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Around the dial

You might be familiar with the Bruce Springsteen lyric, "Fifty-seven channels and nothing on." You might have even said it.

Every time I think about getting digital cable, I consider how many channels I don't watch on television as it is. And then forget about spending the extra money. (I also still have a VCR and use video tapes instead of a DVR, which makes me something of a dinosaur as well as a limited TV-watcher.) I get the news and sports I want as it is.

In fact, it's fun to go through the list of channels and figure out what stations I never, ever watch -- stations that could go away without a peep from me. I'm not saying they all are without merit, as they fill a variety of niches. It's a matter of personal preference. Let's see ...

MyTV and CW: My wife would miss the 10 o'clock version of the local news, though.

QVC, HSN, Shop NBC: Don't shop on TV.

CTVTO: It's often blacked out locally on cable because of duplication the programming of Buffalo stations.

Discovery: Once in a great while, it shows a special like "Blue Planet." Otherwise, every time I visit the channel there's a picture taken from the front of a taxicab.

Ion: There must be some rhyme or reason to its show lineup.

WNYB/EWTN: God probably will get me, Walter, for not watching.

Lifetime, Hallmark: At least the TV movies keep actresses like Meredith Baxter Birney employed.

Nik, Animal Planet, Toon, Disney: Sorry, no kids in the house.

Syfy: A Twilight Zone episode might make stop dial-hopping for a minute.

BET, Food, Style, Oxygen, HGTV, TLC: Never seen anything that kept me interested for more than a split-second. I'm still wondering how Jon and Kate became so well-known while appearing on TLC.

Univision, Telemundo: My high school Spanish does me little good here.

Spike TV: I'm just not tough enough.

CMT: No thanks.

A&E: This used to be interesting, but it's now just re-runs of network shows -- mostly on crime.

CNN Headline News: If I'm careful, I can avoid Nancy Grace.

TruTV: What happened to Court TV anyway?

History: For a guy who loves history, this rarely has anything watchable.

USA: Ah, no.

MTV, VH1: Where did the music videos go?

E!: Lowest common denominator at its finest.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Muppets do the Boss

Just stumbled upon the video, featuring the song "Born to Add" done on Sesame Street:

I used to have a 45 of a cover band, featuring a Springsteen-like version of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" and "Meet the Flintstones." More on that here.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Falling from the tree

It was easy to guess that Acorn's time in the public spotlight would have some major bumps in the road. Still, the organization's latest problems raise a troubling new issue that has little to do with inner-city politics.

If you weren't paying attention last fall, Acorn came under scrutiny during the Presidential election. Barack Obama had done some work for the group, which specializes in inner-city matters such as housing and voter registration. The organization has done some really good work right here in Buffalo, for what it's worth. Acorn came under fire because it hired people to sign up potential voters, and those people -- who usually are unemployed and often homeless -- made up names to submit to a city's Board of Elections. I believe the Chicago Bears defense all signed up to vote. The Board of Elections threw out the names -- that's its job -- and life moved on.

Except, the matter became something of a campaign issue among some conservative circles. Inner-city residents tend to vote Democratic, so some Republicans were quick to discredit Acorn -- and thus Obama. It was all a bit silly to most, but election season is silly season.

Lately, though, matters took a more serious turn. Filmmaker James O'Keefe staged some meetings with Acorn representatives, as he asked for (and received) advice on how to skirt the law in setting up a sex smuggling operation. O'Keefe filmed the results and gave them to Andrew Breitbart, who rolled them out on Fox News and his own Web site.

"This plan wasn't just a means to defend against the media's desire to attack the messenger," Mr. Breitbart says in the article. "It was also a means to attack the media and to expose them ... for the partisan hacks that they are."

The dominoes started falling from there. Acorn fired some employees, and federal legislators and agencies started sprinting to get away from Acorn's suddenly toxic fumes. Can't say the Democrats showed a whole lot of political courage in this one. In today's Wall St. Journal, Breitbart essentially brags about how smart he was to get the story out and harm Acorn, even if the ethics of the matter were a bit on the, um, shady side. As in, ever hear of entrapment?

One of the appealing parts of journalism to me is the chance to practice standards of professionalism and ethics. Even the WSJ's article author, James Taranto, admits that no "legitimate" newsgathering organization would have used such techniques.

Yet, when the story did come out through the Internet and a probably sympathetic news source in Fox News (Probably? Who am I kidding?), it became a issue that attracted attention -- just as the perpetrators planned. It took a while, at least in part because of the methods used. Do the ends justify the means? For Breitbart and O'Keefe, apparently.

I'm not sure what the rules are in cases like this, and the journalism business will have to deal with such matters in the months and years to come. I'm only sure of one point. If I ever do happen to meet Breitbart in person, I'll feel like taking a shower as soon as I can in order to wash him off me.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

He shoots, he scores

Me thinks the Sabres should sign this nine-year-old for duty the next time there is a shootout:

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Eliminating a career possibility

It was a pretty simple question on Jay Leon's "10@10" tonight: What was the worst job you ever had?

Ben Roethlisberger of the Steelers said he had always been a quarterback, so he didn't have a good answer. I've got a better one.

At one point about 17 years ago, I was among the ranks of the unemployed. I was placed into a spot as vacation relief in a local printing plant as a proofreader. OK, that's close to a writer and editor, although I'm willing to admit that I'm a little more skilled at judging facts and writing than finding the odd typo.

As the jobs passed over my desk, one stuck out. The company was printing labels for paint cans, with lots of instructions for use.

But here's the catch: the labels were written in Portuguese.

Ever try to proofread a language that you've never seen before? It ain't easy. Portuguese isn't Finnish or Chinese, but it's still, um, foreign to me. I tried to go over groups of three or four letters at a time as I wound my way through the document, but the mind does wander in such circumstances.

I finished out the week there. For the next couple of months, I checked the newspaper regularly for news from Brazil: "Six thousand children were severely injured when they drank a glass of paint due to a typographical error on the can's label..."

For those who do such tasks every day (proofreading, not drinking paint), I salute you.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Slap in the face

When it comes to bad days for a sports fan, Sunday afternoon was more or less a perfect storm. At least for me.

It started with the Red Sox, facing elimination after two dreary performances on the West Coast. However, they always play better at home, and sure enough, they took an early lead and held on as the game went on.

Finally, with two outs, none on, a two-run lead and Jonathan Papelbon (he of zero lifetime postseason runs allowed) on the mound, it was possible to think of a Fourth Game in the series. Yes, the Angels were probably the better team, but stranger things have happened.

They happened in the next 10 minutes or so. Whap, plunk, whap, walk, whap, and the Angels were ahead for good. As it turned out, the Red Sox played all season to earn the right to play an extra week and lose three more games. I'm not saying I'd trade the summer's routing experiences with those of Mets' fans, but a little more drama before the end of the baseball year would have been nice.

Switching television stations to the broadcast of the Bills offered no relief either. The game with the Cleveland Browns appeared to be one of the dullest in recent memory. Those who are out-of-town and hear a score like 3-3 in the fourth quarter assume that a monsoon had struck Orchard Park. No, it was just two bad teams who were incapable of moving the ball very far.

With three minutes to go, I let out a loud sigh that caused my wife to run in from the kitchen. What happened?!? Roscoe Parrish had fumbled a punt deep in Buffalo territory, and Cleveland had recovered. The game was more or less instantly decided, and a season that started with a little bit of hope had taken yet another emphatic circle into the depths of an abyss.

After listening to a Bills postgame talk show for a while and hearing the anger and disappointment, I called my friend Mark, who I knew was at the Bills game and at this point would be walking to his car. Thanks, I said, for not inviting me to see the dullest game in football history. Yes, he said, it was an all-time stinker.

And then Mark, who has his picture next to the words "good-natured" and "upbeat" in the dictionary, said in a slightly shaken voice, "And just to put things perspective, we were walking to the car when we saw the aftermath of a drunk driver who hit two people on Southwestern Boulevard. It looked pretty bad." Indeed, they were seriously injured -- one was flown by helicopter on Mercy Flight -- and five others were hurt in the incident. The talk shows didn't seem so entertaining after that. (Luckily, they all apparently will be all right.)

I'm not going to ever apologize for an emotional attachment to sports and the games. In a way, it pays my salary, and has the added bonus of bringing so much joy to my life. But while I had a bad day today, I know of seven people and their families who had a much worse one.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Author, author

The death of William Safire prompted a friend -- Cheryl Solimini -- to write on Facebook about her graduation speaker at Syracuse University, William Safire. Mr. Safire was a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist, a speechwriter for President Nixon (oops) and an expert on language. His best advice -- avoid cliches like the plague. Peggy Noonan had a nice tribute to him and his type the other day.

I remember that speech by Safire well. It might have been the best speech I ever heard from, oh, a quarter of a mile away.

Safire was the speaker in 1978, the year after I graduated from college. He had enrolled at the school in 1951, dropped out after two years, and came back for his degree 25 years later. After that introduction, he started out this way:

"My subject today is 'The Decline of the Written Word.' If the speech I have written is disjointed and confusing, you will get my point the hard way."

Safire went on to say that he had four points to make on the subject. He cleverly said he had forgotten the fourth point, but could simply go back to his text and make it three points -- the advantages of editing the printed work are many. Then he artfully came back to a so-called fourth point.

I saved a copy of the speech from the Syracuse Post-Standard for quite a while. The problem was that I didn't get to hear it in person. There were no extra tickets for graduation back then, so I watched the ceremony and speech live on television from the luxury of Tim Wendel's living room just up the hill. Safire got a well-deserved standing ovation for his work, which he said touched him deeply.

Someone apparently convinced Safire to include that speech in his own collection of great speeches, "Lend Me Your Ears." Good move. You can read parts of it on line by clicking here. It's even more timely now in the light of e-mail and texting and Twitter.

While I also felt like applauding Safire's eloquence, I also felt more than a little jealousy that day. Where, I thought, was that level of inspiration the year before?

When I graduated in 1977, our speaker was supposed to be Kurt Waldheim, the Secretary-General of the United Nations. But there was some important matter around that time that demanded Waldheim's attention, some border dispute in Africa between two countries I hadn't heard of. So the Syracuse chancellor made a couple of calls and convinced John Sawhill to catch a plane in. Sawhill was the nation's energy czar at the time, which meant as much to me now as it did then.

Sawhill started his speech with the usual thank-yous. Then he said something like, "I believe this class is entering a great turning point in our society. I know others have said that before, but here is why I believe it to be true now ..." And with that, a couple of thousand graduates promptly stopped paying attention. I looked over at my co-worker at the school newspaper, Debbie Hormell, and she was furiously playing dots during the speech. Hope she won.

For a year, I felt cheated that I didn't have a meaningful graduation speech. Then along came Safire's speech, and I claimed it unofficially. For that, and for a career filled with love of words and of his craft, we all thank him.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Marxist thought

If we can't have National Gorilla Suit Day (creator Don Martin's wife asked to stop it), then at the least we should make Groucho Marx's birthday a national holiday.

And that's today, October 2. Turner Classic Movies was celebrating it this morning. Thank goodness that the work of this Marx proved timeless, as opposed to the work of Karl Marx.

In tribute, here's a clip of Groucho in action. It's the famous scene with Harpo in "Duck Soup."

I've read all of the books on the Marx Brothers. Groucho and Harpo often had trouble interacting in the movies, often going through Chico as an "interpreter." So it's a little odd that one of the most famous scenes in the Brothers' history was with just the two of them. In fact, how odd is it for Groucho's big moment to be completely silent, considering he was the most verbal of comedians?

No matter. Enjoy this one.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Back to the barber

I've written here before about how a trip to get a haircut can be an educational experience. I tend to encounter people with, um, different viewpoints.

Another haircut, another reminder.

Today a few guys were waiting in the suburban shop as I received my monthly trim. The talk among them started about the Bills' woes; not surprisingly, Dick Jauron and Terrell Owens weren't too popular with this crowd.

From there, one of the men turned a rank about the Bills into a rant about President Obama. Kind of wish I had a transcript of the conversational transition there, but none is available. I believe we went from complaining about the money spent flying to Denmark in search of the Olympics, to high taxes. I remained quiet here, willing to let strangers vent and wondering if I'd hear the silly argument about Obama's birthplace.

Kenya didn't come up, as our pal went in another direction. I'm paraphrasing here, but the gist of it was: "Canada is socialist, and no one up there has bothered to invent anything in 25 years."

Suddenly, I had the urge to speak: "You mean, the patent office in Canada hasn't had anything to do in 25 years? No one has come up with a single idea in that time?" I asked.

No, the guy said, and he was willing to send me proof.

I didn't bother exchanging e-mail addresses with the guy, and didn't try to point out that Canada is hardly an example of pure socialism at work. But the Canadian inventor of the Blackberry might disagree with his premise. For starters.

And don't let the facts hit you in the back on your way out the door.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Freedom vs. freedom

Here's a story I spotted on line with all sort of implications:

It seems that the cheerleaders at Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School, of all people, have opened up a fascinating Constitutional situation. For the past six years, they have been preparing the paper banners that the football teams runs through, just like practically every other high school team does before a game. In fact, they seem to spend part of their summers getting them ready.

Here's the catch: The banners contain Bible quotations.

The Chattanooga paper has this story on the controversy.

Be sure to read some of the comments at the bottom of the story. It's caused quite a debate in the community. I particularly liked the line of thought that went something like, "If you don't like it, stay home."

The legal analysts in the audience can bring up all sorts of discussion points here. But two came to mind for me immediately, one of which was also raised by Sports by Brooks, without taking sides here:

1. What if the cheerleaders put up Muslim quotations?

2. What would happen if a football player went out of his way to avoid running through the banner?

Ah, freedom of speech. Full of trapdoors.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Unbiased viewpoints

It's fun to troll around the Yahoo! Answers section of the Internet. Readers post questions, hoping for answers from, well, somewhere. As you'd expect, there are a lot of kids who are hoping someone else will write their term papers for them.

The sports section is pretty boring as these things go; the questions rarely get deeper than "Is Alex Rodriguez the best player in baseball right now?" or "Will the Red Sox defeat the evil Yankees tonight?" (The answer to that last question, of course, is "I hope so.") More interesting, though, are the sections devoted to News and Events, which includes journalism, and Politics and Government. It's a way to find out what the latest oddest theory is -- that's where I first heard about the theory that somehow Barack Obama was born in Kenya.

While some people like to merely rant on Yahoo! Answers, and others are busy campaigning to get Glenn Beck a Presidential Medal of Freedom, the subject of media bias comes up a lot. A lot of questions along the lines of "Where can I get an unbiased source of news?" pop up. Speaking as someone who has been in the business for 30-plus years, I can at least have opinions on the subject of bias in the news media. Here are a few of them:

There is far less room for bias in the news that people think.

Look at the newspaper on a typical day, and a vast majority of the stories are pretty straight-forward. Legislature passes bill. Robbery takes place on south side of town. Traffic patterns changed by construction. Whatever. Not much room to slant stuff there, as it's just a matter of reporting the facts. Every reporter brings a personal set of biases into his or her writing, but they rarely apply.

A majority of reporters tilt slightly to the liberal side of the political fence.

I think there's two reasons for this. The journalism business seems to attract people who have a "I want to change the world" philosophy, and they lean left. Plus, the news business likes to see things happen -- there's a bias toward events taking place -- and liberals take a more pro-active approach on matters than conservatives. Therefore, liberal approaches are better for business in that sense.

Those are moderated a bit by a couple of other factors. Ownership of media outlets usually is pretty conservative, as it can't afford to offend potential advertisers. The lower you go on the chain, the more likely that such interference can be a problem.

And anyone who thinks reporters sit around in large groups waiting for the next call for the Kremlin hasn't been in a newsroom. There are plenty of Republicans in the media. In fact, they are sometimes the loudest people in the room because they think they are greatly outnumbered and believe they have to shout at times.

Readers and viewers sometimes can't be bothered to tell the difference between viewers and commentators.

Some people probably lump the major network news broadcasts in with the cable news shows at night. There's a world of difference between them. Keith Olbermann and Sean Hannity show up with a definite viewpoint when they do an evening show. While ABC, CBS and NBC aren't perfectly unbiased at the dinner hour, because that's impossible, they come much, much closer to that goal. Heck, Charles Gibson isn't even registered to vote, because he says he doesn't want to think about such decisions while he's in his current job.

Meanwhile, the audience shouldn't prejudge an entire news-gathering operation on one part of it. The Wall Street Journal's editorial page may not be particularly readable most of the time, and the only columnist who is even usually interesting is Peggy Noonan, but the rest of the paper is filled with good reporters who write interesting and important stories.

Along those lines ...

Don't trust commentators who think they are always correct.

The older I get, the more I realize that the world gets less black and white than I realized the day before. You'd never know it by watching some shows. Hannity, Olbermann, Beck, Rachel Maddow, Bill O'Reilly ... all sometimes wrong but never in doubt. Depending on your political persuasion, you no doubt find some of them smug and others brilliant. But there's always another side to any discussion.

Just saying you are fair and balanced doesn't mean you act like it.

I think the first time media bias came up as an issue was when Spiro Agnew spoke out about it 40 years or so ago. (Now there's a guy I want to identify with.) Since then, conservatives have been pounding that issue like a drum, and the idea has taken hold with some of the faithful.

The brilliance of the concept of Fox News, economically speaking, was to change the model of the newscast to cater to that audience. Fox has grabbed a good-sized share of the relatively small cable news market that way, making lots of money in the process. Fox even draws some liberals on to appear on its shows at night, as the audience is large enough to be an attraction even if the reception is liable to be on the rude side. MSNBC at night has trouble finding someone to the right of John Dean.

It is funny, though, to hear reactions to Fox's approach. I've had conservatives say that they watch Fox because it's the only news source they trust. The liberal viewpoint was well summarized by Glenn Locke, who said that if Fox can claim to be fair and balanced, he can claim to be tall and thin.

Which shows, I guess, that one man's bias is another man's truth.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Happy birthday

What sort of fan would I be if I didn't include this 60th birthday tribute to the Boss?

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Wicked Radio in Clarence

Did you know there was once a radio station in Clarence, New York?

Actually, you had to live on Wenner Road in the early 1970's to know about it. Let's go back 38 years or so ...

I moved to Clarence in 1970, and soon became friends with Jeff Hodge from down the street. Jeff was involved in amateur radio as a hobby and got me involved in listening to distant radio stations, which I've written about here in the past.

At some point, Jeff was showing me around his basement and he showed me the remains of a wood board about the size of a piece of looseleaf paper. It had some sort of transistor board on it, with a couple of input jacks. (Somewhere, Jeff is saying, "No, no, no, it wasn't like that at all.)

Jeff told me that the unit actually could be used for broadcasts on the FM band -- legally. The light bulb went on, and we decided to make it a joint project one summer.

This was a fine example of division of labor. Jeff was the chief engineer, so he put the transmitter together at his house. My bedroom was the broadcast studio, with the antenna wire coming in from my roof into a window. Since my house was had more records than his did, I won that argument and became programming director.

Jeff did his magic -- no wonder he went into engineering at Syracuse -- and got the transmitter working. I believe we exceeded the legal antenna length by a few dozen feet. Then again, it's not like we were in any danger of competing with anyone else's signal. We had a golf course to the north and an open field to the south, so reception was limited to a few houses to the east and west.

After considerable thought by 16-year-old's standards, we came up with WYQD. If you use your imagination, you can turn the call letters into Wicked, as in Wicked Radio. We even checked to make sure that no other station in the United States had used those call letters, as if that was necessary. Our frequency started at 92.1 or so, but -- since the frequency could be altered by a mere bump to a screw on the transmitter -- it changed relatively frequently.

I believe Jeff came up with the trademark of the station. We signed off each time with the song, "The Little Old Lady (from Pasadena)" by Jan and Dean. That sort of set a tone for the station. I can't say the music selection was exactly diverse.

Once we actually proved we could get on the air and clown around on the air a bit, the summer project ran out of steam. Its greatest use came when I'd plug in a record to the transmitter, put on a radio with headphones and mow the lawn with my favorite tunes playing in the background. Think of it as a much more complicated iPod, with far worse fidelity. And then supposedly (I have no memory of this, but someone else did), someone on the air said a nasty word, and the local version of the FCC (Jeff's father) came down and closed down the operation. One of our guest DJ's, no doubt.

One memory seemed to stick with people, though. At some point in the summer, I took over the role as marketing director of the station. That consisted of seeing an ad in some magazine that said, "Put your own message on a sweatshirt for only $7," or something like that. Opportunity clearly was knocking, even if I was the only one that thought sweatshirts were a great idea in July. I canvassed our audience, the other kids on the street, and took orders for sweatshirts and t-shirts. They all read "I listen to WYQD, Wicked Radio in Clarence, 92 on the dial."

No, I don't have the shirt. I would guess that at that price it became unraveled in about an hour and a half. But the memory remains. When I got back in touch with a couple of members of the neighborhood gang through Facebook over the last few months, they both mentioned the station and the shirt right off.

WYQD lives!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Day in the life of a Bills' fan

I know how you feel, buddy.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


Indiana University has started a new site called the National Sports Journalism Center. You can read it by clicking here.

Anything that has a Dave Kindred column involved is off to a good start, and it's interesting that blogs are included. This may be worth a regular look in the near future to see its direction.

Two Guys

There was a reference on Mary Kunz Goldman's Facebook page the other day to the Two Guys store on Sheridan and Niagara Falls Blvd. in Amherst. I sprung to attention. That store was part of my youth ... twice. And it also connected to one of my favorite broadcasting stories. But we'll get to that in a moment.

Two Guys was one of the original discount stores. It was originally called Two Guys from Harrison (as in Harrison, New Jersey); you can read the whole story, which is sort of charming, by clicking here. When we lived in New Jersey when I was 5 to 10 years old, Two Guys was a regular stop on our shopping hit list.

In hindsight, it was a great store for an 8-year-old. It had all sorts of stuff, it was a little messy, and most of it was pretty cheap. Kind of looked like my room, with fewer baseball cards. I bought my first music 45 there, which was "Do You Want to Know a Secret?" by the Beatles. You'd think there would be a plaque on the site, at the intersection of Routes 46 and 23 in Northern New Jersey, marking the historical location. On the other hand, I think Interstate 80 was built right through the electronics section of the site of the store, so perhaps it's good no one bothered.

We moved to Elmira, where there was no Two Guys but an Elmira Discount -- complete with ads featuring a voiceover by "Danny Discount," the store's owner. My sister went to high school with his daughter; she was called, sure enough, "Holly Discount." But when we moved to Buffalo in 1970, there was Two Guys. It was still gloriously cluttered, and still the place to buy cheap record albums.

Two Guys had expanded to several states, but I would guess that the march of national stores such as Kmart and eventually Walmart doomed it. By 1981 or so, stores were closing ... including the one in Amherst. Which brings me to a story told to me by the late Bob Koop of Channel 4, which dates to that time.

Koop was doing a news broadcast one night, and the end of one segment featured a story on the death of actress Natalie Wood, I believe it was. There was a somber shot at the report's conclusion of flowers thrown on top of the ocean. When the story ended, Koop said nothing as the picture faded to black with the required amount of solemnity. The first commercial in the break was a loud one: "TWO GUYS SAYS GOODBYE FOREVER!!" Once Koop stopped laughing, he said to those on the set, "Doesn't anyone check the commercial log?"

Jacquie Walker of Ch. 4 says that story is still told around the newsroom with great relish.

Be notified of new posts via Twitter @WDX2BB.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

To a new season...

It's not well known that Marv Levy loves fight songs. One time, when the Bills faced a big game, he promised that he'd write one for the team if they won. Marv kept his part of the bargain. He then sang it on his show on the Empire Sports Network.

Here's an eight-second clip; there must be a longer one somewhere:

I went out to Colorado right after this and visited Glenn Locke. When the full clip was teased, I told him he had to watch ... but he showed limited interest. Then it came on.

Once Glenn stopped laughing, he said, "You didn't tell me this was the funniest moment in television history." We just have to find the long version for YouTube.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Another sellout crowd

The post from Heather on her blog, Top Shelf, jumped out at me. I tend to pay attention when someone talks about The Buffalo News sports department, and this phrase caught my eye: "I want Sully and Bucky [Jerry Sullivan and Bucky Gleason] to write whatever they want about the Sabres but I want them to stop dragging fans into it."

Now I'm not here to defend Jerry and Bucky, as they can do it themselves, but I am here to point out something that happening in Buffalo sports that is pretty close to unprecedented and has received little attention -- and it connects to what Heather is saying.

The relationship between Buffalo's teams and their fans have changed. It's now a case of "root, root, root for the home team; if they don't win it's the same." I'd argue that's a huge alteration in the dynamic.

Let's take a little history lesson here. For years and years, most of the other NFL teams sold their building out before the players reported to training camp. In a strictly economic sense, they had little incentive to win games. Any extra income from championships was offset by increased expenses in payroll.

One of the exceptions was right here, as the Bills played in a relatively small market in a huge stadium. When the Bills were awful, as they were in the late 1970's and mid-1980's, the fans disappeared by midseason. So there was a strong incentive to put together a good enough team that would generate enthusiasm and fill the empty seats. The team did that in the Super Bowl run.

The Sabres rode the initial enthusiasm of their entry in the NHL for about 12 years, when the sellouts came to an end. After that, the crowds were usually good, and a hint of success was enough to sell the building out regularly.

In both cases, you probably could split the crowds into two parts. The first was the base, composed of season-ticket holders and rabid fans (sometimes the same people). These are the people that show up week in and week out, buy the uniforms, put the flags on their cars, etc. No matter how the score comes out, these people find pro sports entertaining, and they aren't going to deny themselves the pleasure of going if on-field activities aren't particularly good. (These are the people who wouldn't let a strike/lockout interfere with the love of the game, for example.) You need that sort of support just to prevent the peaks and valleys that come with a team's ups and downs over the years.

Then there are the "bandwagon fans," who are much more likely to buy tickets when the team is doing well. In other words, they "vote with their wallets."

If I'm reading Heather correctly, she's saying that sometimes the columnists wonder why those on the bandwagon are still going for the ride, still supporting the teams despite a run of mediocrity in the last few years -- and she doesn't want to be lumped in with those fans. Can't blame her for that.

But here's the change -- the base for Sabres and Bills game is now practically a sellout. Buffalo sells out most football games -- the cold weather contests at the end of the season usually have empty seats if the games mean little -- and most hockey games -- a Tuesday night against the Islanders might have a few fewer fans, for example. In other words, winning is less important to many in the fanbase than the entertainment value they get from games.

I think there are two big reasons for that -- marketing and fear of departure.

The Bills and Sabres were a bit late in coming to the marketing party, but they have learned that opening the doors just isn't enough any more. The Bills have tried to sell tickets more regionally, and they have reduced their season-ticket price by pushing games to Toronto. The team also has learned to work with the corporate community in a variety of ways. The Sabres have done things like variable pricing and a variety of community projects to reach out to the fans.

The fear of departure is the more interesting situation, though. Bills' fans know the team's lease is coming due in a few years, and that a team owner could earn at least a potential $250 million by moving the franchise to Los Angeles. And that doesn't include the current dance with Toronto interests. The NFL certainly is the biggest sports spectacle in the country, and Western New Yorkers want to do their part that it stays here. Sabres' fans were reminded just how fragile the team-fan relationship is when the team drew fewer than 10,000 per game at times during the whole Rigas bankruptcy scare of some years back. As the good folks in Phoenix will tell you, a team can try to depart for other pastures without a great deal of notice.

I'm not saying that there aren't limits to a fan's patience when it comes to winning, because there are. Put a team like the Detroit Lions of 2008 (0-16) in The Ralph, and you'd have empty seats bloom like flowers in the spring. But pretty clearly, the fan base has grown, and that has to be recognized.