Sunday, January 14, 2018

Filling in for John Tavares

(Photo courtesy of WBFO Radio)
About a week ago, I was told after a Buffalo Bandits game to stop in the coaches' office to see John Tavares. I quickly figured I had been traded and asked, "Should I bring my playbook?"

John had something else in mind. He had been selected for induction into the Western New York Lacrosse Hall of Fame. Since he could not attend the dinner since he was coaching the team that day, he needed a replacement to accept the honor and say a few words. I was delighted to do so.

I was told that my speech should be part introduction and part acceptance. After writing and then delivering it, I figured I should share it with other fans of this legendary Bandit. So here it is: 
John is a little busy this afternoon serving as an assistant coach, so he asked me to accept this award. He doesn’t know it, but John and I are both members of a very exclusive club. We both saw John’s first game with the Buffalo Bandits in 1992, and we both saw John’s last game with the Bandits in 2015. The only other person I know that’s in the club is Rich Kilgour of the Bandits. So I’m in good company.

The memories of that first game should live on for years to come. No one was sure what to expect when the Bandits opened for business in January of 1992. When the gates opened at Memorial Auditorium, no one knew how many people would turn out. We were all shocked that the start of the game had to be delayed 20 minutes because of the long lines to buy tickets at the box office.  A total of 9,052 showed up for the game. John has told me that he looked at the crowd that night – the largest he had ever seen for a lacrosse game – and remembered that he was getting paid $100 a game. John did the math, and decided the scalpers outside were making more money than he was.

That game started a love affair between the sport and the community that exists to this day. Buffalo is the unofficial capital of indoor lacrosse of the United States, and John is a big reason why. He won four championships, was the league’s most valuable player three times, and holds the league record for games, goals, assists and points.

John played for so long that he welcomed an entire new generation of players to the sport. If they were afraid to approach the game’s “living legend,” they quickly learned to include him in the good-natured kidding that teammates share.  He could get off a one-liner faster than a one-timer. And when John retired, he was generally considered the greatest player in the history of the National Lacrosse League.

But John was never about individual accomplishments. He preferred to talk about team achievements. In addition, he was all about “growing the game” – which gives him something in common with all of the other inductees today. John loves this game, and wants to see it achieve greater popularity in the years to come. Therefore, I’m sure John would want to congratulate the other inductees. And on a personal note, I’m thrilled that my former co-worker Tom Borrelli is one of those other inductees. Nobody loved lacrosse as much as Tom did.

John Tavares has received a bundle of honors since he retired, but he said the one that may have meant the most to him was when he had his number retired by the Bandits. Buffalo has become a second home to him since 1992, and he couldn’t be happier whenever he is saluted by a hometown audience. So I pass along his sincere thanks for this honor, and I’m honored for the chance to accept it on his behalf. Thank you.

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