Friday, January 15, 2010

Four to ponder

Last week as I was driving to work, Mike Schopp and Chris Parker were asking their listeners on WGR to call in with their best "what ifs?" about Buffalo sports history.

Talk about a hanging slider for me. I wrote an article several years ago on that very subject. Sadly, it never saw the light of print, but I always liked the concept.

The hosts went through a variety of ideas with their callers. Here are four that I thought of for the story, way back when?

What if Scott Norwood had made the kick to end Super Bowl XXV? I won't even say which kick.

I asked a number of people about this, and the conclusion was more or less unanimous. That team never would have returned to the Super Bowl the other three times. The team would have been one and done, having fulfilled a goal. The first game was also the only time when the Bills were the clear favorite to win the game; Washington and Dallas were better in the other three games.

What if Buffalo had gotten a major league baseball franchise either in the 1961 or 1969 expansions? Buffalo was part of the proposed Continental League of the late 1950's, which essentially forced the expansion of 1961-62. The 1969 expansion hopes rested on the plan for a domed stadium in Buffalo, but everything I've read indicates that Buffalo didn't have much of a chance thanks to an inside job by Los Angeles pushing Montreal and San Diego.

If Buffalo had overcome the odds, the team probably would have done relatively well ... for a while. But once the economics of the game started to change in the early 1990's, there would be no way for Buffalo to keep up. The team would be somewhere, but not here.

What if Canisius had been good in college basketball in the late 1970's? The catch here is that it was the era when Eastern basketball was starting to implode to form new conferences. You might have heard of the Big East. When the Big East was forming, television markets were of prime interest. That's why Georgetown, Boston College and St. John's were naturals. But teams were needed to round out the conference.

So let's put it this way: Which city/market would you want for a new basketball conference in the Northeast -- Providence, Syracuse or Buffalo? Canisius was just coming off probation around then and in no position to capitalize on realignment. In a different set of circumstances, maybe Canisius would have been a player in that discussion.

What if the Braves had been able to hang on for two more years? The NBA team left Buffalo in 1978. Two guys named Bird and Johnson made it to the NBA in the fall of 1979. Would they have made a difference?

Maybe. The NBA turned hot around then, and having Bird come to town four times a year couldn't have hurt. The Sabres hadn't needed to do much marketing in their first nine years, and might have been a bit vulnerable to a well-financed competitor.

I don't think the Braves would have knocked the Sabres out; hockey has deep roots in this region. And Western New York really started to become too small for both an NBA and NHL team around then. But on the other hand, the Stallions put a bit of a scare into the Sabres around that time in terms of competition for the entertainment dollar. What could a good NBA team have done?

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