Monday, March 30, 2009

Ax the coach

The noise has been getting louder among Western New York hockey fans lately. The Sabres are edging closer to the exit door of the playoff race, and people are anxious to find a scapegoat or two.

But who?

More to the point, why?

There's always a rush to start throwing people, particular management, under the bus in professional sports when a team fails to meet a goal. In the Sabres' case, they probably aren't going to participate in the playoffs once again, so there's talk along those lines. I'm not sure that's particularly fair.

The Sabres really couldn't be expected to do much more this season than sneak into the playoffs. They had some young talent that needed time to develop. If you had told me in October that Ryan Miller and Thomas Vanek would miss significant playing time to injury in the second half of the season, when the Sabres didn't have a postseason spot wrapped up, I would have guessed that they would have fallen short of the playoffs.

It's easy to blame the so-called talk-radio mentality for this sort of mindset. The team doesn't win a championship, the thinking goes, and someone is responsible. So let's start over. No doubt there's a little of that going on here. But one team out of 30 wins in the NHL; the ratios are similar in other sports. That means everyone but one city is disappointed at season's end.

It would be nice to be the Detroit Red Wings and have a chance at that championship year after year, but not too many teams have that sort of luxury. The Sabres probably don't have the resources to do that, as judged by some of their moves in the scouting department (in other words, scouts do have plenty of value). The Sabres have to be content with judging talent wisely and hoping that a group grows together to become title contenders every so often.

General manager Darcy Regier and coach Lindy Ruff have done that. They reached the finals in their second year together, coming within a Brett Hull "goal" of playing a Game Seven for the championship with the world's best goalie on their side. In 2006, the Sabres were a period away from beating Carolina in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference finals and a date with a weak Edmonton team in the Cup finals. If they had one more healthy defenseman, they might have won the Cup right there. A year later, the team won the Presidents Trophy and certainly could have been a champion until Ottawa got in the way in the playoffs. As general managers have said forever, you don't get that many kicks at the can.

That's a pretty good record. Think the Bills would like it?

Sure, Regier and Ruff have made mistakes on personnel. Max Afinogenov's talent level is seductive, but he's never done enough with it on a consistent level. Ruff has never seem to grasp the concept of having a backup goaltender who is ready to contribute when needed. And so on.

Sometimes professional sports teams fall apart for a variety of reasons, look more or less dead in competition, and the fans vote for change with their wallets by staying home. See the Syracuse football program for reference. Sometimes the coach and general manager don't get along.

That's all not happening here. The best move often is doing nothing at all, and letting those with a good track record continue to do their jobs. Sounds like it fits a description of the Sabres to me.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Trader Lou

Here are my two favorite Lou Saban stories, whom we honor today in his passing. Both are told better by others.

* Saban had the only NFL coach's television show that was actually worth watching in the 1970's -- maybe ever. He was so outspoken that you never knew what was coming out of his mouth. In 1972, when the Bills were struggling, he basically came on the air after another loss and said, "Well, if these guys don't want to play football, we're going to have to find some people who do."

A year later, the Bills had turned things around ... except for a 7-0 loss in New Orleans. A key play came on a fourth-and-goal, when an O.J. Simpson run was stopped. Saban diagrammed the play on the chalkboard, and then a clip of it was shown. When the clip ended, the camera went back on Saban. He fired the chalk at the blackboard and said, "Damn it, it should have worked. We'll be back in a moment."

* In 1976, Newsradio 970 was in the process of gearing up. They had started hiring people, but there was no newscast yet. So the new employees played music and went out into the community, "developing sources."

Sam Anson and Pete Weber went to Rich Stadium to meet Saban, who was a big fan of the music of your life station. (In other words, zzzzzzz.) Anson and Weber said hello and explained what they were doing. Saban replied by saying, "You're not going to change the bleeping format, are you?"

The ever-quick Weber said, "No, Lou. We're just going to take away all the music."

Read Mark Gaughan's story on Saban here.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Reports of his death...

Here's the way journalism works these days:

On Friday night, I was working in the newsroom when we got two separate calls from employees saying that they had heard Ralph Wilson had died. Now, it was about 10:30 p.m., and our first deadline of the night was at 11:15. We all sort of looked around at each other, knowing that we'd have a busy couple of hours if the story was true.

So, we called the sports editor and our Bills' reporters, and had them try to see what was going on. We also gave the news department a heads-up, since such news would deserve front page coverage. While we were waiting for callbacks, the sports department received calls from CNN, ESPN and the NFL Network asking about it.

Finally, we got a hold of a Bills' executive, who called the Bills' owner's home personally. Ralph's wife Mary answered the phone, and said Ralph was just fine. In fact, the executive could hear Ralph say in the background, "Why are we getting all these calls this late at night?"

There's no clue where the rumor started. Mark Gaughan wrote a note on the News' Billboard blog about it. Meanwhile, we went back to worrying about the NCAA basketball tournament. Well, some of us have stopped worrying now that Syracuse is done, but that's another blog.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Rooting interest

Golfsmith has come up with an interesting gimmick for this year's Masters.

If Sergio Garcia wins the tournament, it will give everyone in America a free Taylor made driver.

No, really. It is willing to do that. There's one serious catch, though. Buyers have to plunk down their money before the tournament. Then, if Garcia comes through, it will refund the purchase price.

Garcia has never won a major, and he's never done particularly well at Augusta, but you have to like the marketing concept.

Just think of the possibilities, though, if Garcia is in contention on the final day. Will Golfsmith assign people on the back nine to cough during Garcia's backswing? Will he be tackled on the 18th green if he has a tournament-winning putt? The possibilities for great drama will be ever-present, as long as that Tiger fellow doesn't mess it up.

You can read about the idea here.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Drinking the Kool-Aid

A friend of mine recently announced that he had joined Facebook. He didn't put it that way, though. He said he was drinking the Kool-Aid.

If it's good enough for my close friend and famous author Tim Wendel, it's good enough for me. So I reactivated my membership.

I haven't had the chance to explore the whole site yet, and I'm far from an expert on what links do what. In other words, I have no idea what a PicDoodle is. But I'll learn.

What has surprised me, though, is how wrong I was about who belongs. I thought it was something for the "kids," not old fogeys (fogies?) like myself. But there are plenty of aging baby boomers like myself on there.

It's pretty amazing how the webs of friendship expand in an almost viral nature. I've looked at some people's list of friends, and said, "I know him. I know her." And so on. One person leads to another, to another. I should reach Kevin Bacon any day now. I have gotten in touch with some old friends who had fallen off the radar screen. Considering how many people are on my e-mail list, this is equal parts surprising and impressive.

My first decision was what photograph to use for an introduction. Almost 20 years ago, I took a special tour of the White House with the Buffalo Sabres. I had someone take a picture of me in front of the podium in the press briefing room. It's pretty impressive, and my hair is still brown and not gray. It's just not particularly up-to-date.

But now things get tougher. While I've done most of the looking for people, a few have actually found me through the "mutual friends" feature. I've decided on a few rules for such tie-ins:

1. I'll accept any individual who wants to be a friend. Heck, they might get steered to this blog, or one of my other blogs. Maybe they'll demand more coverage of the Buffalo Bandits. And I can always use more friends.

2. I don't really want to hear from politicians, unless I know them as friends. (This restricts the list to about two people.) I have visions of getting daily updates on how they are saving America one piece of legislation at a time, which would be even worse than those boring constituent newsletters that are mailed out with alarming regularity. Besides, I'm not sure I want to be David Paterson's friend at the moment, although it sounds like he could use all he can get.

3. I'm not sure I want to be involved with any organizations quite yet, so I'm declining those invitations. I'm open to considering it down the road, but as for now I'll stick to people.

We'll have to see how much time I put into this. But as for now, please get me another glass for more Kool-Aid.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Farewell and thank you

My mother-in-law, Shirley Heublum, passed away this weekend at the age of 82. My wife and her sister wrote a tribute to her that was read at the service, and I'm putting it here. I thought you might like to learn a little bit about the life of this fine woman who meant so much to Jody and her family.

Our Mom … what do you say about a person that not only gave you life but also changed it in so many ways? Moms are supposed to teach their children what is right as well as wrong. Moms are supposed to love you unconditionally, whether you are beautiful or plain, intelligent or less-than-brilliant, fat or thin, athletic or clumsy. But most of all, Moms are supposed to be there when her kids are unsure about their next step. Our Mom gave us a good foundation to help us know which direction to take.

Mom wouldn’t have even used this word early in her life, and she probably never thought of herself this way, but in some respects she was a very liberated woman. With husband Gus often away because of his job with the railroad, someone had to run the household. That became Mom’s job, and she attacked it with organizational skills and good humor. She raised the kids, paid the bills, and planned activities, and did them without complaint. That couldn’t have been easy, particularly at a time without many role models, but she did have some help in the neighborhood. The people with big college degrees would today call it a “support system.” Mom would have called it “family.” Homestead Avenue was filled with relatives who were always around, and with friends who deserved to have a place on the family tree.

Mom was a very intelligent person who taught us to love learning and to be interested in the world. Mom always made sure we did our homework. We could do it at the kitchen table or at our desks, but we got it done. One time, Jody was moved into the advanced class in the fourth grade, and long division was a mystery to her. Mom sat with Jody during homework sessions and made sure she understood everything. She reminded Jody of her own quote, “I’d rather be the dumbest person in the smart class than the smartest person in the dumb class,” for inspiration. Later on, Mom took great pride in the fact that Jody went to college, and that Bonnie – a caregiver from Day One through today – went to nursing school and became a head nurse at Albany Medical Center.

But that makes Mom out to be much too serious, because she had a well-developed sense of fun. Somewhere along the way she picked up a love of sports, again surprising from someone of her sex and generation. Mom didn’t really play sports as an adult – Dad, a top golfer, was the athlete of the family – but she certainly enjoyed them. She looked forward to opening day at Saratoga Race Track every year. Later she’d sit with Bonnie, pizza at the ready, and watch Miami Dolphins’ games on television. Once she moved to Florida, Mom would always update us on how the teams down there were doing. Sometimes the reviews would be brief – “Your Mets beat my Marlins,” she’d say with some disgust to Jody – but she always paid attention and reveled in their occasional triumphs.

That love of competition came out in retirement in other ways. Mom’s calendar looked as if it were planned by Milton Bradley, as it was filled with maj jongg, pokeno, bingo, and canasta. She played those games for many years, and, no doubt, it helped her remain as sharp as the proverbial tack throughout her life.

As the years went by and we went our separate ways – Jody in Buffalo, Bonnie in Albany, and Mom and Dad in Florida – it would have been easy to grow apart. Mom wouldn’t let that happen. The telephone was her main tool to stay in touch. It wouldn’t have been a Sunday morning for Jody without an 11 a.m. phone call from Mom. One time, when 8 o’clock came and went and Mom hadn’t heard from sister Marilyn, she would say, “I wonder if she went out to dinner tonight.” Mom also stayed in touch in other ways. She never, and let’s emphasize never, forgot a birthday of a family member. Every child, grandchild, in-law, niece, nephew and other children received a card at the correct time. Later, we found out how she did it – at the beginning of each month, a card for each recipient was written, addressed and stamped for timely mailing. We all should be so organized, dependable and thoughtful.

Mom couldn’t have been prouder when Bonnie married Stuart and when Jody married Budd. When members of the family did all get together, Mom had a better time than anyone. Those gatherings didn’t happen often enough as life and distance got in the way. Stuart and Budd never have been able to live so-called “normal” lives, as heart attacks and hockey games kept them from observing banker’s hours. But Mom was always there with an understanding ear for her daughters; after all, she’d been there first.

And like any grandparent, Mom lit up when she was around her grandchildren. She watched Randy turn into a caring, loving individual over the years who always had time for her. Mom even checked herself out of the hospital to attend Randy’s high school graduation party, an event she had anticipated for years. She enjoyed watching Lindsey grow into a fine young woman, taking in her dance recitals and concerts along the way. Finally, Mom shared much with Marney, who enters her teen-age years now with that same sparkle in her eye and a heart bigger than she is. “Nanny,” as she was called, will always be part of their lives.

Her children and grandchildren were always happy to tell her about their latest exploits, knowing she’d listen with interest. Mom even sat through viewing endless pictures of family vacations without complaint; a lesser person would have called a taxi. After all, she was used to looking at photographs. Her house was practically a studio, filled with pictures of relatives close and distant.

The last few years were difficult for Mom, but you could write a book on how tough she was during all of it. She stayed independent for as long a period as possible. In Florida, when she couldn’t walk the 100 yards to the garbage bin, she’d just hop in the car and drive there. Later, when Jody was in Albany on a visit, Mom would have a list of tasks ready to go -- clothes moved, bills paid, plants watered. You disobeyed at your own risk.

Endings are always sad, and emphysema writes a particularly difficult conclusion to any tale, but the disease never had a more determined foe. She remained sharp until the end, surrounded by those she loved and who loved her in return. Rather than dwell on the finish, we’d prefer to celebrate the story in its entirety – the story of a full life well spent. We love you, Mom, we’ll miss you and think of you often, and we’ll rely on the foundation you provided for guidance for the rest of our lives.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Bye, bye...

For those of you who like your pro basketball mixed with song parodies...

Here's an effort you might enjoy.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A slow news day

At 6 o'clock on Tuesday, one of the local television stations (OK, it was WIVB) started its newscast off with a story about a Cheektowaga man who had applied for an enhanced driver's license. When the finished product arrived in the mail, it had someone else's picture on it.

Now having gone through this process a few weeks ago, I can understand how this happens. There is a lot of paperwork that has to be checked for the new license, and applications can easily get mixed up. In fact, I had a new picture taken for my enhanced license, and the new license came back with my old picture from 1987.

I'm sure the Cheektowaga man called the Department of Motor Vehicles, and it took a new picture and issued a new license (or will, in the near future).

Still, did someone really think this was the most important story of the day?

Monday, March 16, 2009

March Madness, Buffalo edition

I watched six NCAA basketball games in 2004 in HSBC Arena, and six more in 2007. You wait for the moment where a smaller school has a chance to knock off one of the big ones if you see games in the first two rounds. This clip, from 2007, had the best finish of the games I saw:



The action starts Thursday, and it returns to Buffalo next year.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Cramer vs. Stewart

The entry by Glenn Locke prompted me to watch Jon Stewart's interview with Jim Cramer on "The Daily Show" the other day. It was rather fascinating television; who knew that Cramer could actually be a little humble?

There's a quick point that came up in the discussion, though, that bears a little explanation. At one point, Cramer talked about how several CEO's had come on CNBC over the past several months (mostly pre-crash, I believe) and, essentially, lied about their company and the economic climate. Stewart went after Cramer and CNBC for not doing a better job of following up those bad statements and exposing them, and Cramer agreed that such a move would have been good and proper.

And now the catch, and it comes in the form of a story Jim Kelley used to tell when he wrote for The Buffalo News. Someone asked him about whether someone was telling the truth. His reply was, "We don't necessarily print the truth. We print what people say."

Think about that in regard to the news business, and Kelley is often right on target. Reporters have to develop a level of trust in what their interview subjects have to say, especially when those subjects have access to much more information than the reporter. Yes, the B.S. detector sometimes goes off in an interview, and in such cases quotes are often omitted or at least challenged directly at the time of the interview. But sometimes there isn't time for checking, and the deadline looms, so the quote goes in fully attributed.

As deadline time shrinks, the chance to check out those facts and put those matters in some perspective tends to shrink too. And that's bad.

The newspaper business is coping with this issue on a growing basis lately because of on-line production. The morning paper used to be the one source of information, but now reporters are "publishing" all day long, sometimes with blogs (which blurs the line between reporting and analysis, but that's a different subject).

But that's nothing compared to an operation like CNBC. They have a monster to feed, five days a week from something like 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. You can only repeat what the Dow Jones Industrial Average is doing so often. So, the anchors interview everyone connected with the business world. In that situation, there's absolutely no time for reporting perspective, since the quotes are going straight from the CEO to the viewer with no filter in-between. If the CEO of CitiBank of Bear Stearns is telling everyone last September that the investing business couldn't be better, well, we've got problems. The staff might call him on such a statement at some point, but I'll bet those workers may be more interested in feeding the beast at times.

CNBC does a lot of good work in its broadcasting, although I have trouble watching people like Cramer who give opinions about stocks. I'd rank the information about as highly as the football picks that show up on NFL Sundays in the newspapers and on television -- as worthwhile as a coin flip. As William Goldman once said about Hollywood, nobody knows anything. It was nice to see Cramer knocked down a notch, at least for a moment.

Friday, March 13, 2009

WEBR Newsradio 970


All-news radio in Buffalo was a noble experiment that lasted about 16 years. It was the format on WEBR, 970 on your AM dial, and it did some good work. Our softball team wasn't bad either in some years. The picture shows - Top Row: Rob Schaefer, Leon Lewek, Sally Lewek, Bruce Dixon, Dennis Keefe, and Sam Anson; Bottom row: Maureen Rasp, Budd Bailey, Brad Krohn, Scott Brown, Greg Mott and Lauren Migliore. Paul Hamilton is relaxing across the front.

Here's a list of the alumni and what they are doing now - at least at last report. Feel free to send along an e-mail or post a comment if you'd like to update the list:

Jonathan Aiken - Actuality Media, Washington, D.C.
Sam Anson - Retired, South Carolina
Budd Bailey - Buffalo News, Buffalo, NY
Teresa Beaton-Corrigan - Teacher, Buffalo, NY
Pam Benson - Media and communications consultant, Washington, D.C.
Kent Benziger - Attorney, Newburgh, NY.
Jim Berryman - WNED-FM, Buffalo, NY
Jacqueline Boulden - Boulden Multimedia, Philadelphia, PA
Steve Boyd - Steve Boyd Attorneys, Buffalo, NY
Scott Brown - WGRZ-TV, Buffalo, NY
Eileen Buckley - WBFO Radio, Buffalo, NY
Barbara Burns - U.S. Attorney William Hochul, Buffalo, NY
Ann (Reynolds) Carden - SUNY-Fredonia, Fredonia, NY
Rev. Mark Charlton - San Francisco, Calif., area
Marc Chodorow - Chodorow Associates, Los Angeles, CA
Sarah (Britton) Cote - Williston, VT
Dave Debo - WBEN Radio, Buffalo, NY
Mike Desmond - WBFO-FM, Buffalo, NY
Kristen (Greisman) Etu - Public Relations, Canisius College, Buffalo, NY
Toby Gold - Compassion, Rochester, NY
Kevin Gordon - American Public Media, South Florida
Cheryl (Doherty) Hagen - WBFO Radio, Buffalo, NY
Audrey Hall - WICN-FM, Worcester, Mass.
Paul Hamilton - WGR Radio, Buffalo, NY
Mark Hamrick - Bankrate, Washington, D.C.
Celeste Harwell - Real Estate, Bellmarc, New York, NY
Lauri Githens Hatch - Rochester, NY
Marian Hetherly - Metro Insight, Buffalo, NY
Allyssa (Mark) Hillger - Nurse, Columbus, Ohio
Annette (Soos) Hodgens - Falk College, Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY.
Paul Hollie - Safeco, Seattle, WA
Anne Hornickel - Office of Equity and Diversity, University of Minnesota
Father Bob Kantor - St. Agnes Parish, Naples, Florida.
Dennis Keefe - GEICO; Voiceover Artist, Western New York
Karen Keefe - retired, living in Western New York
Dave Kerner - WBBM Radio, Chicago, IL
Jack Kinnicutt -- FixMyMacJack, Green Valley, Arizona
Rich Komonchak - Standard Radio News, Washington, D.C.
Jack Krieger - Attorney, Port St. Lucie, FL
Dan Lenard - Voice actor, East Amherst, NY
Leon Thomas Lewek - Lancaster, NY
Sharon Linstedt - Buffalo, NY
Greg Lucas - Houston, TX
Suzanne Lysak -- Syracuse University, Syracuse NY
John Martin - Associate State Director, AARP-RI, Providence RI
Harold McNeil - Buffalo News, Buffalo, NY
Mary Jo Melone - Freelance writer and editor, St. Petersburg/Tampa, FL
Lauren Migliore -- Amherst, NY
Jim Militello - Associated Press Radio, Washington, D.C.
Greg Mott - Bloomberg News, Washington, DC
Mary Travers Murphy - Executive Director, Family Justice Center, Erie County, NY
Sharon (Friedlander) Newman - Al Jazerra America, New York, NY
Lou Paonessa -- Community Relations, New York Power Authority, Niagara Falls, NY
Dave Prohaska - Executive Producer, WPVI-TV, Philadelphia, PA
Jeanne Ptak - Lawyer, Buffalo, NY
Cheryl (Hartl) Ranney - Nardin Academy, Buffalo, NY
Michelle Layer Rahal -- Education Producer, Windwalker, McLean, VA
Jim Ranney - Assistant to State Senator Patrick Gallivan, Buffalo, NY
Maureen Rasp-Glose - Verizon, Buffalo, NY
John Reiss - MSNBC, New York, NY
George Richert - WIVB-TV, Buffalo, NY
Randy Rosen - Rosen Management Services, Chicago, Ill. (?)
Bill Rosinski - Broadcasting for ESPN Radio and PGA Tour Radio
Scott Sackett - Toward Castle Films, Lockport, NY
Karen Sacks - Housewife/music teacher, New Jersey
Eric Scott - Townsquare Media New Jersey
David Seals - News Director, WHAS, Louisville, Kentucky
Jack Sheehan - Starkey Hearing Technologies, Minneapolis, Minn
Debbie Silverman - Buffalo State College, Buffalo, NY
Jola Simon - Imagination Unlimited International, Buffalo, NY
Phil Smith - Under Secretary, Office of Policy and Management, State of Connecticut.
Brad Steiger - Retired, Tonawanda, NY
John Stempin - National Public Radio, Washington, D.C.
Shay Stevens - National Public Radio, Washington, D.C.
Mike St. Peter - News Director, NECN, Boston, Mass.
Kate (Prohaska) Sullivan - Dansville, NY
Steve Tawa - KYW Radio, Philadelphia, PA
George Tekmitchov - Easton Archery
Laura (Glass) Thomas - Laura Glass Art Quilts, Tonawanda, NY
Andy Thomas - Andy Thomas Productions, Charleston, SC
Scott Thomas - Business First, Buffalo, NY
Maria Todd - Houston, Texas
Cynthia Wallace - Phnom Penn, Cambodia
David Waples - Corporate Communications Manager, National Fuel Gas, Fairview, Pa.
Diane Ward - New York State Justice Center, Albany, NY
Pete Weber - Nashville Predators, Nashville, TN
Mark Webster - markwebstermedia.com, Buffalo, NY
Doug Whiteman - Bankrate.com, Jupiter, Florida
Bill Wyatt - Senior editor, Voice of America, Washington, D.C.

Who are we looking for? Mike Allen, Ricky Banks, Bruce Dixon, Denise Jackson, Jim Lane, Dan Lynch, Cynthia McKoy, Jeff Morrison, Ken Stepian, Carla Taylor, Monica Wilson, Judy Wichrowski, Tom Wright.

And we miss: Steve Coryell, Jerry Fedell, John Gill, Marty Gleason, Dawn Hamilton, Larry Hatzi, Bruce Allen Kolesnick, Brad Krohn, Jack Mahl, Kim Morey, Dave Prescott, Jim Pyrce, Bill Raffel, Phil Soisson, Bob Wells. It's a little tough to look at that list, isn't it?

Several graduates of WEBR Newsradio 970 met in Buffalo for a gala reunion. How many can you identify? Well, in no particular order, there's Dave Kerner, Sarah Britton Cote, Ann Reynolds Carden, Mike St. Peter, Teresa Beaton-Corrigan, Peter Corrigan (married into the group), Sam Anson, Cheryl Hartl, Gerry Glose (married into the group), Maureen Rasp-Glose, Jonathan Aiken, Pam Benson, Jola Simon, Greg Mott, Leon Thomas Lewek, congenial organizer Mark Hamrick. And maybe I missed some people that were hidden. (Photo by Pam Benson)

A touch of madness

Sports offer plenty of ways to stage thrilling conclusions to events; that's a big part of the charm.

But what's better than a basketball game when the ball goes up on the air while the horn sounds, with the fate of both teams hanging in the balance?

Very little. Unless it was Thursday night/Friday morning's game between Syracuse and Connecticut. That's because the ball was up in the air six different times in such a circumstance, and still nothing was decided. (As I've always said, you give Jim Boeheim seven chances at winning a game, and he'll think of something by then.)

Luckily I could see the game at work, as the contest sailed through deadline after deadline until after 1 a.m. Luckily, it ended shortly before the final edition so a few of our readers could see the story of the game Friday morning.

(And that's better than what happened to the Chicago Tribune. It reported a 97-95 UConn win in triple overtime. Ouch.)

Plenty of words have been written about the game, which surely ranks with the classics of the sport's history. I'll merely add that it almost seems unfair that UConn gets to go home and rest up for the NCAA tournament under these circumstances, while Syracuse must play again 20 hours later.

But that's basketball, and that's March Madness.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Tom Longboat


Sometimes bright ideas don't work out. I wrote a freelance story a couple of years ago on Tom Longboat, the 1907 winner of the Boston Marathon -- you can see the trophy here. I couldn't sell the story anywhere for the 2007 race, but thought it was an interesting enough tale to pass along. I had been storing it on my Homestead web site, but since that one will die soon it can find a good home here. Hope you like it.

SIX NATIONS RESERVE, ONT. -- It's the first morning of summer here on the Six Nations Reserve in southern Ontario -- a holiday known as Aboriginal Solidarity Day. The schools and some businesses have closed, and about 150 people of all ages have gathered on a perfect day outside the I.L. Thomas School.

They are here to honor Tom Longboat, the most famous person to ever come from this area. Longboat rose out of complete obscurity in less than a year to win the Boston Marathon on April 20, 1907, and went on to hold the unofficial title of the world's greatest distance runner.

While the event on the Reserve is called “The Tom Longboat Run," it actually includes walkers and bicycle riders as well. There's no competition; it's simply a matter of promoting fitness and a healthy lifestyle. After a half-hour ceremony that includes a speech about Longboat's life and a display of his four trophies that have survived through a century, the group heads out for a jaunt around the block ... a block that is a little more than six miles around.

As participants travel around the rolling course, they see undeveloped lands that look the same as they did when Longboat was running on these very streets as a boy. At the second of four intersections, the athletes change direction at Tom Longboat Corners. If they need inspiration at about 4 1/2 miles, they can see the site of the Longboat family's log cabin, which was only recently demolished. The course also is said to pass the location of Longboat's grave, which by Native tradition is rarely visited.

One of the runners this day is Ellie Joseph, who teaches physical education at Six Nations Reserve and lives there. Joseph had missed qualifying for the 2006 Boston Marathon by only a minute and 42 seconds, but rebounded a year later at age 52 in a May marathon outside of Toronto to qualify. Her time was 4 hours, 2 minutes and 25 seconds, beating the standard by 2:35. She'll be racing in the centennial of Longboat's record run in the 2007 edition of Boston's fabled race on Monday.

“Any runner from here has read about Tom. He's the epitome of goal-setting. To a runner, it doesn't get any better than that," Joseph said that summer day between accepting congratulations on her Boston qualification from other Longboat participants. “I did myself a favor by qualifying [for Boston] this year, because last year would have meant I'd run in Boston the year before [the centennial]. This happened for a reason."

Perhaps the roads of the reserve still hold a little running magic. They did for Longboat, whose story certainly ranks as one of the most remarkable of all the Boston winners.

“Longboat was one of Canada's best marathon runners, if judged against his peers on athletic terms alone. But he has a stature that reaches beyond the world of running," said David Blaikie, author of a book on Canadian runners, “Boston: The Canadian Story," that included a chapter on Longboat.

Born in 1887 with the Indian name of Cogwagee, the member of the Onondaga Tribe had almost every imaginable obstacle thrown at him. Longboat's father died when Tom was five, turning the family's economic situation from bad to worse. When Tom was 12, he decided he had had enough of a government plan that forced him and other Native children into church-run boarding schools. He ran away from school once, was caught at home, and ran away again. Authorities the second time didn't look for him at his uncle's house, and young Tom was forgotten about. His formal education was over.

As a teen, Longboat worked on area farms to earn a few dollars for his family, and he liked to run when he had some leisure time.

"There's a story about him,” Joseph said. “He was going down toward Caledonia [a nearby town], and somebody in a horse-and-buggy offered him a ride. He said, "No, I'm in a hurry,' and he ran off and he beat them.”

Longboat entered the Around the Bay race in Hamilton, Ontario, in Oct. 1906. To everyone’s surprise, he won the 30-kilometer race. Longboat then set his sights on Boston in the spring of 1907.

That year's race was 25 miles, and Longboat was considered the favorite despite his lack of experience. On a day that featured rain and a little sleet, he was in the lead 10-man pack in Framingham when a freight train crossed the route just after the leaders had gone past the tracks. The other 100 or so runners (accounts differ on the exact number) had to wait for almost a minute until the gates went up again and they could proceed.

Longboat slowly wore down the rest of the field. By the time he reached the hills of Newton, his only company was Charles Petch of Toronto. Longboat's burst at that point finished Petch in terms of winning, and Longboat had no more challenges in the last eight miles.

The next day's Boston Globe described the finish this way: “Amid the wildest din heard in years, Longboat shot across the line, breaking the tape as the timers stopped their watches, simultaneously with the clicking of a dozen cameras, winner of the greatest of all modern Marathon runs. Arms were stretched out to grasp the winner, but he needed no assistance."

The new champion finished in 2:24:24. Not only did Longboat win the race by 3:30 over Robert Fowler of Massachusetts, but he broke the course record by 4:59 … meaning he would have beaten the previous record-holder by nearly a mile. Johnny Hayes of New York, a future Olympic marathon champion, finished third, while Petch was sixth.

The din didn't stop after the race, either. Longboat went back to Toronto, his residence at the time, and was greeted with a parade upon arriving at the train station.

Blaikie wrote in his book: “A sea of celebrating humanity engulfed Longboat as he stepped from the train. The champion was placed in an open car, a Union Jack about his shoulders, and taken to City Hall in a torch light parade. Young women gazed at Longboat in rapture as bands played and fireworks exploded around him. A gold medal was pinned to his chest and the mayor read a congratulatory address, highlighted by an announcement of a $500 gift from the city for his education."

By the way, Longboat never saw that money. In fact, it took until 1980 for the cash --with $9,500 interest -- to be given to Longboat's children.

After Boston, he ran in the Olympics in 1908 and then turned professional, beating the world’s best on a regular basis. After serving in World War I, Longboat had a variety of jobs including work on farms in Western Canada. He was a postal worker and steel worker in Buffalo in the 1920's, and went to a job as Toronto's most famous garbage man from 1927 to 1944.

“Maybe all I'm good for now is sweeping leaves, but if I can help the kids and show them how to be good runners and how to live a clean life, I'm satisfied,” Longboat once told the Globe & Mail.

After World War II, Longboat battled diabetes and contracted pneumonia. He left Toronto and returned to Six Nations Reserve, where he died in 1949 at 61.

Since that time, Longboat's list of honors has grown. He was placed on a Canadian postage stamp in 2000. He's been inducted into the Canadian Indian and Canadian Sports Halls of Fame. The Tom Longboat Awards are annually presented to the best Native Canadian athletes of the year. Maclean's magazine in 1999 named him the most important Canadian athlete of the 20th century, putting him above hockey player Wayne Gretzky (who grew up in Brantford, Ont., less than 20 miles from Six Nations Reserve).

His saga remains most important, though, to the people of Six Nations.

“I always tell my kids about Tom,” Joseph said. “The girl that has the cups [from Longboat's career] brings them to my school each year. I guess it's because I run. There were a couple of little guys out there [for the Longboat run] who are in Grade Four. They know about Tom. It's just a nice memory.”

Joseph has tuned up for the Boston Marathon by running in the New York City and Honolulu races. She says she'll be buying plenty of memorabilia in Boston to commemorate the race.

"It [Boston] is the icing on the cake," she said. ‘Trying to qualify was the tough part. This will be a celebration."

Joseph will have plenty of support when she toes the starting line in Hopkinton on Monday. The Longboat Road Runners, one of Toronto's biggest running clubs, will have more than 25 runners at the race to help commemorate the 100th anniversary of Longboat's win. Member Tony Fletcher said, “We're proud & honored to be in Boston celebrating the achievements of one of North America's great past running heroes." A group from Saskatchewan will be in attendance. And Joseph says she'll be thinking of Longboat when she gets ready to start.

As Blaikie puts it, “A century after he sprang to fame, his story still resonates and his name still inspires."

Monday, March 09, 2009

Another precinct is heard from

You are going to see this at a few places, so you might as well see it here too.



Thanks to Lisa August for the tip.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Split personality

The problem is that there are two Terrell Owenses.

The Good T.O. was the guy who had a rough childhood. He was, believe it or not, once too shy to come out of the house to play with the other children. He didn't know who his father was, as his mother had lied about his identity. It turned out dad lived right across the street. Owens overcame poverty and worked hard to become a world-class athlete.

After arriving in the NFL, Owens has put up numbers that may get him in the Hall of Fame some day. His work ethic is such that he's considered a good influence on his teammates in that department. The man came back to play a Super Bowl essentially on one leg, and was a standout.

The Bad T.O. has been a problem child wherever he's gone. You've heard of the concept of the Wide Receiver as Diva? Owens practically invented the concept. If every play featured a pass to Owens, he'd probably complain that he wasn't allowed to throw an option pass once in a while. Owens has feuded in public with every single starting quarterback he's had.

And, he's now 35. He has been one of the league leaders in dropped passes over the past few years. Owens will get $6.5 million in 2009, and may have trouble earning it. And his public image of crying out for attention goes against the values of many football fans. (I particularly liked The Buffalo News blogger who ripped the team for signing "a social path.")

Here's the catch, pardon the pun: You can't sign only one Terrell Owens. You get them both. The reaction to the Bills' signing of Owens has been split almost exactly down those lines. Some think he'll make the team much better, some think he'll start it on the path of self-destruction sooner rather than later.

To me, the signing wasn't a bad gamble, although it would be interesting to know if the Bills were bidding against themselves for Owens' services. It's only for a year, so the exit strategy is obvious if things go wrong.

And if Edwards gets off to a shaky start, well, maybe Brett Favre is warming up in the bullpen.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

So what happens?

About that last blog I wrote two days ago:

Check out entry number three.

Honest, I had no idea Terrell Owens would fly into Buffalo Saturday morning, and then agree to a deal by 6 o'clock that night.

We're going to have to buy a calliope here in Western New York. Because the circus is coming to town.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Take Five

1. I took a drive to Clarence Center today to take a distant look at Long St. The three access streets to the area have "Road Closed" signs on them. I parked on the east side of Goodrich on High Street and walked to Ma Chase's house. Ma wasn't home, but from a block away I could see some utility crews working on poles by the crash site. It's an odd feeling even being that close. Ma Chase was right when she said the street would never be the same.

2. Someone is going to have to explain why the Sabres will spend $9 million over two years on Tim Connolly, who has shown some skill but an inability to stay in the lineup over the last three years. You'd think some incentives would be important in a contract with someone of that medical status.

But it is funny how teams do seem to fall for certain players. I think of the Red Sox throwing a pile of money and a four-year deal at shortstop Julio Lugo in Dec. 2006, when no one else appeared to be very interested in him. Now, two years later, Lugo is fighting off Jed Lowrie for the starting job after Lugo missed the second half of last season with an injury.

3. Wouldn't it be nice if the Bills talked to a free agent that you've heard of once in a while?

P.S. This is not a plea to fly Terrell Owens into town.

4. I went to the Buffalo Home Show last night, a first for me (free tickets). There are two floors full of people who want to sell you stuff, which makes it kind of funny that they charge people $10 to get in.

I did feel sorry for one group of exhibitors, though. Mixed in with the hot tubs and the televisions and the curtains and the swimming pools and cabinets were ... guys selling financial advice. They looked lonely. I believe that in the past eight months, putting money into a mattress is about 50 percent ahead of the the Dow Jones Industrials.

5. Gotta laugh at the various Republican political figures who are afraid to offend Rush Limbaugh's constituency and are thus apologizing for any possible remark that might offend the voice behind the curtain. The problem, of course, is that following Limbaugh's line of reasoning (which only begins with wanting Obama, and thus the nation, to fail) sends the GOP directly to a land of irrelevance.

Come to think of it, this is playing right into the Democrats' hands as they try to capitalize on a possible political realignment in this country. As you can see here.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Moving Day

Ever move?

Do you know that feeling of satisfaction that comes when you make that final trip up the stairs with a box of stuff? The joy, and that's not too strong a word, when you can exhale because everything is just so?

I guess it's like that with Web sites too.

I've had a book review site at homestead.com for a few years. I like to read books and write reviews -- I'm as surprised as the next person about what I write on a particular day when a review is done -- but there are other elements as well. First, I'm on some lists from publishers for review copies, and reading for free is always good. Second, I've got a connection to amazon.com, so that if anyone goes through the site and actually buys books, I get a commission. Third, thanks to the placement of Google ads, I get fees for clicks.

Homestead.com now charges $100 a year for personal Web sites, which allows the user to have as many Web sites as he or she would like. I put a few other Web sites up in an attempt to get more ad hits -- the history of the Buffalo Braves, pictures of places I've been on road trips, reunion sites, etc. I was getting a great many hits on the road trips site, and then Google decided for some reason not to list my pictures in their image listings. The number of hits per day dropped drastically, and so did the income.

So ... it was clearly time to move to blogspot.com, where this blog is located. It is free. I had started a Hockey Abstract site on blogspot, and that worked out well. The Buffalo Braves site was an easy one to move, as that only took a day. Check it out here.

Meanwhile, for the last several days I've been cutting and pasting the sports-related contents of the book review site and moving it to its new location. I even added photos of the covers of all the books, which brightens the presentation greatly. Meanwhile, I've moved the reviews of non-sports books to epinions.com; that site pays money directly for reviews based on the number of readers.

I'm not sure if I'll be moving the WEBR, Daily Orange and Road Trips! sites or if I'll just let them die. But I am looking forward to saving $100 per year. There's a recession on, you know.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Strange emotions

I saw this bit of video on Sports by Brooks. Sledge hockey is played by those who have lost the use of their legs. The video is from a game between the American and Canadian teams, as the U.S. crashed into Canada's goalie in the final moments of a 2-1 loss. Anyone who has seen the documentary "Murderball" knows about the competitiveness of these athletes and how tempers can spill over. Still, this clip might make you think about such issues of the role of fighting in hockey:



Me, I've always found the fighters to be more interesting than the fighting, and I wonder how fighting seems to disappear when the games get important. But I have had players -- people I respect -- tell me about the important of fighting as a safety valve.

Fighting is certainly part of the hockey culture, as this video shows. It's tough to know if that will ever change.