Friday, February 29, 2008

Go to the mirror, boy

Last week offered a good chance to take a look at the wonderful world of professional boxing, heavyweight division. It's the funhouse of sports, where everything you see is a little distorted.

During the past 20-25 years, boxing came up with the idea that if one world champion was a good idea, two would be even better. More "championship bouts" that way, you see, and thus a bigger gate attraction. Which led to three world champions per weight classification, and then four. Let's repeat that -- there are four world champions. It's a reminder of the good old days of professional wrestling, when there were so many regional organizations around the country that you couldn't turn on your television on a Saturday without seeing two or three different world champions ... and that was just for Cleveland.

Two of the champions actually got in the same ring and fought last week. Wladimir Klitschko took on Sultan Ibragimov in a unification bout that was shown on HBO. OK, it's not an overstatement to say Ibragimov got in the ring, but it might be one to say he "fought" that night. He looked about as happy to be in the ring with Klitschko as I might be. Ibragimov was so inactive that it looked like Jerry Quarry could pick him apart (kids, ask your parents -- this is not exactly high praise). The crowd in New York got to see Klitschko throw a left jab every so often for 12 rounds with the occasional right hand, and it was easily enough of a performance to claim the additional title. As HBO dramas are concerned, "The Sopranos" it wasn't.

This leaves us with an unusual situation. Wladimir may be the world heavyweight champion according to two sanctioning bodies, but he's probably not the best fighter in his family.

Vitali Klitschko was a pretty fearsome fighter at one point a few years ago. One time he was the headliner on a card that featured Buffalo's Joe Mesi, and his performance made Mesi look like he was trying out for the junior varsity. Klitschko retired for a while but is back in training now. Vitali isn't a great fighter, but he's at least quite good when healthy and he's got to be better than most of the tomato cans out there.

I can't say I could come up with the names of the other heavyweight champions without a Google search, but it really doesn't matter. We're still waiting for that charismatic heavyweight champion to come along. You know the type -- Mike Tyson promised excitement whenever he climbed between the ropes, even if his career had some, um, baggage along the way. I'm not saying that fighter has to be an American, although it wouldn't hurt ticket sales in Las Vegas or New York. Even another Lennox Lewis would be welcome; Lewis wasn't always interested but he might have been one of the top 15 heavyweights ever when he put his mind to it.

It's time, then, to walk away from the funhouse for a while, and give heavyweight boxing some more time to sort itself out. If tradition holds, the views will be just as distorted in the years ahead.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Top Ten, traveling man edition

Summer vacations are a long way away at this point, but they sure sound good at the end of February. It led me to think about the top 10 historical sites I've ever visited, places that really made me stop and think.

I'm not counting such locations as National Parks, or historic sites like the Washington Monument or Lincoln Memorial. I want to think about places where signs could hung reading "History Happened Here." So here's a quick list:

1. The Oval Office, the White House, Washington -- I was covering the Buffalo Sabres when we (the team's traveling party, that is) were let in for a quick look around. Everyone was afraid to touch the phone. The amount of history to take place, and continues to take place, in that room is staggering, and it really is oval. Nice carpet with the U.S. seal on it, too. I was given some Presidential lifesavers from Mr. Clinton's desk; I've still got them.

2. Independence Hall, Philadelphia -- Where it all began. I dare you to stand in that room and not think about the guts that the people who ratified the Declaration had. Got problems with England? We'll just start our own country, and make it a democratic one. Yeah, right, happens all the time. Oh, and the signers all thought they were going to die by going public when they signed that piece of paper.

3. Appomattox Court House, Virginia -- Tourists can get in the very room where Lee surrendered to Grant. Pictures show the scene as it was, so it's easy to picture how it was done.

4. Jamestown, Virginia -- Where it all began. Considering all that the settlers went through, it's tough to believe we made it to 1608, let alone 2008. The NPS does a very good job of describing life there for the first visitors.

5. The House Speaker's Chair, U.S. Capitol, Washington -- This perhaps should be higher because it's not exactly on the tourist route. A friend of mine worked in the Capitol building. I visited him, and we went through a couple of doors and suddenly we were on the floor of the House. From there it was up the steps to sit in the Speaker's very chair. The old drawers around the desk have all sorts of modern communications equipment, but from the outside it really looks like Henry Clay would fit right in.

6. Texas Book Depository, Dallas -- You can't get in the actual room where Oswald shot (or should I say allegedly shot) Kennedy, but you can go next to it. Therefore, you can look right down on to Dealey Plaza and picture the whole scene, which has been shown countless times to old-timers like me and their elders. You can even see the X that's been painted on the road where the impact took place. The building turned the top floor into a museum, which does a nice job of explaining the events before and after.

7. Kennedy Space Center, Florida -- You can't go right on to Launch Complex 39 and see where Apollo 11 took off for the moon, because it is still in use. You can get a few miles away, though, and it still looks big. You also can walk under an unused Saturn V rocket in one of the museums, which is an amazing feeling. Someday this site might be remember more than most of the others.

8. Vice President's Office, Executive Office Building, Washington -- This was on another Sabres' tour. The Vice President does have a formal office; some use it more than others. (No word on if Dick Cheney has the office in an undisclosed location.) The best part of the office is the big desk. All of the Vice Presidents since Truman, I think, have signed the drawer directly in front of them. It's an instant course in that part of the executive branch. There's glass over the signatures, by the way, so they don't fade.

9. Fort Sumter, South Carolina -- I never knew it was on a small island in the middle of the bay off Charleston until I went there. You need to know the backstory about what happened there. The fort was attacked, and Union forces eventually surrender. Simple, but it changed out history forever. Nice boat ride out there, too.

10. Monticello, Virginia -- Thomas Jefferson was as brilliant as any figure in American history. His active mind is fully on display on the grounds of his home. Walking in the same building as Jefferson once did certainly gives one food for proverbial thought.

Honorable mention: The ones that come to mind are Rosa Parks' bus seat (kept in the Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich.), Ellis Island in New York, the U.S.S. Constitution in Boston, the Old North Church in Boston. Washington is filled with interesting places -- you can stand under the Spirit of St. Louis, or see the original Declaration of Independence, or visit Ford's Theater (although Lincoln's box is blocked off).

And in Canada: Founders Hall in Charlottetown is pretty nice, and it's always fun to walk around the halls of Parliament in Ottawa.

Any others? I'm willing to revise.

Monday, February 25, 2008

History lesson

Gather around, kids. Time to tell a story about what life was like in the fall of 1969, when I was in what we called "junior high school."

I was sitting in my usual spot in home room one morning. For those who have been through the school system, did anything interesting ever happen in home room? Probably not. But this day turned out to be an exception.

As usual, we got up for the pledge of allegiance, which may or may not have been read over the loudspeaker. On this particular day, an African-American girl -- we'll call her Jill -- sitting to my right and in front of me stayed right in her seat.

Chaos, at least by junior high standards, followed.

Jill was quickly hustled off to the principal's office for a conversation. The rest of us sat there rather dumbfounded. Public schools tend to stress conformity, of course, and it was more true then than now. At this particular school at this particular time, jeans weren't even allowed.

As I recall, most of us either didn't see the gesture or wondered what the big deal was. From my vantage point, I remembered the "black power" protest of John Carlos and Tommie Smith at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. Protests were on the news almost every night back then, although it was unusual to see it in home room. But the grown-ups sure seemed rattled.

Jill was back in home room the next day. When it was time for the pledge, she stood up with the rest of us ... and instead of putting her hand over her heart and reciting, she simply stayed silent and looked down.

I moved the following summer, and never heard the second half of this story until 2003, when I was talking to a teacher at a high school reunion of my old school system. Jill was a year or two older but still on the defiant side upon reaching high school, apparently. She was talking with one of the music teachers when she became angry about something or other. Jill said, "Bleep you," more or less, and the teacher was so stunned she slapped the pupil in response. Jill shouted back, "You're in trouble now! My mother's on the school board, and she'll have your job for this!"

As you might expect, the teacher was called down to the principal's office over this one. He said, "Of all of the people to slap, why did you pick this one?" She replied, "I just reacted emotionally. I wasn't expecting to hear that." I'm sure Jill got a lecture too.

This stuff probably goes on all the time in today's schools. But for us geezers, it was pretty exciting.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Deal or no deal

It's trading deadline time in the National Hockey League, and the drama is building here in Buffalo. Most of it centers around a talented young defenseman named Brian Campbell, who has played in the NHL All-Star Game for the last couple of years and has moves on the ice not seen in these parts since Phil Housley.

Campbell is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, and he is probably going to be a rich man when he signs that next contract. Campbell probably will earn close to $6 million per year over the course of a multiyear contract. Not bad.

But the usual dance goes on in the meantime, and that's where things get interesting.

There are two usual options in this situation. The Sabres could try to deal Campbell in the next two days, trying to extract a high draft choice and a good prospect for him from a Stanley Cup contender. The idea is that if Buffalo is convinced it can't sign Campbell, it's better to get something for him if he isn't going to be re-signed by July. A great many players have left the Sabres in the past two years this way, including Chris Drury, Daniel Briere, Jay McKee and Mike Grier. Those losses have turned a top team into one in the middle of the pack, and they have caused problems with the fan base.

The other option is to hold on to Campbell. That would give the team four extra months to sign him, and they would get to keep him for the stretch run and possibly for the playoffs. Campbell has said he wouldn't mind staying a Sabre. Of course, everyone has said that, and they more or less all walked away.

This is a tough enough decision under most circumstances. This isn't a veteran who might have one last hurrah left in him for a contender (Mats Sundin of Toronto comes to mind). This is someone who could be a top defenseman for years.

Meanwhile, the Sabres' on-ice performance hasn't done team management any favors in terms of decision-making. It is lingering around the dividing line between the playoff teams and the non-playoff teams. And that brings us to the point that needs to come up right now.

The Sabres are clearly a better team with Campbell in the lineup than with Campbell in San Jose's lineup after a trade. It looks like it is possible that the Sabres are a playoff team with Campbell, and not a playoff team without him. Which brings us to, naturally money.

If the Sabres do make the playoffs, they are guaranteed at least two playoff games and might get three even if they lose in the first round. The going rate for income at playoff time is said to be around $1 million per game, although that may be a little high for Buffalo as compared to, say, Philadelphia or New York. Still, that's $2-3 million sitting on the table.

And the Sabres could be matched against the Southeast Division winner with a sixth-place Eastern Conference finish, a matchup that looks like it could be won right now. A trip to the second round could be worth another $2-3 million, bringing the total to $4-6 million. That could pay Campbell's contract for a year.

Summing up, then, the Sabres could do nothing for now, thus improving their chances of earning millions of dollars in the postseason and buying some more time to talk contract with Campbell. They also increase their chances of having him walk away for nothing, which would be another public relations disaster.

But what if Campbell isn't the difference? What if the team isn't a Stanley Cup playoff team with him on the roster? Conversely, what if it is a playoff team even without him?

The Sabres front office has to make the best possible guess about those questions, and it has fewer than two days to do it. General manager Darcy Regier and company will earn their salaries during that time.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Odd twists

One of the techniques I've been using to build up the family tree to ridiculous proportions is the use of search engines. I plug in the two names of some married couple from my distant past, and see what comes up. In that way, I can piggy-back on the work of others. Once you get back a few generations, you'd be surprised what you can find ... provided that the people live in this country. In other words, it's not much help, or at least less help, for those who came over less than, say, 120 years ago.

So let's meet John Locke and Elizabeth Berry. John lived from 1627 to 1696, while Liz was around from 1635 to 1708. There's a connection to them through my father's mother, although it's not direct. John, by the way, was killed by Indians in Rye, New Hampshire (near Portsmouth).

Having plugged in those names to Google, it was suggested on one of those sites that there was a connection of John Locke to John Locke, the famous philosopher -- one of those guys who bored me in my college philosophy class. ("I'm bored, therefore I am.") I sent this information to my good friend Glenn Locke, author of "The Tall Thin Guy," which you should be visiting regularly if you aren't already. He said he was indeed distantly related to the philosopher too, which makes us technically related.

He said it was a good idea that we didn't get married; I couldn't agree more.

But that wasn't the surprise of the day. Another few Web sites down on the list of search results came another family tree. The page was called "The Ancestry of Halle Berry." John and Liz were her great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparents. It's only a coincidence that Elizabeth and Halle are both Berrys; Halle picked up the family name from a grandfather.

Related to Halle Berry? Now we're talking. When is that family reunion?

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Checking in with a sage

Av Westin, one of the legends of the television news business, spoke in Buffalo on Feb. 20. Westin started as Edward R. Murrow's copy boy at CBS, worked for that network for a while and then jumped to ABC. It might be an overstatement to say Westin helped give ABC News credibility and legitimacy, but not a big one. He worked on the evening newscast and helped establish 20/20. Westin is still pretty sharp as he approaches 80.

The newsman gave a speech that lasted 30-35 minutes or so. The topic was the news business from Murrow to MSNBC. As you'd expect from that generation, he's not too happy with the state of the news business. When he started, news was something of a loss leader for the network, designed to give some prestige. Then, Westin said that it was discovered that news could deliver ratings and money -- not just to the news show itself, but the whole prime-time lineup.

It was a slippery slope from there, according to Westin. Costs were cut, standards were lowered, etc. That applies to the network and the local level. Let's face it, it's difficult to argue with him.

From there, Westin took questions for about 20 minutes. I posed the question, "If Katie Couric had called to ask if she should jump from NBC to CBS, what would you have told her?" The subject was on my mind after reading Howard Kurtz's book, "Reality Show" (see review here). I wondered if he thought that she needed to take the job for prestige, or if the power center had shifted to the morning programs from the nightly news.

His answer was none of the above, but no less interesting. After telling a story about how much Barbara Walters and Harry Reasoner hated each other when they did the evening news together, he said he would have told Couric to stay put. One reason is that she's better in a more open format, in which she can free-wheel during interviews. If something needed to go an extra minute or two, it's easier in the morning. The nightly shows are rigidly structured -- in part because of tradition -- and it's hard to get away from it.

Then Westin added that she didn't think Couric was particularly good at delivering the news. She thought her interviewing skills weren't that good in that format. He personally watches ABC out of loyalty and NBC because he likes Brian Williams.

Always good to hear from those who have been around the block once or twice.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Prime time

When a discussion comes up about prime-time television, I'm about as lost as I am when someone brings up cooking techniques. Which is saying something.

There's just not much on of interest to me. I've only made it through "Survivor" once, and have no interest in seeing the updated version of the Ted Mack Amateur Hour, better known as "American Idol." There are good shows out there, I'm sure, but I've never seen them.

But there is one exception. I'm a devoted viewer of "American Experience" on PBS.

Monday nights starting in January, the show cranks out generally interesting documentaries about American history. I always learn things. I also always wonder about the people behind the scenes who take the time to put these films together.

In other words, someone had to sit down a while ago and say, "Boy, I think America is interested in the history of the lobotomy."

Oddly enough, that person was right, at least as far as this very small section of America is concerned. Usually, the shows are done well enough so that almost any topic is worthwhile.

This year's programs already have covered the usual wide range of subjects. "Grand Central" covered the rail terminal in New York City and its history. Can't say I knew that the construction of the building was responsible for the concept of "air rights" in real estate. New York Central pushed its tracks under ground and sold the real estate above it in order to finance the project.

Then there's Mary Pickford. I knew she was a movie star, I knew she was "America's sweetheart," whatever that means. I didn't know that she basically was our first has-been. Pickford played young roles in silent pictures starting around World War I, and became a huge star. But then she grew older, and audiences weren't interested in seeing her grow up. Her personal story didn't have an happy ending.

Tonight's story was on Kit Carson. Now I've heard of him, but I can't say I know the reason why. So while I'm not sure if I need to see 90 minutes on Carson, I'll learn a few things if I merely start the tape up. Next week is a show on Buffalo Bill Cody. Having been to his grave, I learned that Cody was essentially the 19th century version of Don King in terms of promotion. He would have fit right in with the boxing crowd.

The program runs into spring, and reruns are often aired during the course of the year.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Take Five, Steroids Edition

Five reasons to wonder about Congress, and not about a pitcher and his personal trainer:

1. After watching the Roger Clemens Congressional hearing the other day, on and off, for almost five hours, the same question struck me as everyone else: Why was Congress bothering with this one? Shouldn't this have been in a courtroom somewhere?
There may be better things for our nation's legislature to do that worry about how an ex-pitcher reacts to a shot.

2. And who knew that the status of Clemens' drug use was a partisan issue? The Republicans grilled Brian McNamee, the Democrats grilled Clemens. Guess the Republicans were the ones who got autographed baseballs from the Rocket the week before.

3. If Barry Bonds and his fans were watching the Congressional hearing, they might now be convinced that the steroid "witch hunts" (or, more accurately, attempts to find out the truth) can be conducted without regard to race, creed, color or national origin. Then again, if the fans weren't convinced after reading "Game of Shadows," they probably won't be now either.

4. Representative Dan Burton seemed shocked, "SHOCKED!" (thank you, "Casablanca"), that a personal trainer might lie to the media about his employer's steroid use. Somehow, he apparently didn't figure out that a guy who breaks the law to obtain illegal substances might feel that he has less than a moral obligation to tell the truth to Newsday.

5. Someone may have asked why the two sides came up with opposite conclusions about Clemens' steroid use, but I didn't see it. Were there conversations between the two men before the shots were taken? Did Clemens say something like, "Give me something to make me feel better, but don't tell me what it is, nudge, nudge, wink, wink, know what I mean, know what I mean"? Did Clemens ever ask what he was taking, and where the substance came from? Did the steroid culture in major league baseball at the time ever come up in conversation between them?

It's still impossible to come up with a definitive answer to what really happened here between Clemens and McNamee, but McNamee seems to have pulled ahead a bit thanks to the testimony of Andy Pettitte and Chuck Knoblauch. It will be interesting to see if the issue is pursued in the future, and who pursues it.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Gone but not forgotten

It's time to call for something of a crusade. Or at least, point out a marketing opportunity.

In 1964, pop music was taken over in this country by something called "The British Invasion." You didn't have to be from England to put a song on the top of the charts back then, but it sure helped. The Beatles were the biggest group to take America; I've heard it argued that the band helped us get over the national depression caused by the assassination of President John Kennedy.

But there were other bands and artists coming over as well: Rolling Stones, Peter & Gordon, Petula Clark, Chad & Jeremy, Herman's Hermits, etc.

Plus, the Dave Clark Five.

That group had a good-sized list of hits, including "Bits and Pieces," "Glad All Over," "Because," "Catch Us If You Can," and "Can't You See That She's Mine." Clark was the band's singer even though he was the lead singer, an unusual combination. A listen to those songs today still reveals a good-sized amount of power; you could picture The Clash covering "Bits and Pieces." For a while there, the DC5 was thought to be a possible rival to the Beatles -- indeed, it was the second British Invasion band to have a top 10 hit -- but the band eventually faded out of the public eye.

However, someone remembered their influence. They'll be going into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame next month; supposedly their induction was delayed by a year when Jann Wenner decided the class of '07 needed a rap group.

With that all in mind, ever try to pick up a compact disk of the Dave Clark Five's recordings? It's tough.

There are some recordings out there, but they are generally out of print. If you want to buy a used copy, it will cost you something like $40, and that's on the low side of those available on

What we need, then, is an effort to get a greatest hits CD back on the market. It might take someone to start a petition drive (I'm not volunteering), or it might just take some music executive to take a chance on it. And with the Hall of Fame ceremony coming, this seems like a perfect time to do it. Rhino has done several such oldies packages over the years. Is there room for one more?

"I'm in pieces, bits and pieces..."

* * * * * * * * *

Footnote: Mike Smith, the lead singer for the Dave Clark 5, died on Feb. 28. He had suffered a spinal cord injury a few years ago, and many top rock stars had contributed to fund-raising efforts on his behalf. Thanks for your contributions to rock music, Mike.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Impossible Dream

The name Jess Cain doesn't mean a great deal outside the Boston area. Cain was a popular morning radio host on WHDH for decades (1957-1991), one of those people who become a shared part of the community. Practically everyone used to wake up to him.

But he was something else to certain members of "Red Sox Nation."

After the 1967 baseball season, the "Impossible Dream" year that rejuvenated baseball in New England, Fleetword Records issued a record album (remember those?) with highlights of the season. I'll bet it sold thousands and thousands of copies. The first side went through the season day-by-day, the second side went through player-by-player.

On side two was a tribute to Carl Yastrzemski, who had one of the great clutch years in sports history. There are plenty of audio clips of Yaz hitting a big homer or making a great catch on the record.

The capper, though, was a three-minute song that was a tribute to Yaz. I don't think it had a title -- maybe "The Yastrzemski Song" -- but it started, "Carl Yastrzemski, Carl Yastrzemski, Carl Yastrzemski, the man we call Yaz, we love him. Carl Yastrzemski, Carl Yastrzemski, Carl Yastrzemki, what power he has. Our Boston team, it's always on the beam, cause we got Yaz..."

Lots of horns along the way, and pretty catchy as these things go. (Here's how it sounds.) Take it from the 12-year-old who listened to that album as only a 12-year-old living 300 miles from Boston could -- it was good stuff. I still remember the words, and I'll bet my co-worker at The Buffalo News, Jerry Sullivan, another 12-year-old living in Rhode Island at the time, could too.

Yup, the song was written and sung by Jess Cain.

The tune came up in the public eye when the movie "Fever Pitch" was released almost three years ago, and it was part of the soundtrack. I sat right up in my seat when I saw the album cover in the movie.

I dubbed the album to cassette tape (I know, I should have it on my iPod by now), and I'll have to listen to the song soon. Jesse would have liked that, I think.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Bad memories

I didn't see Richard Zednik of the Florida Panthers get his throat cut when it happened tonight. I was eating dinner. But I saw the incident on replay later, and it brought back some bad memories.

On March 22, 1989, the St. Louis Blues were playing the Buffalo Sabres in Memorial Auditorium. Steve Tuttle of the Blues went hard toward the net while being checked by Uwe Krupp, when Tuttle's skate came up and cut the throat of Sabres' goalie Clint Malarchuk. I was working for the Sabres at that point in the public relations department, and I was up in the press box on the far side of center ice.

I can't say I was sure what happened immediately. I knew Malarchuk had been hurt as he staggered right off the ice toward the dressing room. I didn't really know how badly he was hurt until I saw the replay on television moments later. A stream of blood came out of Malarchuk's neck; one viewing was enough to keep it in my mind to this day.

Malarchuk received immediate medical care on the six-inch cut; doctors headed to the locker room and eventually ordered him to the hospital. From there, the rest of us weren't sure what was going on. Information was scarce. My most vivid memory came when Clint's brother called Memorial Auditorium from Calgary. The call was sent up to the press box, and I answered it. He was pretty frantic, wondering what had happened. And I was helpless. I eventually transferred the call to the locker room, but I have no idea if he got any information that way.

I heard all sorts of stories in the next 24 hours, how a local couple had stayed up all night praying for him, how people in the stands had become sick watching the play develop. We also heard that Malarchuk was going to be fine, thanks to the speedy medical work of trainer Jim Pizzutelli and doctors. The goalie certainly could have bled to death had he not received prompt, good medical attention. By the way, the master TV tape of the game was erased by the Sabres.

Malarchuk, one of the great characters in Sabre history, was interviewed on television the next day. Staying in character, he told one TV station that he had asked for a zipper on the scarline so that he could store his pencils. Malarchuk also showed the toll of the incident when he nearly broke down in describing the play.

My biggest emotional moment came two days later, as I recall. Malarchuk was out of the hospital, and was going to stop in Memorial Auditorium to pick up a few things. I asked John Gurtler, public relations director of the team, what he thought about introducing Clint to the crowd during the game. Gurtler realized the fans had been through quite a few days emotionally, and it might help everyone to have Clint take a bow and show he was better.

Malarchuk needed a little convincing, but he stood by the Zamboni entrance when he was ready to go. When there was a stoppage in play, I got on the public address system and said something like, "We thought you'd like to say hello to someone tonight. By the Zamboni entrance, please welcome Clint Malarchuk." I barely got the words out.

"The next thing we knew, there was just a huge wave of emotion and the crowd was rising," said Gurtler, who got the Zamboni doors open so that everyone could get a better view. Everyone in the building roared. Opposing players pounded their sticks on the ice in the classic hockey style. When the ovation stopped, Malarchuk said "Wow" to Gurtler and left the building.

Malarchuk was back in uniform within a couple of weeks and continued his NHL career. Let's hope Zednik's story has a similar happy ending.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Worth sharing...

Marshawn Lynch is going to be my favorite Buffalo Bill if he keeps this up:

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Going, going ...

Some months ago, when the Buffalo Bills first announced a plan to play games in Toronto, a friend of mine who is a huge football fan said to me, "The first step, right?"

I replied, "Yes."

To fill in the blanks, he meant the first step for the Bills to move somewhere -- maybe Toronto, maybe not.

As Buffalo's economy has stagnated (I'm not sure if it is shrinking in absolute terms, only relative to other cities in North America), it's easy to guess that it will be more and more difficult to keep an NFL team here. Owner Ralph Wilson has been complaining about the economy here for years, and he did it again this week during a news conference in Toronto.

Now Wilson deserves a little credit here. He could have easily sold the team at any point in the last several years, and made a huge profit. How much do you think a team would be worth in the Los Angeles market right now, especially if a new stadium were promised to new owners as part of the deal? I would guess something close to a billion dollars. Wilson stayed put instead.

The Bills' ticket prices are pretty low, and they have trouble finding many corporations who are willing to pay ridiculous numbers for suites and club seating. Buffalo's revenue streams don't match the ones in Dallas or New York. This is a comment on the economics in Buffalo; it also may be a comment on the intelligence of Western New Yorkers who have trouble justifying thousands of dollars a year for eight (let's not even start with preseason games) NFL games.

But here's the catch. Wouldn't you love to see a full economic disclosure by an NFL team? Or two?

The Bills have their entire football payroll covered, more or less, by television payments. It's something around $100 million, I believe. That means everything else taken in can go toward the rest of their expenses. The Bills have been selling games out pretty regularly in the last decade despite missing the playoffs for the past several years. Are they losing money, or not making enough for their partners?

Even with a labor deal that doesn't work overly well for the small-market teams, it's easy to wonder where the money is going. Come to think of it, it's easy to wonder how the Green Bay Packers are making ends meet -- and they are a national institution.

Certainly, other teams can charge more for tickets and suites, and that means more money in the system and more money for the salary cap. That will make it tougher and tougher for the Bills to keep up. But again, it's tough to know what the timetable from going from black to red ink might be.

The Bills' lease was only signed for 15 years, and it has a steadily decreasing penalty for early departure -- not the best of deals from the population's standpoint. It's easy to be pessimistic that the team will ever sign another one.

Take Five, Super Tuesday edition

1. For all the talk about Tuesday's status as something close to a national primary -- at least, as close as we've ever come -- I had to wait until 1:50 a.m. before someone actually mentioned the total vote. At that point, according to CNN's David Gergen, both Clinton and Obama had about 5 million votes. By Wednesday night, the counted vote had grown to more than 7 million each, and Clinton had a four-tenths of a percent lead on Obama.

2. In the movie version of this campaign, John Edwards takes his block of delegates and becomes the compromise candidate after some tense negotiations. Or ... Al Gore comes in to save the day hours before the first ballot and accept the party's nomination on behalf of the country. We're not in a movie, although sometimes it feels like one.

3. Smooth move by Mitt Romney on Tuesday to say he wasn't exactly impressed that Bob Dole wrote him a letter defending John McCain's conservative credentials. He made it sound as if Dole had as much credibility as Teddy Kennedy in Republican matters. That's Bob Dole, former Presidential nominee who probably will have the next Senate office building or something named after him in appreciation for his work there. It's getting clearer why the rest of the field doesn't seem to like Mr. Romney.

4. Funniest moment of the TV coverage that I saw: Jeffrey Toobin of CNN was just starting to point out that Romney had only carried two states, Massachusetts and Utah, and he had lived in both of them. Anderson Cooper interrupted to have Wolf Blitzer announce that CNN had just projected Romney as the winner in ... Minnesota. Then it was back to the panel, who couldn't stop laughing.

5. One of these days, someone is going to keep track of all of the historical and cultural references thrown about by Keith Olbermann, and post them in a blog. They aren't out of right field like the ones Dennis Miller used to use in "Monday Night Football," but you do have to be sharp to keep track of them. According to Variety, MSNBC has told its anchors to have fun this year, and they are following orders with pleasure.

Friday, February 01, 2008

What if?

If you like to read the odd alternative history book, then consider this possibility: Rudy Giuliani may have the person most responsible for John McCain winning the Republican nomination this year.

Let me explain.

Giuliani was the leader in the polls of Republicans nationally throughout much of 2007. Somewhere along the way he decided that he didn't have much hope of doing anything in Iowa, so he stayed away from that state's caucus.

But after several visits to New Hampshire, he made the same decision's about that state's primary. Now let's think about that.

New Hampshire would seem to be tailor made for Giuliani. He's on the liberal side as Republicans go -- there's an understatement -- and figured to have more appeal to independents than many Republican candidates. And, what do you know, New Hampshire has an open primary. Independents can show up and vote for either party, and they did.

So, Giuliani decided to drop out and head to Florida. McCain went on to win the New Hampshire primary over Mitt Romney, in part because he received a good-sized share of the independent vote. Suddenly, McCain had some momentum -- the "Mac is back" slogan carried him through South Carolina and then through Florida, where Giuliani was making his first and last stand.

If Giuliani had hung around for New Hampshire, he might have cut into McCain's total -- perhaps enough to throw the primary to Romney. That certainly would have given the process an entirely different dynamic. It wouldn't have helped Giuliani, but we may have had a different eventual nominee ... and perhaps a different President.