Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Cheap plugs

My college friend, Kathye Fetsko Petrie, probably likes books more than anyone I've ever met. Now she's written an essay about that love affair called, "Still Life With Books."

You can find it here.

She writes about how books take the stress right out of her. No doubt, she was thinking about reading "Rayzor's Edge" at the time.

Meanwhile, if you want someone to read to you before bedtime, I can help. Check out a video version of my story on the top Western New York sports stories of the year. I did the voiceover, reading my own story, and the photography department did a great job of supplying the pictures.

Check it out when you need some sleep sometime soon.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

From Christmas past

I'm not sure I remember all the excellent Christmas gifts over the years I received over the years. Some are pictured in my copy of the home movies we took back then, which shows -- in classic home movie form -- going from showing off our presents in December to jumping into the lake for swimming in June.

I believe I received practically every football game ever made during the 1960's, including one that wasn't such a hit with me: Electric Football.

For those who don't remember electric football, two players would like up little toy players on the metal gridiron. Then a switch would be thrown and the field would start vibrating. If things worked well, a ball carrier would go forward, the blockers would bounce into defenders, and the runner would go for a few yards before getting touched by a defender to end the play.

The problem is that it never worked that well. The players would go in no particular direction, leaving a less-than-exciting game.

I had played the game at others' houses as a child, so when one showed up under the tree one year, I believe I said in my 11-year-old voice, "Oh, I don't like this game, you can't control what happens." I believe I got a good-sized lecture about being outspoken and less than gracious.

I thought of all this when reading Bill Plaschke's column in the Los Angeles Times that ran on Christmas Day. Boy, he's good.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Who's next?

Mention Dick Jauron's name around Buffalo Bills' fans these days, and the reaction generally is less than polite. He seems to be the designated fall guy for the current season, one which lifted everyone's hopes in September and October, only to see those hopes crash in November and December.

The debate centers around Jauron should be back next season. Firing the coach is always a popular move when things don't go perfectly, and Jauron hasn't had a perfect year. My guess is if the Bills did indeed give him a contract extension earlier this season, it's difficult to believe they would bite the bullet on that and get rid of him. Owner Ralph Wilson has never paid top dollar for coaches in the past, with the probable exception of Chuck Knox, so it's unlikely he's going to pay more than a million dollars a year for Jauron not to coach and twice that for someone like Bill Cowher to coach.

A couple of points have been raised about Jauron's coaching style in my circle of friends. I'm buying one of them, but not the other. Let me start by being disagreeable.

There's a line of thought that says that Jauron doesn't show enough passion in his job, that football players need to be fully motivated by the coach with a liberal amount of screaming. Baloney. There are all kinds of way to win as a professional sports coach. Vince Lombardi was known to yell. Bill Belichick is prepared. Bill Walsh was cerebral. Bum Phillips was relaxed -- once stopping practice so everyone could come over and meet Willie Nelson. I will say that players sometimes tune out coaches after a while, and a different approach sometimes get their attention back. (For some reason this seems particularly true in hockey, and I have no idea why.) A couple of more wins, and Jauron might be promoted from "boring" to "shrewd" by some Bills' fans.

Jauron's lack of passion, I think, does hurt him in the public relations sense of the job, though. We've heard he's bright and loved by his players, but he never lets the public see that side of him through appearances in news conferences, etc. A little personality sometimes buys a coach the benefit of the doubt. Jauron has a very low profile; it's not like he has his own television show during the week. When Lou Saban fired a piece of chalk at a camera and said on his TV show, "Damn it, it should have worked" in describing a failed play, fans got a look into what he was like. When Marv Levy wrote and sang a Bills' fight song on television -- one of the greatest moments in coaches' show history (not a long list, admittedly) -- fans joined Levy in the fun.

It's important to remember that in most cases, the head coach is the public face of the football team. When that face becomes essentially a blank slate, he's not liable to get the benefit of the doubt.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Scene from a snowstorm

If you watched the TV series, "Get Smart," at all, you certainly remember "The Cone of Silence." That was the device that came down so that the Chief and Maxwell Smart could talk in privacy. Sadly, neither person could hear the other when the Cone was in use.

Which brings us to the snowstorm anecdote of the day.

We had about 20 inches of snow here in Buffalo over the past few days. When that happens, you have to go shovel it from time to time. Which I did.

While working on the front of the driveway, there was a guy down the street a little ways who had stopped his shoveling for a while. He was on the phone, screaming at someone.

"Why aren't you out here shoveling out your grandmother, you lazy bleeper-bleeper?" he said. "I'm bleeping sick of doing this bleep for you while you sit on your bleep."

I think the language got worse after that, as it went on for a couple of more minutes. I was glad I was not on the other end of the phone.

This isn't a comment on lowered standards of language, or on the frustrations of a snowstorm, although it could be. It is a comment on how cell phone users seem to think they are in their own private world -- in that "Cone of Silence," if you will -- when they are talking. They share details with the rest of the world whether that world wants to hear it or not.

Guess what? We usually don't.

So take it somewhere else, particularly when you don't want to be indirectly quoted in a blog.

And Merry bleeping Christmas to you all.

Monday, December 22, 2008

It's tough being 0-15

We couldn't fit this in the paper on Monday night, so this isn't a bad place to share it. Detroit columnist Rob Parker is grilling Lions coach Rod Marinelli about his defensive coordinator, who happens to be his son-in-law. Then Parker goes a bit too far:

Later, Marinelli said, "Anytime you attack my daughter, I've got a problem with
that. ... It was premeditated. I think there's something wrong with that."

Parker said he was just trying to lighten the moment and apologized.

Friday, December 19, 2008


How did I go 12 years of my life without hearing about the song "Macarena Christmas"? I did a search for the worst Christmas songs ever, and this one came up.

You'll be happy to know there's a video for it. Well, maybe you won't be so happy.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Read all about it

Glenn Locke raises some interesting points in his column on newspapers. There are a few facts about the business that might be of interest.

Newspapers ain't what they used to be in terms of business. Their mass-market approach has been superseeded by the niche-market world we live in. Readership, which always has skewed old, has taken an increasing hit as young people have gone to the Internet. And, admittedly, newspapers have had a tough time trying to figure out how to make money in the online world. Some have guessed that the concept of an actual newspaper won't make it to the midpoint of this century.

The problems of the industry have made news lately, and not just because of some bad business deals (see the Chicago Tribune and the New York Times). Heck, a Detroit paper is going to stop publishing a paper a few days a week, sticking to online only. Certainly advertisers have paid a premium to be seen by a mass audience, and that market is changing.

But newspapers have been learning things. Personally, I think the key to survive in an online world is to make sure that newspapers offer the best way to keep up with news -- be the experts, if you will. If you want to learn what's going on with the Buffalo Bills, then you should go to The Buffalo News -- one way or another. I do like the trend of more interaction between readers and staff members on line as a part of that.

Here's the way I approach the issue: After World War II, railroads were challenged by the rise of commercial airlines. Railroads thought they were in the railroad business, and let business slip. They should have realized they were in the transportation business, meaning we would be flying New York Central and Union Pacific instead of Southwest and American. Newspapers are in the information business and not the newspaper business. The industry will just have to adapt.

Nothing is forever. Even General Motors.

Especially General Motors.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Take five, vacation edition

1. I find it almost physically impossible to sit in an airport terminal, waiting for a flight, without buying a newspaper. And when I'm done, being a good citizen, I like to recycle the paper. (Note: This does not mean leaving it on the seat for someone else to read.) But try to do that in Buffalo, where there are no recycling bins in plain sight. Dear NFTA, start thinking green.

2. I found myself watching a bit of Fox News during vacation due to circumstances beyond my control, and there's one thing that really bothers me. No, not the conservative bias or the people on in prime time. Rather, how many non-blonde women are on that channel? Is hair color the only requirement for hiring for half of the population?

3. I was in the perfect spot to watch the end of the Bills-Jets game on Sunday -- in a cardiac unit in an Albany hospital. J.P. Losman fumbles, Jets score, I feel faint, and suddenly I'm surrounded by nurses. When I pointed to the screen, they nodded and went back to work.

4. Speaking of the Bills, is there any advantage at all to not telling what Dick Jauron's contract status is? The secrecy has become really ridiculous.

5. Pardon me, but I was a bit out of touch with the news when I was on vacation. The Governor of Illinois did what?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Vacation thrills

You can't beat visiting a disaster area when it comes to vacation fun.

Well, maybe not. We spent the weekend in the Albany area, which was hit by an ice storm last Thursday night. The tree damage is good-sized and power is still out in some locations, but it's actually not too bad (unless your heat is still off).

And, Sunday morning had plenty of sun and the ice hadn't quite melted. So, I took a walk in the neighborhood and brought my camera. Here are a couple of shots, starting with your basic big, iced-over tree:

And here's a picture of a small farm in the suburbs; I tried to get a little "arty" with the ice on the ground and on the trees in the background:

More vacation observations to come.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Bottom feeding

A couple of local radio stations have gone into their all-Christmas music mode until December 26. The starting point comes earlier and earlier -- I believe Columbus Day is the new date for holiday song number one -- but by December most of us are ready to hear something appropriately seasonal.

But then again, there are a few songs that are good for an instant channel change while driving. I'm not including songs in the "so bad they are almost good" category. I would put "I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas" by the Three Stooges and "Jingle Bells" by the Singing Dog in that classification. "Grandma Got Over By a Reindeer" by Elmo and Patsy has lost its charm over the years through repetition but probably still belongs in this class.

Every major pop act has come up with at least a Christmas release at one point. Here's three that just don't do it for me:

* "Wonderful Christmastime" by Paul McCartney -- Remember the guy that wrote "Silly Love Songs"? Same type of song; it's tough to believe he wrote all those great hits for the Beatles and Wings.

* "Step Into Christmas" by Elton John -- Might have been interested to hear him record a classic, either fast or slow. This isn't it.

* "Please Come Home for Christmas" by the Eagles -- This band is a little too laid back for me at times, and this one is downright sleepy.

Moving up on the outside and gaining on the leaders is "Last Christmas" by George Michael.

For a funny discussion about the subject, check out this site on Entertainment Weekly's Web page. I particularly liked the opening line in the long series of comments: "'Christmas Shoes' is not only the worst Christmas song of all time, but the WORST SONG OF ALL TIME! (sorry Starship and 'We Built This City')." That's a pretty high standard.

I'm also willing to admit that the Ramones' version of "Merry Christmas (I Don't Want to Fight Tonight)" doesn't work particularly well. It's on Little Steven's new CD of Christmas music that is otherwise pretty terrific and worth investigating if you like this stuff.

Meanwhile, the Chicago Tribune made up a list of bad Christmas songs. I thought a description of #4 - "Christmas on Death Row" - was particularly well-done: "Nothing says 'Happy Holidays' like the words 'Death Row' and 'EXPLICIT CONTENT.'"

Got any personal choices? Here's your chance to make them public.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Prop 8 - The Musical

I heard about this on MSNBC yesterday, and it seemed like it was worth sharing. Keep an eye on the members of the cast:

See more Jack Black videos at Funny or Die

Can't wait for the follow-up: "Chaplinsky vs. New Hampshire -- the Musical." Students of communications law doubtlessly recognized that Supreme Court case as the "fighting words" case.

Sports slowdown

As the economic climate gets bleaker and bleaker here, there and everywhere, it's easy to start wondering about what might happen to the sports business in the coming months.

As in, will the bubble burst? Are teams about to get hurt? There are reasons to worry.

Let's start with the behavior of fans. They are known for their enthusiasm and loyalty. Why else would they pay $100-plus for a three-hour sporting event, when a movie of similar length will cost them a tenth of that? But if money gets tight for some of the population, suddenly it might come down to paying the rent or going to see an NFL game. Will we start to see people, gulp, stay home? And if they do, does that mean television ratings actually might go up? That could change the economic order quite radically. Can you picture a major sports team having a "sale" on tickets?

Then there are the businesses. Some of them buy season tickets to teams' games and entertain clients there. You'd have to think that sort of spending might take a hit in the near future, if it comes down to that or making payroll. Then there is advertising, whether it be directly with the teams through ads in the arena or through media outlets. Sports advertising relies on emotion too; teams often charge a premium to be associated with them. Being the official tax preparer of the Buffalo Bandits (or whatever) can't generate that much business. Some teams and businesses have multiyear deals in place, but the climate might be different when renewal time comes around.

Finally, we have the players and their salaries. Some teams are locked into big numbers for top players (see Rodriguez, Alex, among many others). If the economic pie gets smaller, that might means teams playing in a sport with salary caps or luxury taxes might have to do some creative accounting to make it all work. And, that salary cap may have to be adjusted downward if revenues fall.

In other words, I'm not sure this is the best environment to be a free agent. CC Sabathia won't starve, but it's easy to wonder if he's really worth $130 million to the Yankees right now. I'd be tempted to take any big offers I'd get in the near future. Those big endorsement deals for athletes may dry up too. Ask Tiger Woods about his now-expired deal with General Motors.

I have my doubts that we're headed into a textbook depression, so I don't think pro sports is going to go away or that whole leagues will fold. Heck, athletics made it through the 1930's. Our thirst for leisure is pretty strong. But we may see the landscape change in the next few months. I never thought I'd live to see an America without General Motors, and that looms just down the road potentially. Anyone who knows what this all will look like at the other end of the tunnel is kidding himself.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Do what I say, not what I do

A sad, sad tale from your humble author, who is feeling more humble than usual these days:

The other night I was poking around the Internet at about 1 when I found an mp3 site that had a holiday song I had been looking for (iTunes didn't have it). It was a good-sized site with plenty of selections. OK, I said to myself, I've done a few other music sites like this without a problem. I'll try it.

Whoops. You would have thought it was Christmas in Rockefeller Center on the screen. All of a sudden, my anti-virus device started going berserk, filling the desktop with warnings and quarantines. There wasn't a spotlight shining on me introducing me as the newest member of the jerk of the month club, but it sure felt like it. I also got one pop-up ad telling me about a free scan for virus, when I realized that I probably couldn't trust that either.

I couldn't get on the Internet to update the anti-virus software, so I did the best I could with what I had before going to sleep. I figured out a way to take some bad stuff out, but I had the feeling the task wasn't done yet.

Sure enough, the next day only a few of the programs worked. And after a few minutes, everything froze, forcing me to pull the plug and reboot. I was hoping to get rid off enough bad stuff so that I could play with it a little bit, but mostly what I did was get frustrated.

Here's how bad it was. I had typed up the quotes to a future story and left them in the computer before the meltdown. The next day I could read the story but not print it out, so I called it up and then -- gasp! -- got out an electric typewriter and retyped the quotes on to paper. I believe the last time I used that particular typewriter was in the early 1990's. It did work, at least.

Today I gave up, and drove the computer to the handy repair shop. They said it takes about an hour and a half of work to get rid of viruses, which means about $130. Which means I should give up journalism for the more lucrative computer repair business. Which also means that I could have bought a lot of music for the money I'll spend on the hopefully revived computer.

The moral of the story, kids, is to make sure that anti-virus software is up to date, and things that look too good to be true sometimes are.

P.S. I'd appreciate it if you didn't tell the good folks of Mensa about this. I'd be thrown out for sure.

Friday, November 28, 2008

The voice of God

A quick personal story about one of the newest members of the Buffalo Sabres' Hall of Fame:

In October of 1986, I was just starting a new job in the public relations department. One of my responsibilies, I found out early on, was to be Sabres' "second" public address announcer. I was to give the promotional announcements, sponsorship deals, giveaways, three stars, etc. over the p.a., while the regular announcer saved his golden throat for the important matters like goal announcements and "last minute of play in this period."

That "other announcer" was Milt Ellis, who had been with the Sabres in that role since Day One and had worked for the Bisons before that.

In Game One in 1986, two high school friends were in attendance. They may have known I had started working for the Sabres, but they didn't know about my new responsibility. At some point, I turned on the microphone and spoke for several seconds.

One of those friends, thinking of Ellis, said, "Who is that wimpy voice?"

The other thought for a moment, and then replied, "I think it's Budd!"

Milt Ellis, as you can see, was a hard act to follow.

I got to know Milt a bit in the years to come. I'd write up the odd announcement for him and coordinate matters so we didn't talk over each other. He'd come in for each game always in good humor and with a smile on his face. Milt worked for a religious radio station in town, WDCX, so he had the nickname of "the voice of God." No wonder the "other" announcing job was handed over to someone else in a few years; I was much better off running the press box that trying to help the team with my voice.

Milt lasted 26 seasons on the Sabres' job. Afterwards, he was a frequent visitor to the press box to watch games. Milt was good company when we sat together. He always asked about our common alma mater, Syracuse University, as we compared notes about the ups and downs of the football and basketball teams. What's more, Milt was always a class act and a gentleman.

Tonight, Milt went into the Sabres' Hall with Dave Andreychuk. It's a well-deserved honor, and overdue. Congratulations, old friend.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The basic problem

Here's the major issue involving the Buffalo Bills of the National Football League:

They don't seem to matter. And they haven't for years.

Yes, the Bills are one of 32 teams in the league, and that means many cities would kill to switch places with Buffalo in that sense. But when it comes to the national scene, the Bills are practically anonymous. Maybe not Detroit Lions anonymous, but certainly nondescript. They haven't been in the playoffs since 1999 -- remember the Music City Miracle -- and haven't won a playoff game since 1995.

Heck, even the Arizona Cardinals are winning this season. That's a franchise that hasn't mattered in decades, or in at least a city or two. OK, the Cardinals are in a division that is about as bad as the Norris Division of the NHL was in the 1980's, but that doesn't matter -- they are still winning it.

How does someone measure whether a team matters? You'd probably start with national buzz. The Bills never seem to pop up in the national media. There are few stories about their bright young stars or innovative coaching staff or quotable personalities. (I'm throwing early October of this year out of the discussion, since that 4-0 record proved to be something of an illusion.) They just quietly play from week to week.

Once in a while, media outlets make up a list of the top 100 players in the NFL. The Bills aren't in the top 20, or 30, or 50, very often. The Bills' best players probably are Lee Evans, who has stretches where the football is only a rumor to him, and Jason Peters, who held out of all of training camp without telling anyone including the Bills why. Trent Edwards might be good someday. Marshawn Lynch is pretty good and could get better. It's tough to predict superstardom for either of them, at least right now.

If you left Western New York right now, what would be the last (in terms of relevant year) Buffalo Bills jersey that you would be likely to see on a fan in another city? It's tough to picture Lynch or Evans jerseys without a personal connection. I don't think there are many J.P. Losmans, or Drew Bledsoes, or Rob Johnsons out there. Which probably brings us to Doug Flutie, who had a loyal fan base ... about 10 years ago. Otherwise, you'd probably see more jerseys of Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas or Bruce Smith than anything else. There are 21-year-olds out there now who might or might not remember those players in their primes.

There's one more factor here, and it almost goes undiscussed around Western New York. The Bills are the NFL's top candidate to move to another city. Owner Ralph Wilson, in his late 80's, has said Buffalo isn't a big enough market to compete with the New Yorks of the world, even in the socialist NFL. Wilson has no heirs who want the team. Meanwhile, a regular-season game a year for five years will be played in Toronto instead of Buffalo. The team's lease runs out after those five years. The Bills might be worth $250 million more in Los Angeles than they are in Buffalo. What matters less than a lame duck?

Western New York still loves its team, selling out the stadium week after week. That's impressive. Still, there's a feeling that the clock is running, and the city doesn't have all of its timeouts left.

I'm not suggesting that anyone in Buffalo would trade places with fans in Detroit. I'm merely saying that a string of mediocrity has more than its share of frustrations as well.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Train wreck

We have "recall keys" on our computers at work in which hitting a couple of buttons will result in any combination of letters and signs appear on the screen. This is handy for, say, putting the correct coding around e-mail addresses at the end of stories or bylines at the beginning, which would take a while if done manually every time.

The joke around the office is that we have two recall keys for sports situations that come up quite often. One reads "It's another black eye for the sports of boxing." The other is "College football needs some sort of playoff system." Let's worry about the latter; boxing if beyond salvation right now.

The colleges have had problems for years in trying to come up with a fair way to pick a national champion. The bowl system was designed to reward good seasons with a trip to warmer climates for teams and their fans, but somewhere along the way we all decided (with some justification, I might add) that picking a national champion by committee isn't an ideal set-up. We've currently come up with a system where a computer ranking system picks two teams that are judged as the best, and have them play off for the title. It's great unless you aren't one of those two teams, which is about 117 schools.

Every year, it seems to get more messy, and this might be the messiest yet. Alabama is undefeated and seems to be number one, but the rest of the country is littered with one-loss teams -- Oklahoma, Texas, Texas Tech (all in the same conference, which is a nice touch), Florida, Penn State, and Southern California. Then there are schools like Utah and Boise State, merely unbeaten but not from one of the biggest conferences. All of them in theory are good enough to play for the national championship, but only two will get the chance.

It's easy to suggest some sort of eight-team or 16-team playoff, but do we really want teams to play three or four extra weeks? A forgotten point is that colleges, which at least tangentially are in the education business, like to have their students actually studying for final exams during much of the month of December. It's a little tough to do that when there's a first-round playoff game on Dec. 10. And we don't want a playoff system to start in January and extend for three or four weeks.

The only fair compromise out there, it seems, is the so-called "plus-one system." In that, four "semifinalists" are chosen from the country's best teams. They would play in semifinal games around New Year's Day. Then the winners would square off a week later. It probably would come down to the SEC champion, the Big 12 champion, Penn State and Southern California this time, barring more upsets. Could we live with that? Well, it would be better. Sites could be rotated easily enough among the usual suspects.

Sure there would be complaints about picking the final four. On the other hand, there are complaints about the NCAA basketball tournament, and 65 teams are picked there. And only two schools would play an extra game, and it would be around Jan. 10 -- after finals are done. Oh, and it would make a big pile of money for all concerned. Has anyone noticed that generating money in this current economic climate might be a good idea?

I've heard of a perfect set-up, but this seems as good as any other plan I've heard in terms of addressing all concerns. At least we'd have fairer way of deciding a champion, which is done for every single other sports on the college level.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

One of the good guys

People sometimes get into sports journalism because they loved the games when they were a child, and they wanted to spend as much time as they could around them.

Some of those people lost that enthusiasm along the way, as the hours and unusual schedules chewed up their spark. But it's fair to say Tom Borrelli had more of that enthusiasm than anyone I ever met.

Tom died this morning after a horrific accident suffered while covering a high school football game less than two weeks ago. My co-worker was 51.

Newspapers and communities need people like Tom, who truly cared about local sports. When the Buffalo Bandits started playing lacrosse more than 15 years ago, Tom started covering the team. He did such a good job that he went into the league's Hall of Fame. His mood was always brightened when St. Joe's won a high school game, particularly when it was over arch-rival Canisius. Tom always made sure that when the Buffalo Gladiators, a semi-pro football team, checked in, their score and a couple of details made the newspaper. Some of us wouldn't have been so diligent.

Tom's love of sports extended outside of work, though. He was a devoted fan of University of North Carolina, the Cincinnati Reds and the Toronto Maple Leafs. Mention those teams in combination, and friends will immediately only think of Tom. I remember Tom anxiously listening to the Internet radio broadcast of the College World Series while we were on the job one night; North Carolina was in the tournament. Pretty unusual for a Buffalo State grad. And if he wasn't in every single fantasy league east of the Mississippi, it wasn't for lack of trying.

The television business will miss Tom, because he signed up for every possible package of sports programming available. I think there were about three people who got the NBA's package when it first came to cable locally, and he was one of them. I'm not sure how he watched it all, but Tom seemed to have facts on practically every aspect of pro sports when he wrote a fantasy column.

On a personal level, Tom did some reads on my book, "Rayzor's Edge," and made it a better publication. He also was extremely nice to me when I first came to The Buffalo News in 1993, and we remained friends for the next 15 years. Tom could act like he was grumpy at times, but he was always there when you needed him.

Usually when the sports department covers an event, the reporters don't risk their lives. That's for the news reporters in Iraq or Afghanistan. All we usually have to handle is a temporarily angry coach or player. So it was quite a shock when Tom never came back from reporting on a high school football game. But as photographer and friend Bill Wippert said, Tom was doing what he loved right up until the end. Sports were his life. Western New York and his many friends are a little poorer because he won't be on the job any longer. This original personality will be sorely missed.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The football coaching business

I received a comment here on an entry on the Syracuse football coaching situation. I offhandedly made a remark about coaching being a tough business. The visitor pointed out that Greg Robinson made plenty of money from Syracuse University, and that he'll probably get another job. All true enough, and fair enough.

The subject deserves a few more paragraphs, though. Football coaches do lead, by most standards, ridiculous lives. They start out at the bottom as graduate assistants, making virtually no money. They slowly work their way up the ladder, and that usually means moving time after time after time. Sometimes it's because there is a better opportunity, sometimes it's because a losing season means a cleaned house. It's life as a gypsy.

By any definition, the hours are miserable. Football coaches seem to take some sort of perverse pride into working as many hours as possible. They miss most of their family events, especially if they happen in season. When they aren't breaking down video or running practice, they are looking at recruits.

If these coaches are really, really lucky, they get to be a head coach somewhere -- usually not at a school with a good team, because those jobs are taken by success stories. They have to be essentially a CEO of a start-up company, touching on a variety of issues. Their most important skill is finding 18-year-olds who they think will become great football players over a five-year span and begging them to come to their college.

If the coaches succeed, they move up, but there are only about 120 major college coaching jobs out there and some of those aren't exactly prime assignments. Many head coaches fall by the wayside. Yes, they are well compensated. They also can be abused by fans if the team isn't winning, can be the subject of Web sites called, or hear about their kids harassed in school.

In order to have any shot at success, they have to approach the business with an incredible single-mindedness. Skip Bayless once said that he could only think of one football coach who could give an intelligent answer to the question, "Who is your favorite Beatle?" We salute you, Paul Hackett. During a strike year, then-Eagles coach Dick Vermeil was touring the fall foliage in Pennsylvania and started snapping photos like crazy. His wife said, "Honey, it's like this every year."

Yes, Greg Robinson earned a few million dollars at Syracuse, and he'll coach again somewhere. During the last four years, he also hasn't been able to turn on a sports talk show, or pick up a local newspaper, or go on line without afraid of being savaged. Robinson no doubt knew for the last three years that he had little chance of winning regularly, and for the last two years probably had to answer almost weekly questions about his job status. That all can get rather tiring, no matter how big the paycheck.

For Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden, football coaching has been a great profession. But those are the exceptions. For everyone else, it's a tough business.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Liner notes

My friend Jay Bonfatti used to do a Christmas mix every year for his friends, which numbered 250 or so after several years of collections. The mixes started on cassettes and moved to CD's. If you didn't like a song, you just waited a minute and another very different one would come along.

Last year, I copied the idea just so that I could put some of my favorite holiday songs in one place. Then, when I had a book signing at my house in December, I gave the CD out to friends who had bought the book. I figured it was the least I could do.
I received a few calls and e-mails along the lines of "This is great, but who the heck did song 18?"

Thus encouraged, I decided to do another CD for 2008. Jay, sadly, never got to hear it, as he passed away earlier this year. Thinking quickly, I put a dedication to Jay on the list of song titles. I heard he had actually compiled his own CD for this holiday, but didn't have the chance to have it duplicated.

Since a local radio station has started playing holiday music non-stop, it's obviously time to think about 2008. What goes into someone's head when putting together a list? Here's what I was thinking, passed along here so you can get ideas for songs to buy for yourself:

1. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas - Tori Amos
2. What Are You Doing New Year's Eve? - Barbra Streisand

I like to start slow. Amos beat out a James Taylor song for the opener. I heard of Streisand's Christmas album and said, "I'll bet the songs on there are pretty well done." I hadn't heard of this one before, but I have now noticed it elsewhere.

3. Carol of the Bells - The Nylons
4. Winter Wonderland - Manhattan Transfer

The tempo goes up a notch.

5. Christmas Time Is Here - Dianne Reeves
6. You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch - Thurl Ravenscroft

Christmas is a time for children, so a salute to them here. Reeves' version of the well-known song from "A Charlie Brown Christmas" is great, and everyone smiles upon hearing about Mr. Grinch. Did you known Ravenscroft was the voice of Tony the Tiger?

7. I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm - Kay Starr

Time to turn things up and start going through the years. This is a remix of Starr's song with a big beat.

8. Frosty the Snowman - Ronettes
9. Up on the Housetop - Jackson 5
10. Santa Claus is Coming to Town - The Pointer Sisters
11. Christmas - U2

Some old favorites updated. The Ronettes song is from the Phil Spector Christmas album, a must for anyone who likes this material.

12. Christmas All Over Again - Tom Petty
13. Run With the Fox - Chris Squire

Nice songs from rockers that haven't gotten much attention. Squire plays with Yes, and I think some of his bandmates help him out here.

14. Santa Claus is Smoking Reefer - Squirrel Nut Zippers

Funny stuff.

15. A Change at Christmas - Flaming Lips
16. Fairy Tale of New York - the Pogues

Some New Wave material that I hadn't heard until a couple of months ago. "Fairy Tale" has some, shall we say, urban slang (not too bad) but is charming.

17. Come All Ye Faithful - Freddie McGregor
18. We Wish You a Merry Christmas - from "African Christmas"
19. Deck the Stills - Barenaked Ladies
20. Jingle Bells Polka - John Stevens' Doubleshot
21. Snowman's Lane - Keith Emerson

A variety of types of music here - reggae, African, comic, polka, and a bit progressive.

22. A Marshmellow World - Dean Martin
23. Cool Yule - Bette Midler
24. Getting in the Mood - Brian Setzer Orchestra

A little swing music always sounds good.

25. I Pray on Christmas - Blind Boys of Alabama

I like to finish with a Gospel song.

Happy mixing, and happy holidays.

The alma mater speaks

If you went on late Sunday afternoon, you'd see the top stories of the day concerning Syracuse University athletics listed, as usual. The big story at that point was the fact that the field hockey team had reached the Final Four by beating Princeton in overtime. OK, congratulations to them.

The second story was: "Director of Athletics Dr. Daryl Gross Announces Change in Football Program." If this blog had many readers, I'd have a contest for the funniest suggestion about what that could mean. Has the starting time of the Notre Dame game been changed? Will the training table meals start having more fish and less meat? Is the price of the actual program that is sold at home games going to stay the same next year as a bow to the recession? When you are 2-8, the possibilities for comedy are limitless.

The actual story wasn't so funny, at least to Greg Robinson. He lost his job as head coach, effective at the end of the season. It's a tough profession, and Robinson saw the program hit bottom in his four years there, but at least he'll get $1.1 million or so next year not to coach.

Even so, Syracuse has the finest journalism school in the country, according to its graduates. Anyone ever teach the athletic department the phrase "burying the lead"?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Hockey's other Guy

When I moved to Buffalo in 1970, it was a great time for a sports fan to come to town. The Braves and Sabres were just getting started, and someone named O.J. Simpson was waiting to blossom for the Buffalo Bills.

As I met people in the Western New York area, though, I heard every so often about the good old days. The Little Three basketball doubleheaders came up, of course, even though attendance hadn't been that good since the 1950's. And the hockey Bisons of the American Hockey League were fondly remembered too.

The hockey Bisons played for more than 30 years, and went out as winners by winning the Calder Cup in 1970. Guy Trottier was the star of that Buffalo team, scoring more than 50 goals. Trottier was one of those players who was a great AHL player, small but quick, but someone who wasn't quite good enough to be an NHL regular in a 14-team league. He went up to the NHL for a while in the Seventies, but he was never better than he was here.

Trotter visited this weekend's "Farewell Old Friend" show about the Aud at the Convention Center. I naturally took advantage of the opportunity of the chance to have a photo taken with him. He was as gracious as could be, and seemed pleased to be remembered.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Farewell old friend

I've started to wonder if one of my oldest pals in the sports business is on its way out: the printed version of the media guide.

The National Hockey League's teams this season have gone away from that particular way of distributing information. They've put a version on line, and there are said to be CD-ROM versions floating around.

Media guides and I go way back. The fascination with sports material for me started with yearbooks, like it does for most kids. I know I had the 1961 Boston Red Sox yearbook, complete with a tribute to the end of the career of Ted Williams, at the ripe old age of 5 1/2. Some rookie named Carl Yastrzemski was considered a top prospect and it was hoped that he could be some semblance of a replacement for Williams. The yearbook was a great place to get statistics and pictures on players on your favorite team.

Something like 10 years later, I discovered the media guide. They were almost mystical books at that point, mentioned by reporters in passing. A book just filled with sports statistics? Wow, what more could a teen sports fan ask for? My friend Kevin and I decided we should try to get a few of these, so we typed up letters to the various major league baseball teams asking if they could send us copies. Some did; the Houston Astros must have thought they had a big fan base in Western New York.

Teams finally figured out there was a demand for the information, and sold the books to the public. The Philadelphia 76ers, and the mathematically clever Harvey Pollock, led all of pro sports in this sense. Pollock would count up the number of dunks in the entire NBA, and print them. Or do plus-minus statistics for the Sixers. And about 400 other things. A kindred spirit.

When I was hired to work for the Sabres in October 1986, it was with some glee that I started to put together the team's official guide in the spring of 1987. The previous book was something like 108 pages. Well, I took care of that, raising the 1987-88 to 160 pages. If there were any kids like me out there, I hope they appreciated it. I hope Harvey did too. The book got even bigger in my next five years. (Should I mention that just after I finished the last book, the Sabres let me go? And didn't give me any credit in the guide? Yeah, why not?)

I do have every Sabres media guide from 1970 to 2007. The first one is the toughest; I found an extra copy in the basement of the Aud in a clean-out mission at some point. Now it looks like I have a complete, final collection. Yes, the information is still available -- and it's even free -- but a little romance is gone, at least for me.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Maybe now...

This is a story with a terrible punchline.

Back in the late 1970's and early 1980's, I used to do, on average, one television appearance a year while I was working for WEBR Radio. WNED-TV often would broadcast the Harvard Cup football championship on Thanksgiving morning, and the sports staff from WEBR would do the announcing. I usually did commentary or halftime interviews.

There was one part of the job that often came up in discussions before and during the broadcast: the climb to the press box at All High Stadium. The press box was located on top of the roof. In order to get up there, visitors had to go up stairs that were more like a ladder in terms of steepness, and go through a small opening to get to the roof.

It was terrorizing. We climbed it because it came with the job, but we never liked it. When the subject came up, we'd roll our eyes upward and shake our heads. Everyone knew, or should have known, that it was an accident waiting to happen.

That accident happened Saturday afternoon. We'll never know exactly how it happened, but my co-worker Tom Borrelli fell down those stairs down to the pavement below. He was taken to the Erie County Medical Center immediately and was listed in critical condition. It's going to take a few days for the trauma and swelling to quiet in order to see what will happen with Tom. If you're the type that says prayers asking for a little help, Tom could use a few right now.

(To see the tragic conclusion to the story, click here.)

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Take Five, post-election wrap-up edition

* A moment of silence, please, for the alleged Bradley effect. And a moment of applause for Nate Silver and, which got the percentages for Obama and McCain exactly right. Read more about Nate here.

* Have we reached the point of no return when it comes to information jammed on the television screen on election night? Some channels showed returns on a rotating basis, state predictions, poll closing times, identifications of speakers, and actual pictures of someone talking. Good thing I didn't look at the returns on my one-inch Watchman.

* Sarah Palin said she would be very upset if she cost John McCain even one vote in the election. Sarah, a friend of mine went on this very blog and saw a clip of your interview with Katie Couric ... and announced she was voting for Obama/Biden. Oops. I'm still wondering if Lindsay Graham of South Carolina might have brought John McCain a lot more gravitas along with credibility with the Republican base and a youthful image had he been picked for VP. But maybe he just didn't want the job.

* Go back a couple of entries, and you'll see where I said that McCain probably would get torched by conservative talk-show hosts after the election. Well, a local announcer on Wednesay called McCain "a corpse," and a national figure said the conservatives didn't lose the election because they didn't have anyone running for President. Those same hosts, by the way, respectively said Obama was "a socialist Marxist" and that the vote's outcome was a case of more than half of America committing "assisted suicide."

* Let the record show that a few days ago someone asked me when the election would be decided. "At 11 o'clock [Eastern], when California comes in," I responded. That's one in a row. I'm ready for that pundit's job in 2012 now.

Thrown under the bus

It sounds like members of the McCain campaign couldn't wait to privately reveal stories about Sarah Palin's conduct during the campaign. You know it's a bad sign when a Fox News reporter comes up with more than five minutes of damaging information:

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

A step forward....

Early in my lifetime, back less than a half-century ago, we were using fire hoses and letting the dogs loose on African Americans. Now, we've elected one President. That's historic.

We don't know how President Obama will do once he takes office. We know he will have a difficult job ahead. But at the least, the phrase "America - land of opportunity" became much more meaningful to millions of us tonight.

Monday, November 03, 2008

New rules

It's always fun when a play comes up in a sport in which an obscure rule is used to make a call that seems to make little common sense.

Such was the case Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Here was the situation:

When the Bills kicked off to the Jets at one point, Leon Washington of New York let the ball bounce because it looked as if it were headed out of bounds. That would give the Jets something like 20 extra yards, as the ball would be placed at the 40.

But the football took a right turn, and stayed in bounds upon resting. Washington looked up and saw a horde of Bills' tacklers coming his way. So what did he do? He didn't grab the ball and advance a yard or two. He stepped out of bounds.

That seemed odd, until he then reached out and grabbed the free football. The official threw a flag, citing an out-of-bounds kickoff. Ball on the Jets' 40.

And every Bills' fan said, "Huh?"

The rulebook is a little vague on such matters. But, we do know that if a wide receiver is out of bounds when he leans forward and catches a pass, the ball is out of bounds and the reception doesn't count. Or, if a player has his feet out of bounds when he picks up a fumble, the other team gets the ball. That happened to the Bills a few years ago in New England.

But, who knew it would be to the returner's advantage to get out of bounds first before grabbing the ball? Only Washington ... and Devin Hester, who reportedly made the same play last year for the Bears.

Here's the key point: The way the rule reads now, it was to the returner's advantage to go out of bounds before getting the ball, because he gained 20 yards of real estate in the process. That shouldn't happen.

I'll bet the league changes the rule so that if a returner does that, the ball is dead at the spot it was touched.

The league spends hours trying to come up with foolproof rules, and it takes one play to make it go back to the old drawing board.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

A preview of Wednesday

What if John McCain really does lose on Tuesday? What will Wednesday be like, at least as far as certain political commentators are concerned?

I don't think it's going to be pretty. I can see some commentators throwing McCain under the proverbial bus on Wednesday.

The argument would go something like this: "The Republican Party made a huge mistake when it nominated a moderate as President. It gave up the soul of its party. John McCain wasn't one of us. He was never one of us. The man was just pretending to be a true conservative. He didn't represent a choice. Sarah Palin tried hard to show us what true conservatism was like, but as a vice presidential nominee she couldn't make up for what McCain represented. Today marks the first day of our efforts to take back the Republican Party, and fight the socialist hordes that will attack us from the White House in the years to come."

Here's the catch. McCain did better than any other possible Republican choice for President, better than he could have been expected to do.

Any Republican was up against it this year:

1. It's a Democratic year. The generic Democrat beats the generic Republican in polling. Party registration tilts heavily toward the Democratic side. Abraham Lincoln would have had trouble running on the Republican line this year.

2. It's a poor year to be associated with George Bush. The current President's approval rating is south of 30 percent. Any Republican candidate was going to be linked to him, especially one that was a member of Congress. That was a huge disadvantage.

3. The economy's timing was perfect for Obama. Initially, it looked as if Barack Obama could ride an anti-war feeling into the general election. The surge has bought the Republicans some time at the least for the moment. However, Obama received a replacement issue when the stock market started to crumble, and fit into his motto of change nicely. Sure McCain didn't handle the initial meltdown well, but that only reinforced the situation.

4. There were few game-changing choices out there for Vice President for McCain or anybody else. McCain obviously felt he needed something to shake up the calculus of the situation. Tim Pawlenty, the pick of conventional wisdom, wouldn't exactly send volunteers out into the streets to ring doorbells.

McCain took Palin, who clearly was not ready for the national stage. Yes, she invigorated the Republican base. Yes, she found an audience for her brand of politics. She also stunned many by not even knowing what a vice president does, which is high school social studies material. She drove away those with moderate views with some of her public stances, and her "us vs. them" approach to politics appealed to the Pat Buchanan wing of the Republican Party. The pick was obviously a political one, which flew in the face of "Country first." And it ruined one of McCain's best arguments, that experience matters. If it did, how could you put her a 72-year-old's heartbeat away from the White House? So add it up, and the gamble didn't really work ... but McCain clearly loses without doing something.

McCain has a great biography and an unquestioned love of country. Yes, his message has wobbled at times over the campaign, and he and his supporters could have done some things differently. But he still is projected to lose by only six percent or so. Obama hasn't been the perfect candidate, but he's run a clean, focused campaign. It's not a bad showing for McCain to be slightly out of striking distance at this point.

It's been a pretty ugly campaign at times, with some incidents that shouldn't be preserved as Kodak moments. The last ugly moment could come Wednesday to someone who deserves better.

We'll see what happens Tuesday ... and Wednesday.

One last look

Buffalo News photographer Harry Scull -- whose work you no doubt have seen as you've read "Rayzor's Edge" over and over again for the last 11 months -- made his last trip to the Aud the other day. The first shot he sent me is an interesting one -- out the back door, looking out from the past into, well, the present and future.

His other shot is one last look from ice level:

Friday, October 31, 2008

Attention: Philadelphia

Bill Simmons of ESPN recently wrote about a relatively unknown event in sports fandom: the buying binge. (Last item in this article.)

When your favorite team wins a championship, you feel the need to celebrate. It's very easy to either go down to the mall, if the team is in your area, or visit an on-line spot, if it isn't, and go shopping. The longer the wait has been for a championship, the more you want to buy. Simmons pulled eight t-shirts out of his closet that related to the 2004 Boston Red Sox.

I've been there. You see, my name is Budd, and I am a championship shopaholic.

Syracuse had never won a basketball title before doing so in 2003, and my credit card was ready. Official CBS video of the Final Four? Check. Syracuse's DVD review of the season? Check. Final Four sweatshirt? Check. Final Four gym bag and program? Yup and yup. Championship golf shirt when visiting the bookstore? Who could resist? You know those special magazines Sports Illustrated produces for champions? Always wanted to buy one of those, so I did.

A year and a half later, the Red Sox finally won a championship after 86 years. I wasn't a fan for all 86 years, but for a big part of it. The damage was considerable: the official World Series video, the local NESN DVD, the DVD of the ring ceremony the next spring, a program from the World Series, an ALCS t-shirt, a championship sweatshirt, a mug, and the commemorative book from the Boston Globe. Yes, there was another SI commemorative issue. Then someone gave me a clock with "World Series Champions 2004" on the face, and a World Series hat. I got the yearbook in the spring too.

Then four years later, as in last week, I saw a DVD version of HBO's "Curse of the Bambino," which I had seen in 2005, on sale at Big Lots for $3. That one always gets me weepy, especially when they show the sign in the parade that says "our parents and g-parents thank you." Sold.

I was much better in 2007. I won friendly wagers for a sweatshirt and t-shirt from Boulder, Colo., friends when the Rockies lost to the Red Sox in the Series. OK, there was a golf shirt and a yearbook and a DVD (but only one), and I got a glass for Christmas. But the financial rubble wasn't too extensive.

So Phillies' fans, I know what you are feeling. Philadelphia hadn't won a World Series since 1980, and the city hadn't won any sort of title in a quarter-century. Please -- remember that your 401K plan is now a 301K plan. Hold down your spending to only, oh, 12 or 14 items. You'll thank me ... not today, not tomorrow, not next month, but maybe by 2012.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Jobs by the dozens

Who says unemployment is up in America right now? There's one profession that seems to be growing exponentially.

Political strategist.

They are just about everywhere.

Turn on one of the all-news stations, particularly during the day, and you'll find a couple of them (they seem to come in pairs). One for McCain, one for Obama. They spout their respective party lines, go back and forth for five minutes or so, and then are sent to where political strategists go when they aren't on TV. Personally, I think they just switch channels for their next engagement, one station after another.

The two questions that comes to mind are:

1. Do these guys have any background or references? There's never any listing of their qualifications. (Note: This does not include the Bob Shrums or Karl Roves of the world, who actually have worked for Presidential candidates.) Did they ever do more than make phone calls for the Town Council candidates of Hulett, Wyoming? (Assuming Hulett has one.)

2. Do these guys ever say anything interesting? Either Obama's got it all locked up, or McCain is closing fast. Their fax machines must be humming with stuff from the campaign headquarters.

I suppose MSNBC, CNN and FNC have to show something during the day besides the candidates' speeches -- which, by the way, consists of roughtly the same material day after day, hour after hour (although it is fun to count up the number of false charges that Gov. Palin seems to make in a given speech) -- and this kills part of the time.

But, jeez, what are these media outlets going to do on ... Wednesday?!?

Monday, October 27, 2008

Incident at a bookstore

The other day I was visiting one of the area's Barnes and Noble stores, hanging around a display about the upcoming Presidential election. I'd lie and say I stopped briefly on my way to the philosophy department or Greek history section, but you know better.

Anyway, two men in their early 20's passed by the display. One stopped at the display and noticed a biography of Sarah Palin that was there.

"Hey, it's the hockey mom," one of them said. Then after a pause, he said with equal parts sarcasm and disgust, "I've never known a hockey mom to spend $150-thousand on her clothes." His friend chuckled and agreed with him as they moved on.

Governor, based on that incident I'd say it's going to tough for you to shake that image off for a while.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Here's to tolerance...

We'll see if this Friday night article from the Associated Press gets much play:

Terrorist strikes on four American cities. Russia rolling into Eastern Europe. Israel hit by a nuclear bomb. Gay marriage in every state. The end of the Boy Scouts. All are plausible scenarios if Democrat Barack Obama is elected president, according to a new addition to the campaign conversation called "Letter from 2012 in Obama's America," produced by the conservative Christian group Focus on the Family Action.

The imagined look into the future is part of an escalation in rhetoric from Christian right activists who are trying to paint Obama in the worst possible terms as the campaign heads into the final stretch and polls show the Democrat ahead.

Although hard-edge attacks are common late in campaigns, the tenor of the strikes against Obama illustrate just how worried conservative Christian activists are about what should happen to their causes and influence if Democrats seize control of both Congress and the White House.

"It looks like, walks like, talks like and smells like desperation to me," said the Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell of Houston, an Obama supporter who backed President Bush in the past two elections. The Methodist pastor called the 2012 letter "false and ridiculous." He said it showed that some Christian conservative leaders fear that Obama's faith-based appeals to voters are working.

The story goes on to say:

But the tone this election year is sharper than usual and the volume has turned up as Nov. 4 nears.

Steve Strang, publisher of Charisma magazine, a Pentecostal publication, titled one of his recent weekly e-mails to readers, "Life As We Know It Will End If Obama is Elected."

Strang said gay rights and abortion rights would be strengthened in an Obama administration, taxes would rise and "people who hate Christianity will be emboldened to attack our freedoms."

Separately, a group called the Christian Anti-Defamation Commission has posted a series of videos on its site and on YouTube called "7 Reasons Barack Obama is not a Christian."

The commission accuses Obama of "subtle diabolical deceit" in saying he is Christian, while he believes that people can be saved through other faiths.

Focus on the Family Action is legally separated (but obviously connected) from Focus on the Family, Rev. James Dodson's group. Dr. Dodson, you might remember, urged prayers for heavy rain during Barack Obama's convention acceptance speech in Denver. Sean Hannity once said on air that it was "an honor" to talk to Dr. Dodson in an interview.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Elmira Express

A movie about someone who moved to Elmira as a child and then went to Syracuse University? What, did someone film my life story?

Not quite. "The Express" is about football great Ernie Davis, and any comparison between the two of us would stop if anyone remembers my feeble attempts to play football. But it certainly was a must-see for me under the circumstances.

It was indeed funny to see scenes filmed at Syracuse, especially ones with the old stadium drawn in my computers. The campus sure looked good, though, as did the clipping of the Syracuse Daily Orange. I don't think any scenes were actually filmed in Elmira. I did, however, get a kick out of the point when the movie's author used the real name of the sports editor of the Elmira newspaper (Al Mallette) in a scene set in that town.

The movie is based on a nine-year-old book called "Ernie Davis : The Elmira Express." I read it a few years ago and remember thinking that it had more typographical errors than any professionally published book I had ever seen. (I hope the new edition, put out for the movie, did some cleaning.) When I heard about the plans for a movie, I wonder where the story would go. After all, Davis was the first African American to win the Heisman Trophy, but died before he could ever play a down in the National Football League. No chance at a happy ending there.

"The Express" concentrates on Davis' sophomore season, when Syracuse won the national championship. He wins over his teammates with his talent and decency as the victories pile up on the field. The centerpiece is the Cotton Bowl against Texas, and Davis battles racial prejudice in emerging victorious. That feels like the emotional highpoint, but the movie still has 20 minutes left. So it's not "Brian's Song" or "Hoosiers."

Still, it's a pretty exciting movie. Directors seem to love football movies, if only to show hard hits in slow motion from three angles. Davis seemed to get the ball on every play and run for at least a first down, but that's Hollywood. Dennis Quaid (as coach Ben Schwartzwalder) and Rob Brown (as Davis) are fine in the lead roles, and some of the dialogue is smart and snappy.

Sports fans always get picky about their films; it's easy to forget that it's not a documentary. Still, it's easy to point out that a game in which Syracuse plays at West Virginia and confronts the racist fans down there was in real life played in Syracuse. The Redskins are shown to want to trade Davis to the Browns because owner George Preston Marshall supposedly didn't want a black player on his roster. Well, Davis was traded to Cleveland for Bobby Mitchell, the first African American in Redskins' history and a future Hall of Famer in his own right.

Oh well. "The Express" still has some lessons to teach about the era that we should remember today, and Davis should never be forgotten. You could do far worse on a chilly fall day for entertainment, particularly if you are a football fan.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Summer's over

There is something sad about the end of your favorite baseball team's season.

Spring training marks the annual renewal of life, summer features warm days and good times, and fall seems compressed as we try to get everything done before the first snow, at least in the Northeast.

So it goes for the Red Sox fans, whose season ended Sunday night with a loss in Game Seven to the Tampa Bay Rays, those 1969 Mets impersonators. Fittingly, the high temperature Tuesday in Buffalo is scheduled to be in the low 40's, which isn't exactly baseball weather. Ever hit a baseball in cold weather? It's like a swarm of bees attacking your hands; it left me close to tears once, and it was warmer than that.

Boston's season raises an interesting question. In an age when you only hear chants of "we're number one," can you have a satisfying sports season when your team doesn't win it all? I'd like to think so, but it's tough ... and that's particularly true after a couple of instances of ultimate success, like the Red Sox have had lately.

It wasn't a great year in Red Sox Nation, but it was a pretty good one. The team's young talent continued to develop, ensuring a good future. Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis and Jon Lester look like stars. Boston made the playoffs despite a sideshow involving Manny Ramirez, who might have been useful in a Game Seven but the team probably wouldn't have gotten there with the distraction he represents. The Red Sox gave it all they had, beating a good Angels team and avoiding elimination for as long as possible in spite of a lineup that looked spent at time because of injuries. Mike Lowell would have been helpful in the playoffs, while Josh Beckett and David Ortiz were obviously hurting.

But the offseason brings time for contemplation, and it's easy to wonder about how some old friends will fare. Tim Wakefield, Jason Varitek and Mike Timlin were all big parts of the 2004 team, and all are facing serious questions about their baseball futures. If they all depart for one reason or another (not to say that they will, but they might), that would leave Ortiz as the only full-time player left from the magical 2004 season. Time waits for no one, particularly in baseball.

The offseason is also a time for action, as the team tries to readjust and get better for 2009. Trades? Free agents? Who knows? We only know that the Red Sox have resources and are willing to use them creatively. It's easy to feel much better about next year's baseball in Boston than in, say, Pittsburgh.

In the meantime, the New York Yankees haven't played baseball in three weeks. This was better.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

For those in Minnesota...

You might remember the scary video of the scary people filing into a McCain rally a couple of posts ago.

One of them may be in Congress.

Chris Matthews of MSNBC recently interviewed Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota. Here's a transcript of how the interview ended:

MR. MATTHEWS: How many Congress people, members of Congress, do you think are in that anti-American crowd you described? How many Congress people do you serve with? I mean, it's 435 members of Congress.

REP. BACHMANN: Right now --

MR. MATTHEWS: How many are anti-American in the Congress right now that you serve with?

REP. BACHMANN: You'd have to ask them, Chris. I'm focusing on Barack Obama and the people that he's been associating with. And I'm very worried about --

MR. MATTHEWS: But do you suspect that a lot of people you serve with --

REP. BACHMANN: -- their anti-American nature.

MR. MATTHEWS: Well, he's a United States senator from Illinois. He's one of the people you suspect as being anti-American. How many people in the Congress of the United States do you think are anti- American? You've already suspected Barack Obama. Is he alone, or are there others? How many do you suspect of your colleagues as being anti-American?

REP. BACHMANN: What I would say -- what I would say is that the news media should do a penetrating expose and take a look. I wish they would. I wish the American media would take a great look at the views of the people in Congress and find out, are they pro-America or anti-America? I think people would love to see an expose like that.

The complete interview can be found here. It would be interesting to know what the Congresswoman's definition of "pro-America" is.

FOOTNOTE: Since this was written, Bachmann's opponent received $700,000 in three days in campaign contributions. The Congresswoman is also the target of a censure petition, in which the rolls have gone past 50,000.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Take Five, 19-days-to-go edition

1. It's tough to know for sure, but according to TV By the Numbers, it looks like all the commercial networks had better individual ratings for the debate than Fox did for the Phillies-Dodgers Wednesday night. The baseball game wasn't broken into hourly breakdowns. Either politics is now the "national pastime," or a lot of people are still angry with Manny Ramirez for sulking in Boston.

2. Right after the debate, Fox had its usual 87-11 or so result for McCain when its viewers were told to text in the winner's name. Then I went to CBS News' Web site (have I mentioned lately that CBS isn't available in Buffalo?), and saw its on-line poll, and Obama was ahead by about the same margin. So I can only conclude that all of the conservatives were watching Fox, and all of the liberals were watching CBS. And speaking of Fox, it was interesting that it went looking for Democratic commentators after the debate, and came up with Geraldine Ferraro. That must have been quite a search.

3. You may have heard that there's been some controversy about Obama's place of birth, even though he has posted his birth certificate on a Web site for all to see. I heard a radio commentator today say that Obama's alleged trip to Pakistan on an Indonesian passport was a "vital issue." Tell that to my 401K plan, sir.

4. Funny how several commentators right after the debate said that McCain had done really well, and then seemed to change their tune quite a bit when the polls results, indicating a public preference for Obama's performance, came in. David Gergen of CNN had the line of the night, when he was asked what he would tell John McCain to do next. "I wouldn't know what the hell to say," Gergen replied, bringing the group conversation to a halt with laughter.

5. Two remarks stuck with me by Senator McCain from Wednesday's debate. He said he'd balance the federal budget by the end of his first term (a claim repeated this morning by Gov. Palin), which strikes me as a neat trick considering he wants to cut taxes across the board and is facing billions of more expenditures in the light of our economic problems. And remember, we're not exactly balanced now. Math wasn't my best subject in school, but anyone will have trouble making these figures add up to zero.

The other was that McCain said he was proud of each and every person who came to one of his rallies. Better take a look at the video on my previous blog, Senator.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The dark side

Here's a thought about the upcoming election, delivered in a roundabout way:

Sometimes I like to jump on to Yahoo Answers! People leave all sorts of questions in a variety of categories, and other people try to answer them. Sometimes this comes out of genuine curiosity, or out of a need for someone else to do a homework assignment, or to advance a particular viewpoint.

The latter has come out in the last few months in political season. Granted, the questions and answers are anonymous, so it's easy to get nasty. And Yahoo Answers! is no place for thin-skinned supporters of Senator Obama.

For example, that site is where I first learned that a few people were comparing Obama to the Anti-Christ. Here's the lead-in to a question posted today: "According to The Book of Revelations the anti-Christ is: The anti-Christ will be a man in his 40's, of MUSLIM descent, who will deceive the nations with persuasive language, and have a massive Christ-like appeal, prophecy says that people will flock to him and he will promise false hope and world peace when he is in power and will destroy everything. So do we recognize this description?? I strongly urge each one of you to examine this 'Obama.'"

Here are some examples of some of the questions posted lately:

"If Obama does not like being called Hussein, why has he not changed his name again? I mean, he's already changed it several times."

"If elected, will Obama be impeached? Ties to felon Tony Rezko. Ties to criminal organization ACORN. Ties to domestic terrorist Bill Ayers. Which will it be?"

"Why has Obama Thrown his Grandma & Muslims 'Under the Bus'?"

"Did Bill Ayers actually write Obama's book DREAMS FROM MY FATHER?"

"Why do Democrats throw anyone out of the party who votes against abortion?"

"Is there a coming, Liberal Thug-ocracy?"

Now, McCain has gotten a few slings and arrows on the site too ("Does McCain have one of those blue handicap parking stickers?"), but he's getting a more polite treatment overall.

I used to wonder what these people who are so dreadfully ill-informed and impolite looked like. However, the organization called Keystone Progress (which in fairness is quite public in its support of Obama) brought some cameras to a McCain rally in Bethlehem, Pa., recently, and shot some footage. I got the impression some of Yahoo people were there. You don't have to watch all 5:10 to get the idea, the first few minutes will more than do:

(And thanks to Buffalo Pundit for the link.)

I'm not sure if McCain and Palin knew what they were unleashing when they stepped up their personal attacks 10 days ago. I just hope they can get some of that hate back in the bottle.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Worst shot ever

I have plenty of friends who follow soccer, so they should be interested in this video of the Scotland-Norway World Cup qualifier on Saturday. One play is being called the worst shot in soccer history, which is saying something. It comes about 35 seconds into the video below:

Ouch. Thanks to SportsbyBrooks for the link.

Mischief in the air

The other day, I looked through the mail and noticed that a big envelope had come for me from John McCain.

"How nice of him to write," I thought as I opened up the package. "You'd think John would be too busy to send something to me." McCain and my family go way back, since he met my parents at a wedding in the early 1970's.

Inside was a note from the Senator, saying that he needed financial help to win the election and he needed it fast. To that end, he had enclosed a FedEx billing form and an envelope so that I could send a check to his headquarters, post-haste.

And the thought struck me, what a great chance for some mischief -- particularly if I were a strong Obama supporter.

For starters, I could send the envelope back with nothing in it. That would cost the McCain campaign some money just for the postage. Or I could send a note explaining that I was supporting Obama, and appreciated this chance to drain the opposing campaign of resources. Or, I could say that the economic crisis caused by President Bush's policies have left me too poor to contribute anything at this time. Or, I could say I had spent all my money "palling around" with questionable friends from my youth in Chicago. Or, I could send a picture of Obama, and ask to get it autographed when the Illinois Senator takes office in the White House on January 20. Or, I could put something else in the envelope, something that could stink up the entire building when opened.

I could have done any of those. But instead, I did the right thing. I put it in the recycling bin, so that the material at least will be used again in another form.

But, boy, it was tempting.

Friday, October 10, 2008

In less than 90 seconds...

I just stumbled on a Web site called 23/6, which says it has "some of the news, most of the time." It leans to the left, but is pretty funny. For example, here's the last Presidential debate in a little more than a minute:

Get the latest news satire and funny videos at

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Letting Boras be Boras

I once said a book by Bill Simmons of "could be considered the first post-modernist book of its kind." He's a guy who adapted to the Internet before most and has more or less thrived. Simmons is not for every taste, but generally is pretty entertaining. And not just because he's a member of Red Sox Nation.

I was alerted to a story Simmons recently wrote on Manny Ramirez. You can find it by going here. I'm not sure I buy the theory that Manny was a little more faultless than most believe, but Simmons makes it interesting.

Besides, he writes the best footnotes in the sportswriting business.

Thanks to the well-read Kevin Chase for the tip.

Take Five, post-latest-crucial-but-not-game-changing debate edition

1. To get this out of the way, both Senator Obama and Senator McCain seemed to defend their positions pretty well and scored debating points. Which means, in this climate, that the loosely-defined tie (I'm a little confused by McCain's new mortgage-buying plan that could cost billions more, but we'll see if it's an issue) goes to the guy in front. And that's Obama.

2. While moderator Tom Brokaw had control of the questions, it is interesting that no one brought up William Ayers or Charles Keating tonight. Do you think that could mean that most people are more interested with their shrinking 401K plans and possible job loss than they are with some associations from the last century?

3. Could the CNN analysis team get any closer together, or did the network just not have a bigger table? And all those laptops in front of the analysts make it seem more claustrophobic. Luckily, most of them are smart enough to defer to David Gergen for intelligent, even-handed analysis. He's the best in the business right now, although I can't see what the brilliant Jeff Greenfield is saying on CBS these days because Time Warner Cable isn't showing WIVB-TV right now. (Yeah, that was the last blog subject, but you can't blast those two sides enough.)

4. Time to give Pat Buchanan a little credit. He's a little outnumbered by liberals at MSNBC. OK, a lot outnumbered by liberals. But he defends his positions with humor and zest. It's hard not to like him on a personal level. And speaking of conservatives, for a guy who seemed to spend almost eight years in the shadows of the White House, the face and words of Karl Rove seem to be everywhere I look these days.

5. One interesting note after the debate: CNN used the space at the bottom of the screen to show results of scientific polls about the debate. Meanwhile over at Fox, it used the results of a texting poll in which viewers were invited to send in a letter of who they thought won the debate. The numbers when I saw them -- 86-12 for McCain, with 1 percent undecided. I would guess that's a little more reflective of the Fox audience than of actual public perception. But there's one bigger issue here, and it's that 1 percent of the population spent their money on a text message to vote for "undecided." The economy is in better shape than I thought.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Dumb and dumber

On Sunday afternoon, I returned home from vacation. I flipped on the television to see what NFL games were on and catch up on some scores while unpacking. When I went to Channel 4, I was greeted with a broadcast of an SMU soccer game.

I had heard that soccer was the sport of the future in America. Had it arrived while I was away?

Not quite. I then said, "Oh, right. Time Warner Cable and WIVB still hadn't agreed on a deal to allow the cable outlet to show the TV channel's programming." A CBS college sports channel was put on WIVB's spot in the meantime.

This was a battle that was taking place before I left. The folks that own WIVB and its sister station wanted money if the two outlets were going to be carried on cable. Time Warner had different ideas.

Such battles have gotten fairly routine over the last few years, but viewers expect a settlement close to the deadline. The only case where a local station didn't make a deal was when the NFL Network was kicked off basic cable and up to a digital tier in order to make room for Sportsnet New York, thus infuriating those who were glued to their sets when the NFL Network broadcast live from the offseason combine in Indianapolis.

Surely, though, a deal would be reached before -- gasp! -- the 4-0 Bills played at Arizona on a Sunday afternoon. Right? Right?

Wrong. I read that Time Warner had handed out rabbit ears to interested customers, thus throwing us back to the 1970's before cable had arrived in Buffalo. As I understand it, the ratings were down quite a bit from the usual near-Super Bowl proportions.

This is the type of dispute that angers me the most. Picture a room with a table in the middle, with representatives of two sides on, well, two sides. There's a big pile of money in the middle, and the referee says those two sides have to figure out a way to split it up. Otherwise, he'll start taking portions away. Tick, tick, tick.

You always think that they'll figure out a way to divide the money, but once in a while they don't. Remember how the NHL missed an entire season that way?

The Bills' game wasn't too exciting, and the team is coming up on a bye week, so that takes a little of the pressure off -- at least from a sports fan's perspective. But the talks drag on, and both sides have been blanketing the media with attempted explanations of their positions -- convincing no one that they both aren't bums. In the meantime, I'm probably not the only one who has flipped to the six o'clock news or David Letterman or The Price is Right or CSI: Clarence (just kidding about that last one, I think) only to see CBS' College Sports channel.

And as each hour goes by, more money disappears into the mist -- money that according to the news reports has been getting harder and harder to obtain these days. Something about an economic crisis.

Good move, guys.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Take five, post-VP debate edition

1. Is there any reason why Joe Biden kept referring to his running mate as "Barack"? Senator is a very impressive title, and you'd think Biden would want to use it as often as possible to give the relatively inexperienced Obama a bit more stature at no cost.

2. Can't say I've ever heard a debate participant say she wasn't going to answer the questions asked by the moderator, and I'm a little surprised Sarah Palin didn't take more heat for it. I had visions of John McEnroe taking over the session and yelling out along the lines of his famous sound bite, "ANSWER THE QUESTION!!!"

3. Congratulations to Biden for not saying, "Governor, I knew Dan Quayle. Dan Quayle is a friend of mine. And you, Governor...." I think we set a record for low expectations in this debate, and Palin did get over that bar.

4. Wouldn't you have liked to hear a totally honest comment about this election? I'd frame it something like this: "We all know that no one is coming back from Iraq anytime soon, and we all know we're not going to have any money for discretionary spending thanks to the recession. So neither of us are going to be able to do much on Jan. 20. But we will be able to appoint a bunch of Supreme Court justices in the next four years..."

5. When Wall Street's collapse and the government's takeovers took place, I said that barring something unexpected, Obama had this election won. The Bush Administration has had to act like socialists in taking over bad debts, flying in the face of years of support by Republicans for free markets and cutbacks on regulations. How do you square those two positions? Then throw in the standard line in such situations, "Are you better off today than you were four years ago?" and I'd say I haven't seen anything to change my mind yet from that original prediction.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The big moment?

I'm starting to think that this bit of video might be the one for the time capsule when it comes to the 2008 election. I happened to see it live, and I was pretty stunned:

Jack Cafferty is admittedly no fan of Republicans, but his silence at the end of the clip was pretty powerful.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Cheap plug

The Buffalo News has added a couple of new sports blogs to its list, and I've got a hand in one of them. We are now featuring a blog called "Sports Ink," which covers subjects that don't come up elsewhere. That list would include the Bandits, running, outdoor sports, etc.

While I'll be sending in some items that don't fit in the running column, I will be represented every day in another sense. I've written up a regular item that can be called "This Day in Buffalo Sports History." It was fun to do the research on it, going through a variety of sources including the Internet and a bunch of local and national reference books. When possible, I've included a couple of paragraphs on how The News covered the story in question at the time.

In the next several days, we'll have items on such diverse subjects as a Joe Mesi fight to a Buffalo pro football team that started operations in 1920. As you could imagine, the Bills and Sabres get the most items over the course of a year.

Hope you like it; you'll find it nowhere else.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


As Memorial Auditorium starts to come down a block away from my workplace, it's easy to think back over some of the events that happened to me there. After attending events there for 16 years, I landed a job in that building as I worked in the Sabres' public relations department.

It's funny what you remember. One time around 1990 or so, in the second period of a Sabres game, I ran out of the press box during a break in play to use the men's room. When I came back to the press box entrance, which consisted of a couple of metal steps leading up to the facility hanging from the rafters, there was a young boy of about 10 standing at the entrance.

"Can I help you with something?" I asked politely.

"What the heck is this?" said the boy brightly.

"Follow me," I said, and led him up the stairs. There I saw the "press box goon," Shawn, a volunteer who made sure people came in the area with a press pass.

After asking the boy's name, I said, "Shawn, this is our special guest, Jimmy. Do you have some press notes for Jimmy?"

Shawn did and gave him a set. Then I took Jimmy to the middle of the press box, introduced him to The Buffalo News writer, and let him peer over the edge as the game went on below for a couple of minutes. I also showed him where the radio and television announcers were.

"OK, Jimmy, time to get back where you belong. Thanks for coming up," I said in leading him back to the door. Never did anything like that before or afterwards. Later I asked Shawn how the boy had reacted when we were done. Shawn said the boy stumbled back to his seat, looking like he had just unexpectedly walked into a glass door and wondered what the heck had happened.

It's been 18 years or so since that boy got an unexpected press box tour. That makes him about 28 years old now. Did that little gesture turn him into a big Sabres fan? Is he now a season ticket holder?

Sometimes you plant a seed without knowing if something will bloom, just because it's the right thing to do.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Almost forty-seven years later...

One of my favorite authors, Ken Dryden (I wrote an early blog about him and his books) once was interviewed about the closing of Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto after something like 70 years of tradition, and what it would be like to head for the new Air Canada Centre down the street. He started by saying that endings were always a little sad, and beginnings were always a little scary.

Dryden always was smarter than the average goalie.

This is the obvious day to think about endings in American sports, as one of the cathedrals, Yankee Stadium, is closing tonight. Plenty of trees have fallen to be turned into paper to pay tribute to this Grande Dame and the events that have taken place there in the past few months.

Mike Harrington wrote a charming piece in The Buffalo News today about his experiences today. That got me to thinking about the few times I've been in the building. And a light bulb went on.

Remember Roger Maris' 61st homer in 1961 that broke Babe Ruth's legendary record for homers in a season? I was there. And it's very possible that it was the first time I was even in the building.

My family moved down from Massachusetts to New Jersey in the middle of 1961. My parents were raising me correctly, teaching me character by rooting for the Red Sox of that era. (I never converted to the Yankees in that time while living in N.J., although I did pick up an affection for the hapless Mets of that decade.) In early October, the Red Sox were hopelessly out of the playoff race, and from what my mother recalls we literally decided that weekend to go into New York and see the Red Sox play the Yankees on the final day of the regular season. Walked right up and bought tickets.

The Red Sox lost that game, 1-0. It wasn't close to being sold out. The record wasn't a big deal as the commissioner had ruled Maris wouldn't get credit for the record unless he did it in 154 games instead of in the newly expanded 162-game schedule. (Ford Frick, the commissioner in question, by the way was Babe Ruth's biographer. No conflict of interest there.) So even though the most famous record in the game was about to fall, and even though the Yankees were involved in a pennant race throughout the season, the stadium was less than half-full.

I made a few other trips to Yankee Stadium during my years in New Jersey, including an old-timers day trip around 1964. I think Joe DiMaggio was in center field. But I can't be sure if that October day in 1961 was my first trip to Yankee Stadium. No one in the family would remember that detail at this point, and at a few weeks short of age 6 I wasn't taking notes.

But if that was my first game there, it was a tough act to follow.