Friday, February 27, 2009

Brown vs. Board of Education

I'm a new member of Netflix -- part of the "benefit" of having an eye injury that prevents exercise -- and one of the fun parts about it is that there are videos on demand.

So the other day, I was looking through the sports selections and saw a video of the 1966 NCAA basketball final between Texas Western and Kentucky. This might be the most famous final in history. It matched the all-black Texas Western team against the all-white Kentucky team. It's been called the Brown vs. Board of Education case of college basketball. I quickly called it up.

The interesting part came in the presentation. There was one camera shooting the game, taking from not quite half-court. There were close-ups in certain situations, like foul shots. No graphics were visible. Then, the Kentucky radio play-by-play was dropped over the video. Presto, it was sort of like television. And no Hollywood tricks were added here, like in "Glory Road."

The game itself was pretty straight-forward. Texas Western looked like the better team, and constantly applies pressure to move a bit ahead. The Miners also were very good from the free throw line. I hate to use the old cliche "more athletic," but Texas Western did look quicker outside and more impressive under the boards. Pat Riley had a nice game for Kentucky, while I can see why I related as a 10-year-old to Riley's teammate Louie Dampier, who was a great standstill shooter but who couldn't generate many shots on his own. My kind of player.

Here's a YouTube clip of three minutes of the game, with minimal commentary:

What was very interesting, though, was the sound. In that situation, I'm obviously listening for signs of racism at the time. Interestingly enough, there were only a couple of incidents along those lines, and those could have been interpreted in more than one way.

For example, before the game the announcer said that everyone figured Kentucky had far too much talent for Texas Western to keep up. It sounded to me like basic "homer" announcing, and even so that might have been the convention wisdom before the game. The announcer also had trouble identifying the Texas Western players at the start, but this may have been simply a lack of homework.

At the end of the game, when Texas Western was in charge, the announcer commented that while Texas Western hadn't played with much discipline on offense, it did enough to win the game. This certainly could be interpreted as something along the lines of Texas Western doesn't play team basketball (playing more of an "urban" style -- draw your own conclusions) while Kentucky does. And in the final minute there was a suprising amoung of booing on the soundtrack. Was that due to the fact that the Kentucky announcer was near the Kentucky section, which was upset about the game? Or is there some racism involved? Hard to tell from this 2009 perspective.

Basketball has come a long way since 1966, based on the video. And so have we.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

"Mr. Speaker..."

Did you see where Barack Obama addressed Congress tonight? I've been right there.

Glenn Locke and I were driving a car from Florida to Buffalo in 1989, and we stopped in Washington to do the tourist thing. One of my interns with the Sabres, Bob Fischer, had moved on to work inside the U.S. Capitol building. He told me to drop by sometime, and he'd give us a little tour. O.K., Bob.

It took us a little while to find Bob. He first led us out of the office, around a corner, and opened a rather typical looking door. Suddenly, we were on the floor of Congress. Yes, it was in recess. A couple of steps up, and Glenn and I were ready to assume the roles of Vice President and Speaker of the House at the next joint session of Congress.

Bob let us look around a little up there. As I recall, there are all sorts of old-looking cabinets up there, but there are modern communications devices located inside those drawers. Jim Wright was on his way out from the Speaker's job at the point for some scandal, so we no doubt made some remark about looking for money or women or something else in those hidden drawers. The funny part was looking up and seeing the tours take visitors through the galleries. Those visitors no doubt looked down upon us and said, "Who the heck are those guys?"

Bob showed us around the rest of the building, and then led us outside for a moment. An official photographer showed up and took our picture in the classic pose with the Capitol dome behind us. I don't know if I'm the only person to pose like that in cut-off shorts, but I don't think it's a very big club.

It was a really odd feeling to be standing there, and quite a thrill. Wherever you are, thanks again, Bob.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Life at a sports team

Noted Tall Thin Guy Glenn Locke asked about the thinking that goes into ticket prices in a comment on the last item, and wrote about it on his own blog. Having spent six years working for a pro sports team, let me make a couple of points about my now-ancient experiences on the matter. (It will be good practice for when I talk to a sports management class at Syracuse University next month.)

1. The idea of "variable pricing" was at least discussed by the Sabres in the early 1990's. We knew darn well that the Maple Leafs, Canadiens and Bruins were the biggest draws, and that, as a team that was losing money, there was at least an opportunity to raise ticket prices for those games.

Here's the funny part. The opposition for the idea came from the hockey department. Loud opposition. The people there didn't like the idea that a team could come into Memorial Auditorium and be told it was part of a "bargain-basement value ticket plan." They thought it would motivate the opposition. That line of thinking obviously has died.

2. The Sabres averaged something around 14,000 to 15,000 during much of my time there. The catch was trying to get the number of 16,433 on a regular basis. One thing that surprised me was that when the team won a few games in a row, fans did not immediately go rushing to the ticket window to buy tickets for that night's game, or the next game. They looked down the road, saw a game and date they liked, and bought tickets for that game. You win four straight in November, and suddenly you are sold out at Christmas.

The biggest argument came down to two conflicting points: maximizing revenue vs. filling the building. Those aren't the same thing, of course. If you try to squeeze every dollar out of every game, that means you don't have packages with restaurants for pizza and a game for a family of four, or offer much of a discount on group sales. When you are losing money, it's obviously tempting to take this approach.

Me, I was a "fill the building" guy. I thought the Sabres should get fannies in the seats at all costs. A sellout makes it much more likely that people will think tickets have value. "Wow, I have a ticket for the game, but Joe doesn't. Bet he's jealous." A filled building also is a better, more exciting experience for the fan. As I said in the last post, fans look around in such circumstances and think they are part of something special.

Then, once you are filling the building regularly and have established the scarcity of tickets, you can slowly cut back on the discounts and maximize those revenues.

I'm not sure who won those arguments with the Sabres, but I think my side did fine. But it still is a little odd to see the fun-and-games that go on with ticket prices these days. Hockey was a much simpler business way back when.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Crowded house

Most sports fans will admit to some degree of fascination with attendance at games. Who doesn't like being at a sold-out event? There's a certain amount of status at having a ticket to a game in which not everyone who wants to attend can attend. There's also a matter of "See? Everyone else wants to be here too, so I must be pretty cool to be in the group" line of thinking.

Which brings us to "minor sports" in general, and the National Lacrosse League in particular for these purposes.

The NLL is trying to build a fan base, and its teams obviously have a stake in its sale of tickets. (You can say this about any struggling team or sport, of course.) But the number of dollars passing through the windows isn't the only important part of the equation. The teams want to create a situation where its tickets are perceived to have value. It's not as if anyone else has access to the actual attendance numbers, so teams can issue any numbers they like. As a Sabre executive I used to know once said, "You can never have a sellout when you print your own tickets." (This is where we get into the tickets distributed/people in the seats discussion, since the two hardly match).

Friday night in Toronto, the Rock and the Buffalo Bandits played in a building (Air Canada Centre) that seats at least 18,000. Maybe -- maybe -- some of the middle sections in the lower part of the arena were more than half full. Otherwise, the fans were rather scattered. Upstairs, there were acres of empty seats in the corners. It's tough in a relatively new building to me to guess the attendance, but I'd say 7,000 to 8,000 people might have been in the ACC.

Friday's announced attendance: 12,844.

Even assuming there were some no-shows in that count, that's a large gap between the given figure and reality. Journalistically, it causes some problems. We're supposedly to report the attendance as a measuring stick of popularity, but we're also trying to give the facts as well. And the facts really aren't available.

Telling the difference between announced and actual can be quite easy at an April minor-league baseball game, when there are obviously 500 or so people in the ballpark and the announced crowd is more than 6,000. Season-ticket holders make up the difference. It's tougher in other sports.

So should reporters give the announced figure and/or their best estimate? More to the point, does anyone really care besides the team what number is used in the media?

Journalism -- a tricky business some times.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Rim shot

There is more than one way to make a basket, as this video of NBA mascots playing "horse" reveals.

Ouch. The mascot tore up part of his knee in the fall, as a convincing argument was made not to try this again next year.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Law school

You never know where a memory of your college days might pop up. For example, The Sporting News.

In the current issue, five college basketball players are asked about five different topics -- must-see TV, favorite March Madness memory, LeBron or Kobe, etc. The first was "toughest class you are taking." Arinze Omuaku of Syracuse said, "Communications Law for Television, Film and Radio."

Say, I took that class ... sort of.

All of the students at Syracuse's Newhouse School of Communications had to take a class in communications law in those prehistoric days, and it was the same class; it looks like they've split it up now into print and video versions.

Communications laws memories start with the text book. It looked like a law book, one of those volumes that look so good when you see a bookcase in a judge's chambers. I felt like a serious student just carrying it around.

Then there's the fact the course was open to the entire communications school, so I sat in the back with two friends from the television-radio program. Therefore, I knew I'd have a good time. Greg and John were always good for a silly remark or two in every class. They had an inviting target in the teacher, who was less than inspiring. He used to sit on the front of the desk, head buried in book, and either read from the text or made comments about it. I'm not sure I ever saw what he looked like, except for the bald spot on top.

Then there's the fact that Communications Law was the only open note/open book class of my college experience. The teacher's logic was that we'd be able to look cases up in real-world situations, so we were invited to do it in tests. That was like a hanging slider to me, as I might not remember legal cases but I could find relevant material in a hurry. Which is why my grade for the class was an A.

But did I learn something in the class? Absolutely. One case we studied was "Chaplinsky vs. New Hampshire." The famous "fighting words case." A guy on a New Hampshire street corner yelled out some threatening words and was arrested, and the Supreme Court ruled that the rights of free speech didn't cover his situation.

To this day, if you say, "Dem's fightin' words," to Greg, John or me, they'll respond, "Chaplinsky vs. New Hampshire." The teacher would be proud.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Blinded by the light

On Sunday, when Jody and I were taking a little Sunday drive to Mayville and Erie, I noticed a little problem with my vision. There were a few extra "floaters" in my field of vision, eventually followed by a streak of light whenever I moved my line of sight quickly. The flashes sort of looked like a crescent of lightning. I didn't know what was going on, but when it didn't go away it was clearly time to call the eye doctor the next morning.

After an exam, it was determined that I had a "gel displacement" in my eye. That stuff in the middle of the eyeball moved a bit, dislodging some particles (floaters) and bumping up against the optic nerve (flashes). No retinal tears were found, which was the good news. But I need to keep staring straight ahead whenever possible for the time being, until everything settles down.

In addition, the doctor doesn't want any jarring of the eyeball. So heavy exercise -- and by that I mean anything more than walking -- is out for something like three months. We're about to find out if a running columnist needs to run to get good stories. Or, put another way, there goes my plans to take up boxing this year.

I've been watching some movies for the last couple of days. Suggestions are welcome ... and "Scent of a Woman" may not strike me as too funny right now.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Meanwhile, back on Long Street

I checked in with my source who lives one block from the Clarence Center crash site, Ma Chase. Life still hasn't returned to normal, as you could imagine.

Let's start with the bad news. In a tragic twist of events, one of her best friends happened to be on the plane. Apparently the woman had tried to fly to St. Louis for a wedding, had a flight cancelled because of the winds, and caught a flight back to Buffalo. As Mrs. Chase said, you know how the story ends.

Otherwise (a very weak word under the circumstances), things are OK. The area has been cut off from the rest of civilization to cut down on the gawkers. Mrs. Chase said roadblocks are up well north and south of the site on Goodrich Road (for those who know the area). You need ID to get in and out. I assume it's a similar story east and west.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Chase has done interviews with the Washington Post, a Swiss newspaper, and a Canadian television outlet.

She has not taken a walk down the street. Since this was the day to look for victims and wreckage, she felt no need to go by. She did add that she could see all of the flashing lights from her front porch.

I also talked with Don Smith, a high school friend (in fact, my first in Clarence when I moved in) who lives a few blocks north of the site. He said he heard a loud noise outside that sounded like a big snowplow or something going by. Don didn't hear the massive explosion, but said he could see the fire from his second floor window. I told Don that whenever he crosses the street in Clarence Center from now on, he should look left, right ... and up.

Be sure to check out Glenn Locke's blog with an e-mail from Ron Guido, who used to live in the house.

Friday, February 13, 2009

One last goodbye

I had the chance this afternoon to go into Memorial Auditorium one last time. I couldn't resist.

My friend Suzanne got me inside the construction/destruction site, as she has the job of taking pictures of the demolition for the company. Those of you who haven't been downtown lately might not recognize the front of the building:

It's obviously a very odd feeling to be able to look inside the building and see the cylinders still hanging from the roof. Crews were knocking material down while we were there.

From there we headed for the other end of the building, went inside, up a ramp, past a hole that looked like the Stanley Cup had gone through it, and finally to floor level. It's pretty dark in there, except for the huge hole at one end, but a little photo editing came up with this picture:

Finally, here's proof I was there with a brighter picture by Suzanne ... with the remains of part of the press box hanging on the bottom of the oranges in the background:

The actual floor is covered with some sort of frozen liquid -- not enough to use for skating, and not exactly worth a walk -- your shoes might melt. The seats are all gone. The walkway to the Sabres dressing room was open, but we only had one flashlight and I didn't think there would be much to see at this point.

After looking around, one thought struck me: "What's holding the roof up, anyway?" It's obviously the same supports that kept it up for years, but the light pouring through the top didn't make me feel completely confident.

OK, I've seen enough of the place and have no curiosity about going back. Farewell, old friend.

Plane crash in Clarence Center

The e-mail box had several messages when I checked this morning, as people who knew I lived in Clarence for many years heard about last night's plane crash. You can go to the Buffalo News site for updates. So here's my relatively inconsequential part of the story:

I was working in the newsroom Thursday night when word circulated that a plane had gone down in Clarence. Now, Clarence is a pretty big place geographically, but I figured a small four-seater had landed in a corn field or something. Then in the 11 o'clock hour, word came in that the plane had crashed on Long Ave. in Clarence Center. That got my attention, since my best man at my wedding grew up on Long Street and his mom still lived there ... and there was no Long Ave. in the area, just Long Street. I told the news department to make the correction on our Web site. At some point I heard it was a commercial airplane with passengers.

At about 11:30, I called Ma Chase and was happy to hear her answer the phone. She said she was lying in bed about to go to sleep when it sounded like a bomb had gone off down the street. She simply stayed in her house and watched coverage of events on television until the power had been cut off shortly before I called. I asked if she was going to call Kevin in Connecticut, and she didn't want to wake him up. I kind of wondered how close a plane has to crash before it's worth a phone call to your son. But I did send some e-mails around to friends and relatives with connections to Clarence with a few details.

Kevin checked back this morning to say that his mom had gone across the street to stay with friends there overnight, and was back home this morning. The wind has been blowing in the other direction, so smoke was not a problem. Kevin did add that he thought a plane crash a block away was indeed close enough to warrant a wake-up call.

My mother and sister, who both live out of state, both heard about it through the cable news channels overnight and were relieved to hear that Ma Chase was OK. (By the way, Fox News reported it as Long Ave. in Derie County -- Derie, not Erie? Nice work, guys.)

One other connection came when the Associated Press quoted a state trooper about the incident, and the officer was John Manthey, who was a year behind me in high school. Small world. And I heard from another high school friend who flew out of Newark last night, and he said planes were delayed by high winds there. Jeff reported that when he took a plane out of New Jersey a couple of weeks ago, he happened to sit next to someone who was a passenger on the US Airways flight that landed in the Hudson River. Strange days indeed.

It's been odd to be so focused on one side of the story, thinking about the friends on the ground near the crash site. As someone who is very familiar with the area, that plane must have come down at a very, very steep angle in order to not hit any other houses on the residential street. Now we're all kind of waiting to see if we know anyone who was on the plane, which is the other side of the story. Our thoughts are with those that do have such personal ties.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Not quite 100

My friend's friend Fiona, the Infogoddess, snuck this on her blog a couple of months ago. I missed it then, but found it recently. I find I like these tests more than I should. I'll save my answers for the most part so that you can play along at home (and I have added a few), as Art James used to say on the game shows of the 1960's:

Things you’ve already done: bold
Things you want to do: italicize
Things you haven’t done and don’t want to - leave in plain font

1. Started your own blog.
2. Slept under the stars.
3. Played in a band.
4. Visited Hawaii.
5. Watched a meteor shower.
6. Given more than you can afford to charity.
7. Been to Disneyland/world.
8. Climbed a mountain.
9. Held a praying mantis.
10. Sang a solo.
11. Bungee jumped.
12. Visited Paris.
13. Watched a lightning storm at sea.
14. Taught yourself an art from scratch.
15. Adopted a child.
16. Had food poisoning.
17. Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty.
18. Grown your own vegetables.
19. Seen the Mona Lisa in France.
20. Slept on an overnight train.
21. Had a pillow fight.
22. Hitchhiked.
23. Taken a sick day when you’re not ill.
24. Built a snow fort.
25. Held a lamb.
26. Gone skinny dipping.
27. Run a marathon.
28. Ridden a gondola in Venice.
29. Seen a total eclipse.
30. Watched a sunrise or sunset.
31. Hit a home run.
32. Been on a cruise.
33. Seen Niagara Falls in person.
34. Visited the birthplace of your ancestors.
35. Seen an Amish community.
36. Taught yourself a new language.
37. Had enough money to be truly satisfied.
38. Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person.
39. Gone rock climbing.
40. Seen Michelangelo’s David in person.
41. Sung Karaoke.
42. Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt.
43. Bought a stranger a meal in a restaurant.
44. Visited Africa.
45. Walked on a beach by moonlight.
46. Been transported in an ambulance.
47. Had your portrait painted.
48. Gone deep sea fishing.
49. Seen the Sistine chapel in person.
50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
51. Gone scuba diving or snorkeling.
52. Kissed in the rain.
53. Played in the mud.
54. Gone to a drive-in theater.
55. Been in a movie.
56. Visited the Great Wall of China.
57. Started a business.
58. Taken a martial arts class.
59. Visited Russia.
60. Served at a soup kitchen.
61. Sold Girl Scout cookies.
62. Gone whale-watching.
63. Gotten flowers for no reason.
64. Donated blood.
65. Gone sky diving.
66. Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp.
67. Bounced a check.
68. Flown in a helicopter.
69. Saved a favorite childhood toy.
70. Visited the Lincoln Memorial.
71. Eaten Caviar.
72. Pieced a quilt.
73. Stood in Times Square.
74. Toured the Everglades.
75. Been fired from a job.
76. Seen the Changing of the Guard in London.
77. Broken a bone.
78. Been on a speeding motorcycle.
79. Seen the Grand Canyon in person.
80. Published a book.
81. Visited the Vatican.
82. Bought a brand new car.
83. Walked in Jerusalem.
84. Had your picture in the newspaper.
85. Read the entire Bible.
86. Visited the White House.
87. Killed and prepared an animal for eating.
88. Had chicken pox.
89. Saved someone’s life.
90. Sat on a jury.
91. Met someone famous.
92. Joined a book club.
93. Lost a loved one.
94. Had a baby.
95. Seen the Alamo in person.
96. Swum in the Great Salt Lake.
97. Been involved in a law suit.
98. Owned a cell phone.
99. Been stung by a bee.

Funny how some of these entries can job a memory:

14. Taught yourself an art from scratch: At Grover Cleveland Golf Course in Buffalo, there was a holdup on one of the par-3's. Glenn Locke got out three golf balls and started juggling them. "How do you do that?" I asked. "You just starting throwing them up in the air until you get the hang of it," he replied. I think I had the idea by the end of the front nine.

17. I've been to the base of the Statue of Liberty, but due to construction in 2002 I couldn't get inside, let alone make it to the top. Do they allow people in a post-9/11 world to get to the top anymore? I don't think so. But I was ready to go up stairs when I got off the ferry.

23. Hate to sound like a goody-goody, but I've never called in sick when I was healthy. Thought about it once or twice, though.

46. I sprained my ankle playing basketball during my freshman year in college at Syracuse. For whatever reason, I got an ambulance ride to a nearby hospital, so a doctor with a thick German accent could tell me what I already knew: I had a sprained ankle. I recall the ambulance staff being friendly, at least.

62. Whale-watching: We took a whale-watching cruise in Nova Scotia in the Bay of Fundy during a vacation. Sadly, it was so foggy you couldn't see one end of the boat from the other. We called it "whale-missing." We received a coupon to try again sometime, although we haven't been within 500 miles of the place since then. So the next time you are near Briar Island, call me.

64. I donated blood sophomore year in college to avoid going to a math class. I really, really hated that Calculus class.

71. Eaten caviar? That list doesn't know me well.

91. Dave Kerner and I once did an experiment in which we asked people who was the most famous person they had ever met. I shook hands with Jimmy Carter once, and Dave met Buzz Aldrin, I think. We asked Sabres announcer Ted Darling that question, and he said, "I got drunk with Dan Blocker once." They were both attending a banquet in Ontario somewhere, and the group bonded rather quickly.

99. Been stung by a bee: Some of my friends from high school go to Bryncliff Golf Course in Alexander, about an hour from Buffalo, for an outing once a year. One time, I came out of the woods to the 7th tee with not one by two bee stings. It's a record that hasn't been touched since then.

Saturday, February 07, 2009


It's easy to have a long memory these days, particularly with YouTube lurking in the background. Maybe Alex Rodriguez would like this interview back now, particularly the first answer:

Remember when people were rooting for A-Rod to hurry up and pass Barry Bonds for the all-time lead in home runs? Well, as Foreigner once sang, "That was yesterday..."

(Thanks to SportsbyBrooks for the tip on the video.)

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Mr. TV Announcer

The title of this entry is a tribute to the late, great Ernie Ladd, of football and pro wrestling fame. The Big Cat used to throw in the phrase during the course of his wrestling "interviews."

Ladd, at least in the world of simulated mayhem that is pro wrestling, had the same general opinion of announcers that most fans do: toleration at best. Every fan, it seems, has a few announcers that they can't stand and would turn down the volume of the television or radio to avoid if they possibly could. Note: Vin Scully is never one of them, but otherwise the list of universally liked sportscasters is a short one.

This always struck me somewhat oddly, since most announcers do their homework and try to come up with a good description of the game. The biggest problem, I've always felt, is over-familiarity. In other words, we know an announcer's style almost too well. Chris Berman's enthusiasm for the world of games was refreshing at the start. Now that he's been on the air for 30 years, we're looking for something different. You can go to Dick Vitale for another example of this.

What prompts all of this is that Jay Busbee on Yahoo! Sports blogs has come up with a list of the 50 worst announcers. It's interesting that number one is Billy Packer, who isn't working for CBS any more. Personally, I thought Billy became a bit overexposed as well, but I always thought he'd be an interesting guy to meet for lunch and a little hoops talk.

Here's the column:

Say, how can you not like Gus Johnson? "The slipper still fits!" And what's not to like about Dick Enberg?

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Calling for Ralph

There was a surprise when the list of the Class of 2009 for the Pro Football Hall of Fame was announced. Ralph Wilson, the only owner the Buffalo Bills have ever had, was one of the six. He joined Bruce Smith as having Buffalo connections, and it's the first time the Bills have ever had two people go in during the same year.

While there's been happiness in Buffalo over Wilson's pick, particularly in the media, let me tell you a little secret: I have no idea what an owner has to do to be considered qualified for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I'm not sure anyone else does either.

Players? That's easier. As Bill Parcells says, it's not the Hall of Pretty Good. You should look at a player and say, "There's absolutely no doubt that he's a Hall of Famer." Smith certainly qualifies. He's at worst one of the -- what number should I use? -- three best defensive ends in pro football history, ranking with Deacon Jones and Reggie White. We get into trouble with players when they are on the borderline. We know Andre Reed was very, very good, but we'd trade him for Jerry Rice in a heartbeat. So should he be in? Hmmm.

But owners? Not so easy. Art Rooney was around forever and helped the NFL grow. Same thing with Wellington Mara, who got brownie points for suggesting a collective television contract for league members even though it cost his New York Giants millions. Lamar Hunt started the American Football League and led his franchise through the merger and into the modern age. Check, check and check.

Wilson doesn't categorize so quickly. The argument for him starts with longevity, especially around Western New York. He has kept the team here since 1960, which means Year 50 is coming up. Wilson could have moved the team elsewhere at several points, and made a ton of money in the process. Heck, he could do it now, and won't. Wilson has been a strong advocate of teams staying right where they are, voting against location transfers consistently over the years. Good for him.

Wilson had a lot of faith in pro football in the early days of the AFL, and put his money where his faith was when the Oakland Raiders needed a transfusion of cash to stay afloat in the 1960's. If the Raiders fold, the football landscape looks a whole lot different now, and it may not include Buffalo. Wilson was also a key behind-the-scenes force in the merger talks with the National Football League. Once that merger took place, the combined league hasn't looked back in terms of popularity.

Closer to home, the record is a bit more mixed. Wilson threatened to move to move the team to Seattle in the late 1960's/early 1970's unless a new stadium was built. It's hard to fault Wilson's judgment for thinking War Memorial Stadium was inadequate, but it's never too easy to make that sort of threat and remain beloved. Seymour Knox III became the point man for the Sabres' bid to build a replacement for Memorial Auditorium when others in the organization failed at it miserably. Knox showed the relocation card occasionally, but in a hesitant if not apologetic manner. Of course, Knox was a Buffalonian through and through. Wilson was always an outsider (in this case, from Detroit) like so many others who controlled Buffalo's economic fate from a distance, and thus never had that home-field advantage.

As for the team's football operations, Wilson has at times put them in the hands of strong-willed individuals. Those people have the habit of leaving. Lou Saban quit twice, once after two championships in the Sixties and once when a good team was sinking fast in the Seventies. Chuck Knox left to go to Seattle. Bill Polian, a future Hall of Famer himself, was fired despite a glittering record because Wilson felt like an outsider in his own organization. John Butler left after keeping the Bills in contention for part of the 1990's. Who is in charge now? And when was the last time the team made the playoffs?

Granted the last decade hasn't been the best of all worlds for the Bills. It's easy to wonder if Wilson's edict about not going past the salary cap with big signing bonuses has had an impact. It's never easy to swallow an NFL owner who cries out about relative poverty, even if there is more than a bit of truth in his statements. It's also easy to feel less than cuddly about someone who keeps talking in public about terrible economic conditions in Western New York, considering the lack of empty seats over the past several years.

Here we sit, then, waiting for the August celebration of Wilson in Canton. Wiser, more knowledgeable reporters than I am say he is worthy, and it's tough to argue with that. Still, I'd feel a little better about Wilson's jump to immortality if I knew where the bar was set.

Monday, February 02, 2009

The 2009 champion

I usually buy USA Today on the day after the Super Bowl to see who had the highest-rated ad. This year's winner wasn't one of those expensive spots done by a high-powered ad agency. It was done by two guys who did it themselves.

Here's the champion: