Sunday, August 26, 2018

The Boat People

Some of the people who went from a river cruise
to a river cruise/bus tour in Central Europe in August.
I'm the one in a blue Buffalo Bisons' cap in the back right.
   We had been waiting to take a river cruise on the "Great Rivers of Europe" since January, when we signed up through Grand Circle Cruise Lines. It would be three weeks of August fun, visiting five nations in 21 days - some of them slated to be viewed on a luxury boat moving at a leisurely pace through beautiful scenery. It would be the longest trip of our lives.

   Then came the email a few days before we headed to Amsterdam. Due to a drought in Europe, water levels had dropped to unsafe levels in certain portions of the planned route. So everyone would be hopping on a bus for a couple of nights and taken to a hotel. All right, the packing and unpacking of three weeks' of clothes would be a pain, but we'd adapt.

   But once we got on the boat named Rhapsody, we were told that conditions had become worse. The ship could get no further up the river than Koblenz, Germany. Two nights off the boat had become six. Details to come.

   And that's when about 127 people became "boat people": refugees from their homes on the Rhapsody. When those six days were over, those same 127 people looked rather tired as they boarded the Adagio - located on the other side of the Continental Divide from the Rhapsody. One tourist had broken an arm along the way, and another had bumped his head after fainting because of dehydration, suffering a few bruises. The Program Directors may have been even more tired than the tourists, because they had to deal with everyone's endless questions as an entirely different itinerary was created essentially on the fly. They were remarkably poised under the circumstances.

Some of the tourists no doubt visited the lounge
for an adult beverage after returning
to a boat after six nights in the "wilderness."
   No one was looking for sympathy because they had to haul luggage a few times and stay at four-star hotels in fabulous German cities. Still, it was a different experience than what was anticipated - sometimes better, sometimes worse. We finished in Prague with a crash course on European history, geography and culture.

   When someone asks me, "How was your trip?", words such as excellent and fascinating comes to mind but don't quite cut it. I like to come up with a full story - mostly to get some easily forgettable observations down on paper before they pass away. This time, I asked some of my fellow passengers what they noticed along the way, and they came through nicely with suggestions for this article. Thanks to them for the help. I'll eventually have thoughts on individual places on my travel blog, Some notes could be essays in themselves, others are shorter subjects, and some are trivial to silly, but all reflect on what for us what a unique experience.

   One last rule - a long vacation means a long blog. Don't say you weren't warned. 


Heaven in Europe is where
the English are the policemen
the French are the cooks
the German are the mechanics
the Italians are the lovers
and the Swiss organize everything.

Hell in Europe is where
the German are the policemen
the English are the cooks
the French are the mechanics
the Swiss are the lovers
and the Italians organize everything.


 * The first thing you'll notice about the passengers on a Grand Circle cruise is their composition. I was told that I'd probably be the youngest passenger on the boat, and that seemed to be true. The vast majority were over 70, prompting someone to say that a Grand Circle boat was actually an "elderly hostel" in disguise. I'm not sure how comfortable anyone under the age of 60 would be in these circumstances.
    The group consisted of almost all Americans; I think there was a stray couple from Ontario along for the ride. Many guests were predictably from the Sun Belt. Everyone seemed to be in the same demographic - not truly wealthy but comfortable enough to take a trip like this. (To put it another way, we heard stories about washing clothes in the sink that matched our experiences.) This was good and bad. It certainly made initial conversations easier, as many had been around the United States a lot and had stories to share. One woman from Chicago often came to Buffalo in the past to see relatives that lived on - wait for it - our street!
   But I didn't feel like a great fit with many of those on board, perhaps because I'm still doing a lot in "retirement." I'm a little more in the present than some retirees, and that's a bit of a potential barrier. Besides, some of the other international trips I've taken have featured people from other countries. Conversations with those tourists have been fascinating. There was none of that here, and I missed it.
   The group had its quirks. For example, attention spans could be a little short. Announcements were made one minute, and then asked to be repeated by someone the next. Elsewhere, I saw some passengers in place in a hotel lobby, patiently waiting for a departure time that was more than an hour away. They weren't going to miss that bus.
   The touring encompassed plenty of walking, and I'd bet that many of those on board - some of whom needed canes - probably overestimated their ability to handle the physical load. The strain of the extra bus rides probably didn't help either. They must have been really tired upon returning home.
   I didn't see many signs of the passengers acting spoiled or privileged. An exception - one person thought it was pretty funny that a staff member accented the wrong syllable of a word during a public announcement. I was tempted to say, "How would you do on pronouncing the biggest words in your fourth language?"
   Eventually, though, people found other passengers that were a good fit in personality, and joy grew exponentially. We laughed at one person's reaction to going on a subway for the first time in her life, and watched her delight when she found out the line went under the river in Prague. ("REALLY?!?") When we were back from our adventures on the streets of the latest city, others couldn't wait to hear them - sort of like what the ideal mom does when the kids come back from doing something special. ("Tell me all about it!") Departure Day is always a bit emotional in such circumstances, with plenty of "If ever you are in Altoona ..." moments heard during goodbye hugs.

   *  On the big ocean liners, there is plenty of pressure to spend extra money. Go to the fancy restaurants to order big meals. Buy drink packages, Go look at jewelry. Check out the casino. Go on elaborate outings in port.
   There wasn't much of that here. Beer, wine and soft drinks were all covered. They'd sell you some mixed drinks at the bar if you insisted on it. I'm not sure if the unlimited availability of such beverages was a primary attraction for this crowd, but not too many people passed up beer or wine with lunch or dinner. The food was more than acceptable; I only had to go off the menu for a hamburger once, And passengers' birthdays were properly celebrated with sparklers placed in cakes. 

The rooms on the ship were not exactly spacious.
I had to go outside of it to change my mind.
   * Speaking of comparisons, the two types of ships had similar rooms. The river boat's rooms featured twin beds that folded into the wall to reveal a couch of sorts underneath. It was rather uncomfortable as a place to rest during the day, and we learned quickly to ask housekeeping to leave the bed down at all times.
   That was very necessary early in the trip for me thanks to a pesky cough and some sneezing. I skipped some events in favor of naps. Going on a long international trip? Bring some cold medicine just in case, or be prepared to figure out how to buy Nyquil in a Cologne pharmacy.

   * The idea behind these trips is for groups to take outings around the port city during the morning, have them go off on their own in the afternoon, and then sail to the next city overnight. That plan was derailed when we were off the boat, as solo wanderings were cut down by necessary bus trips between locations.
   We spent three nights in Frankfurt and three nights in Nuremberg. They are wonderful cities, and it was a joy to get to know them a bit this way. But a side-effect was that there was no break in the action, as the group visited a different city every day until we arrived in Prague for a trip extension (three full days of touring there). Some people skipped some activities just to catch a breath. The stops tend to blend together in memory now, with one German historic district looking like the next.

   * Much of the crew from the two boats was from Eastern Europe, particularly in the countries formerly known as Yugoslavia. Their English was a little weak in spots, but they seemed good-natured enough - particularly when they put on a little show for the passengers. 

   * A tip of the hat goes to Grand Circle for setting some interesting discussions and presentations. We heard from an expert of Jewish history talk about the Holocaust, a political scientist who briefed us on the current situation in Germany,  and a refugee who had gone from Syria to Austria in order to find hope over the course of more than a year. We also saw a glass-blowing demonstration - he sold a lot of stuff afterwards - and visited a house for coffee and cake to chat about Germany life. (To that last point, shame on the other visitors in our group of 10 who didn't bring some sort of gift along to our hostess.)


   We had been scheduled to cruise down an interesting part of the Rhine, with castles and charming towns along the way. But the water was too low for our boat, so we had to take a commercial trip instead. At the end of the three-hour voyage, which was slowed by the low levels of water, our group gathered at a restaurant for an authentic German dinner in Ruedesheim.

   The food was rather bland and tasteless, even for me, but the highlight was the promised German folk band. I will forever maintain that this band played the oddest set in music history. "I Can't Help Falling in Love With You" was followed by "Take Me Home, Country Roads." There was "The Happy Wanderer." A polka version of "The Birthday Song." "Sweet Caroline." Some songs in German popped up once in a while. When "The Chicken Dance" broke out and a line extended around the restaurant, people outside of the facility came rushing to the door to see what the heck was going on. They were turned away.

   The night closed with the band playing that German beer hall favorite, "Hallelujah."


   * Even today, it is still hard to escape the presence of World War II in Central Europe.
   Many of the cities we visited were more than 90 percent destroyed by Allied forces in an effort to destroy morale among the Germans. Whether it was necessary or not at that stage of the war (early 1945) is one for the historians. But the rise of the Nazi party from 1933 to 1945 still hangs in the air in that nation, more felt than seen.

   * No one yelled out "American swine!" as our tourist group went by. Even so, conversations with people who lived across the sea from me certainly indicated that the current administration in Washington is less than popular in Central Europe these days.
   I got the sense that the political polarization in America was packed with the luggage by those on the cruise. In other words, some were hesitant to give comments about developments in America, even as Michael Cohen was accepting a plea bargain. It was easy to tune out the world to a degree, since CNN International and CNBC Europe usually were the only useful television channels that were available. But wi-fi was available on the boat and in most city locations, so information was as close as a smartphone. Therefore, when an initial conversation indicated that people were on the same sides of the political spectrum, the words came tumbling out. 
   I did have one moment of conflict, at least internally. We were in Room 600 of the building where the famous Nuremberg trials were held after World War II. The room is still used, and over the judges' heads on the wall was a Catholic cross. The guide pointed out that Bavaria was a Catholic region, and that part of the country had recently allowed such symbols in its court rooms.
   With that, a woman in front of me started to applaud, as did a few others in the room. I was very tempted to say to her, "What part of the separation of church and state don't you agree with?" But it certainly wasn't the time or place for that.

   * Germany is cooking right now economically. Admittedly, we stuck to generally prosperous areas, but the Germans are clearly doing something right. It was particularly noticeable in Frankfurt, a city I knew almost nothing. It is becoming Germany's New York while Berlin is the nation's Washington.
   Germany tried to achieve a superior place in the world through guns in the 20th century on two occasions, and failed spectacularly (thankfully). It might have better luck wielding checkbooks in this century.

   * Speaking of politics, it's interesting that right-wing parties are gaining strength in Germany and left-wingers bordering on Communist tendencies are in key positions in the Czech Republic. Didn't they learn anything from the past?

Yes, they sell a lot of beer in Germany.
I finished this particular glass
   * Do you like cheap beer? Central Europe is your ideal destination. In some places it was cheaper than Coca-Cola or bottled water, particularly when calculated by the ounce. It was all local brands too. As one person in Germany put it, "You can drink Budweiser, or you can drink beer."
   As for soft drinks, the marketing department for Pepsi needs to work harder in Germany. I don't think I saw anything but Coke in the whole country. Soft drinks were served somewhere between chilly and cold, but never ice cold, and portions were surprisingly small at restaurants.

   * Someone came up with a rule for the service in restaurants - the farther the trip went along, the smaller the smiles of restaurant workers became. The pace of service was quite slow too, and it was tough to find someone to order a second drink. But the attendants sure were fast at clearing your plates, not even pausing to ask permission.
   And if you choose to eat outside, which almost everyone in Europe did during a record heat wave, be prepared for company in the form of yellow jackets.

   * There aren't many places to buy clever t-shirts in Europe yet. Give credit to the person in Austria who came up with one with the outline of a certain hopping animal from the Southern Hemisphere with the caption "No Kangaroos in Austria." Luckily a store called Blue in Prague is filled with original items; head there for all your shopping needs.

   * The rock band Kraftwerk came to mind as we drove on Germany's famous Autobahn. ("Fun, fun, fun ...") There were speed limits on the relatively crowded sections, ranging from 50 to 75 mph depending on conditions. It's a modern, efficient system.
   Even the rest stops had their interesting quirks. Change is needed to access the pay toilets, which caused some purchases at the 7-11-type store nearby. There visitors could check out the magazines, which in a couple of cases had topless women on the cover. You don't see that on the New York State Thruway.
   Now that I've put the 1970s song in your head, here's a video:

   * The entire trip was spent in the Central European time zone, which is six hours ahead of East Coast time. This came with some oddities. When I got up at 7 a.m., the West Coast baseball games still were not over. When I turned on the TV at 3 p.m., the only American channels were usually CNN and CNBC Europe. The stock market hadn't even opened yet.

   * Europe has cigarette machines in public places (ID needed for purchase), women with green hair, too much graffiti in most cities, bicycles by the droves (especially in Amsterdam), much more public smoking than America, far more hats with Yankee logos than ones for the Red Sox (boo!), plenty of McDonald's and Starbucks (with a Mexican restaurant in Prague), diesel gasoline that costs less than regular, a 25-cent deposit on bottles (Germany, where the Green Party has essentially won the argument about the necessity for saving the environment - America take note), toilets with two buttons - one for each, um, use, plenty of bookstores and ice cream stands, and no seedless watermelons.

   * The flight from Prague to Philadelphia took nine hours and 18 minutes, and we went back six hours in time in the process. Therefore, August 25 lasted 30 hours for me - the longest day of my life. Literally.

   Early in the flight, someone tried to adjust some overhead luggage - and a bag came out of the container and hit me squarely on the head. Ugh. Luckily it was a soft-shell case. But if someone wants to introduce a Constitutional Amendment forcing airlines to enforce tougher rules about the size of carry-on items, he or she has my support. It is a jungle out there, particularly on the big international flights.


The helicopter pad has to be here somewhere.
   The Hotel Manager said he was asked if the crew stayed on the boat over night. He asked for the question to be repeated out of disbelief, and it was done so.

   "No, they stay in nearby hotels," he answered sarcastically. "We fly them in on helicopters. They arrive on deck at 5 a.m. to start preparing for the day."

   The Hotel Manager thought little about it for a couple of weeks. Then he heard from his boss, who called to roar, "What is going on with your ship?" The HM didn't know what he meant, and the Boss explained that he had gotten a survey back from an unsatisfied customer.

   "The food was great, the crew was wonderful, and the cities were beautiful," the note read, "but I will never stay on a Grand Circle boat again. I never got enough sleep because of the noisy helicopters that were landing on the deck at 5 a.m. to let the crew off."


   We try to accumulate memories on trips like this. There were a bunch of them here.

   * We toured Anne Frank's house in Amsterdam, and saw first-hand how she and her family hid from the Nazis for years - only to be captured and executed when the Allies were almost within sight of the Netherlands.

   * We were surrounded by hundreds of years of history just by walking into the courtyards of the Heidelberg Castle. The immense complex has been around in one form or another for almost 800 years, perhaps before the Magna Carta was signed. It's been unused since 1764 - before the American Revolution - but still fascinates to this day.  (By the way, travel writer Rick Steves puts down Heidelberg as a waste of time. He is wrong.)

   * We stood in the area in Nuremberg where the Nazis put on tremendous rallies in order to generate support for their policies, and then sat in the courtroom where they paid for those policies.

   * We listened to one of the world's largest organs of its type belt out some religious music in a 30-minute concert at a church in Passau, Germany. 

   * We heard the music of Mozart and Strauss in a live concert in a beautiful music house in Vienna. Yes, they played "The Blue Danube," where we slept on the boat that night. The next morning, I saw the building where the Congress of Vienna took place in 1814-15.

   * We stood by the building in Bratislava where the Peace of Pressburg was signed in 1805, which marked the demise of the last piece of the Roman Empire.

   * We walked in Wenceslas Square in Prague, almost 50 years to the day from when Soviet tanks came to crush the sliver of freedom that Czechoslovakia had tried to carve out. It also was in that very square in 1989 when Vaclav Havel announced to the people of that country that the Communist government had resigned.

   * We had breakfast in Vienna, lunch in Bratislava, and dinner in Prague on the same day - three meals in three world capitals. This is a record that will never be broken.

   That's a lot of memories, and it doesn't even include the personal moments with new friends accumulated along the way. Good thing I didn't have to declare them at customs. 

(Be notified of new posts via Twitter @WDX2BB)

Buffalo's Uniform Numbers - Part 1

Uniform numbers aren’t merely a way of identifying players in sports. They can be a game.

Admit it, Buffalo Sports Fan. You hear about the number 12 on a shirt, and you can still picture Jim Kelly. Same goes for Bruce Smith and 78. Gil Perreault and 11. (In the case of Bandits’ fans, John Tavares and 11.)

From there, you can start making up lists. Who is the greatest Sabre or Bill to ever wear a particular number? From there, it’s an easy jump to an All-Western New York team of numbers.

That’s what we tried to do this summer for Buffalo Sports Page. We went from 99 to 0, one day at a time.

Some were easy, some were tough. If you play this game yourself, you’ll find out something about the way you rate players. For example, do you value longevity or brilliance? That’s a question that comes up for No. 89, when discussing the merits of Steve Tasker vs. Alexander Mogilny. A similar argument comes up at No. 25, when Luke Easter’s stay in Buffalo is compared to Dave Andreychuk’s. If you think coaching a local team helps an individual’s case, then you probably believe Lindy Ruff deserves to be No. 22.

I believe that top college athletes deserve a nod when possible, so they are listed. Some players just don’t fit because they wore two different numbers during their career (Brad May, I’m thinking of you.) And I’m willing to give extra credit to some obscure Buffalo numbers, like my pick for No. 19. I tried to mention someone from almost every relatively major team that’s called Western New York home.

I did something like this more than 20 years ago, and the reactions were fun to read. One guy from Arizona wrote to yell at me for not including more athletes who were well-known before 1960. He didn’t give his age. But yes, the more recent players are more likely to be picked. Others apparently liked to play along this time around, based on some of the reason. I found that the list got much stronger, as some of the weaker numbers have been filled in during that time.

By the way, the last addition to the "others" list was Roy Hobbs of the New York Knights. 

Not sure when I will try this again - I don't think there's a book in it. But you never know.

0 – Tony Meola, Blizzard. He was the goalie on three U.S. World Cup teams, and signed with the Blizzard during the 1994-95 season. However, Tony left the team after two months to star in an off-Broadway play. “Tony and Tina’s Wedding.” He can be heard on satellite radio as a soccer commentator now.

00 – Martin Biron, Sabres. The then-rookie wore Double-0 in 1995-96. Soon after that, the NHL’s computer system wouldn’t allow an entry of 00 into its database. Biron switched to #43 for the rest of his time in Buffalo. Always a good interview, he now talks for a living as a broadcaster.

1 – Roger Crozier, Sabres. We usually associate this number with goalies, and Crozier was the first one the Sabres ever had after acquiring him from Detroit. Injuries cut short his career, but his acrobatics were entertaining while they lasted. Others: Don Edwards, Sabres; Jim May, Stallions; Jhonas Enroth, Sabres; Stephanie Reid, UB; Bobby Olive, Destroyers.

2 – Tim Horton, Sabres. He played less than two years before his death in an auto accident, but his impact on a young team was immense. That’s why his number is hanging at the top of the KeyBank Center. Tim played 24 years in the NHL and is in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Others: Steve Christie, Bills; Dan Carpenter, Bills; Ian Llord, Bandits.

3 – Pete Gogolak, Bills.  He only played two seasons with the Bills, but he started two revolutions. Gogolak was the first soccer-style kicker in pro football, and within 20 years everyone was doing it. Then when he jumped to the NFL’s Giants, he sped up the process that led to the merger. Others: Billy Dee Smith, Bandits; Phil Scaffidi, Niagara; Jaylen Adams, St. Bonaventure.  

4 – Jerry Korab, Sabres. The rugged defenseman came into his own when he was acquired from Vancouver, and was part of several good teams in the 1970s. Jerry also finished his career in Buffalo, returning here after his trade to Los Angeles. Others: Rhett Warrener, Sabres; John Kidd, Bills; Ernie Buriano, Stallions.

5 – Mike Ramsey, Sabres. The defenseman arrived in Buffalo in 1980 fresh from winning a gold medal for the U.S. Olympic team. He stayed through 1992-93, and might be the best all-around defenseman in franchise history. Others: Tyrod Taylor, Bills; Jason Woolley, Sabres; Jim McMillian, Braves.

6 – Ollie Carnegie, Bisons. He joined the Bisons in 1931 and stayed through 1942 – 1,273 games. Yes, the rules were different then. Ollie remains the International League’s all-time leader in runs batted in, and his Buffalo number is retired. Others: Phil Housley, Sabres; Jim Schoenfeld, Sabres; Chris White, Bandits.

7 – Rick Martin, Sabres. A No. 1 draft choice of the Sabres in 1971, he took no time to become one of the league’s best goal scorers. Martin had two 50-goal seasons in Buffalo. Only a knee injury kept him out of the Hall of Fame. Others: Doug Flutie, Bills; Emily Pfalzer, Beauts; John Tucker, Sabres; Art Clark, local auto racing.

8 – Brian Moorman, Bills. A member of the Bills during the early 2000s once said the team’s best athlete was the punter. Moorman was a track star in college, and a two-time All-Pro for the Bills (2005 & 2006) during a long career. Others: Doug Bodger, Sabres; Jim Lorentz, Sabres; Tony McKegney, Sabres; Marvin Barnes, Braves.  

9 – Randy Smith, Braves. He wore No. 32 as a basketball player at Buffalo State, but switched to No. 9 during his time in the NBA here. Smith eventually became an All-Star. Randy was one of the best athletes in a league that was filled with them. Others: Mark Steenhuis, Bandits; Derek Roy, Sabres; Rudy Pikuzinski, Stallions; Roy Hobbs, Knights.

10 – Craig Ramsay, Sabres. He showed up during the 1971-72 season, and stayed through 1985. The left winger was one of the best defensive forwards in the league (winning the Selke Trophy in 1985), and he once played in 776 straight games. Others: Dale Hawerchuk, Sabres; Marta, Flash; Carli Lloyd, Flash; Guy Trottier, (hockey) Bisons; Pat McCready, Bandits.

11 – Gil Perreault, Sabres. The original Sabre was one of the most exciting offensive players of his era. The NHL Hall of Famer stayed through 1986, and he was crucial in making Buffalo a successful hockey franchise. Others: John Tavares, Bandits; Bob McAdoo. Braves, Scott Norwood, Bills; Drew Bledsoe, Bills; Steve Atkinson, Norsemen.

12 – Jim Kelly, Bills. The quarterback might be the most significant player in team history, leading the Bills to four straight Super Bowls during an 11-year career here. In a sense, the team is still trying to replace him. He was a first-year inductee into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Others: Joe Ferguson, Bills; Charlie Cordas, Stallions; Christine Sinclair, Flash.  

13 – Ken Murray Jr., St. Bonaventure. There are good reasons why his number is hanging above the Reilly Center court. Murray was the first 1,000-point scorer in school history, and was an All-American in 1950. The shooting guard was drafted by the Chicago Stags of the NBA. Others: Jim Horne, UB; Alex Morgan, Flash; Eusebio, Stallions.

14 – Rene Robert, Sabres. The right winger arrived in a very one-sided deal with Pittsburgh for Eddie Shack, and became a part of one of the last great lines in hockey, “The French Connection.” Rene stayed here until 1979. Others: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Bills; Bill Butler, St. Bonaventure; Frank Reich, Bills; Bird Averitt, Braves.

15 – Jack Kemp, Bills. The quarterback was acquired on waivers from San Diego, and guided the Bills to AFL championships in 1964 and 1965. Jack moved from the football field to Congress after the 1969 season. Others: Jack Eichel, Sabres; Ernie DiGregorio, Braves; Iubo Petrovic, Stallions.  

16 - Pat LaFontaine, Sabres. He brought offensive excitement when he was acquired from the Islanders in 1991. Pat scored 148 points in the 1992-93 season – still the team record. The KeyBank Center might never have been built without him. Others: Ric Seiling, Sabres; Rich Kilgour, Bandits; Drew Willy, UB.

17 – Mike Foligno, Sabres. Acquired from Detroit in deal involving popular players Jim Schoenfeld and Danny Gare, Mike carved out a niche of his own during a long stay here. Foligno wore No. 71 after he was traded to Toronto. Others: J.P. Dumont, Sabres; Ryan Benesch, Bandits; Floyd Smith, Sabres.

18 – Danny Gare, Sabres. This second-round draft choice started on the checking line with Don Luce and Craig Ramsay, and wound up as a two-time 50-goal scorer. Gare was sent to Detroit in a huge 1981 trade. After retirement, Danny did some work on Sabres’ broadcasts. Others: Michal Grosek, Sabres; Kyle Orton, Bills; Naaman Roosvelt, UB; Kay Stephenson, Bills.

19 – Johnny Bench, Bisons. The future Hall of Famer played one game here in 1966, breaking a finger on a foul tip at War Memorial Stadium. A year later, he hit 23 homers in 344 at-bats, and was off to the majors for good. Others: Tim Connolly, Sabres; James Starks, UB; Cory Conacher, Canisius; Zeke Sinicola, Niagara.

20 – Don Luce, Sabres. Acquired from Detroit, Don became one of the best two-way forwards in hockey. He and Craig Ramsay were superb penalty-killers; they were often called by the other’s name during their time together. Others: Joe Cribbs, Bills; Robert James, Bills; Abby Wambach, Flash.  

21 – Willis McGahee, Bills. He was a superstar coming out of U. of Miami, but a knee injury allowed him to slip to the Bills in the 2003 draft. He had three good years here, and was traded to Baltimore after he suggested the team should move to Toronto. Others: Brian Spencer, Sabres; Drew Stafford, Sabres; Christian Ruuttu, Sabres.

22 – Fred Jackson, Bills. He came out of minor-league and indoor football to sign as a free agent with the Bills in 2006. By 2009, Fred was a 1,000-yard rusher. Jackson spent eight seasons here, and was one of the most popular Bills of his era. Others: Lindy Ruff, Sabres; Nate Clemens, Bills; Willie Evans, UB; Tony Masiello, Canisius.  

23 – Calvin Murphy, Niagara. The 5-foot-9 guard was arguably the most exciting player in Western New York college basketball history. The three-time All-American averaged 33.1 points per game, and had a fine NBA career after graduation. Others: Chris Drury, Sabres; Steve Priolo; Bandits; Rudy Pikuzinski, Blizzard; Adam Jones, Canisius.

24 – Booker Edgerson, Bills. He was one of the defensive backs on the great Bills’ teams of the 1960s. Booker is a member of the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame and the Bills’ Wall of Fame. He earns points for community work. Others: Bill Hajt, Sabres; Stephon Gilmore, Bills; Harrison Browne, Beauts.

25 – Luke Easter, Bisons. The African-American slugger probably would have been a Hall of Famer had he been born a decade later. Even so, he hit 113 home runs in three seasons with the Bisons (1956-1958), and was immensely popular. Others: Dave Andreychuk, Sabres; LeSean McCoy; Bills; Roland Hooks, Bills; Essie Hollis and Earl Belcher, St. Bonaventure.  

26 – George Saimes, Bills. After a great career at Michigan State, Saimes became the best free safety in the history of the American Football League. George is on the Bills’ Wall of Fame and was selected for the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame. Others: Thomas Vanek, Sabres; Charles Romes, Bills; Derek Plante, Sabres.

27 – Michael Peca, Sabres. He was considered the heart of the Sabres teams that had some success during the late 1990s. Michael won a Selke Trophy as the NHL’s best defensive forward during the 1996-97 season. He was traded to the Islanders. Others: Larry Playfair, Sabres; Teppo Numminen, Sabres; Ken Irvin, Bills.

28 – Bob Sauve, Sabres. The goalie is best remembered for back-to-back playoff shutouts in Montreal in 1983. That feat has never been duplicated. Bob spent nine seasons in Buffalo, and won 119 games along the way. Others: Donald Audette, Sabres; C.J. Spiller, Bills; Thomas Smith, Bills.

29 – Jason Pominville, Sabres. He’s been part of the franchise since he was picked in the 2001 Entry Draft – if you don’t count those five years in Minnesota. Remember his short-handed goal in Ottawa to eliminate the Senators from the playoffs? Others: Mario Clark, Bills; Ken Montour, Bandits; Derrick Burroughs, Bills.

30 – Ryan Miller, Sabres. He was the team’s No. 1 goalie for almost nine years, and he might have been the best in the world for part of that time. The trade of Miller broke some hearts, and the team has yet to recover from it. Others: Tom Barrasso, Sabres; Ray Hall, Canisius; Jeff Manto, Bisons.

31 – Bob Lanier, St. Bonaventure. The greatest Bonnie of them all, he led the team to the Final Four of the NCAA basketball tournament in 1970. What if he hadn’t gotten hurt in the Regional? Bob had a great NBA career as well. Others: Daren Puppa, Sabres; Jairus Byrd, Bills; Swen Nater, Braves.

32 – O.J. Simpson, Bills. There’s never been a more exciting player in the history of the Bills, and his 2,000-yard season in 1973 will never be forgotten. Of course, his life after football has been a sad one for those who remember him as a player. Others: Rob Ray, Sabres; Jim Veltman, Bandits; Fred Hilton, Braves.

33 – Benoit Hogue, Sabres. This quick playmaker was drafted by the Sabres and spent three seasons as a regular. Then it was off to the Islanders in the Pat LaFontaine trade. He helped the Stars win a Stanley Cup in 1999. Others: Ronnie Harmon, Bills; Sam Gash, Bills; George Wilson Braves.

34 – Thurman Thomas, Bills. There wasn’t much Thurman couldn’t do on a football field. He could run, catch and block. No wonder he was the NFL’s Most Valuable Player in 1991, and is enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton. Others: Cookie Gilchrist, Bills; Jim Braxton, Bills; John Shumate, Braves.

35 – Matt Gantt, St. Bonaventure. The 6-5 forward was more than a supporting player for Bob Lanier with the Bonnies’ great 1969-70 team. A great leaper, he jumped center against Artis Gilmore at the start of the semifinal game. Others: Mika Noronen, Sabres; Carwell Gardner, Bills; Cornell Warner, Braves.

36 – Matthew Barnaby, Sabres. He was an unforgettable character in Buffalo, a tough and emotional player. Matthew wore out his welcome eventually and was traded to Pittsburgh for Stu Barnes, but fans remember him well. Others: Pat Kaleta, Sabres; Randy Mearns, Bandits; Nick Vitucci, Stampede.

37 – Nate Odomes, Bills. The cornerback was a second-round pick in 1987, and he took part in all four of the Bills’ Super Bowl appearances. Odomes left as a free agent for Seattle in 1994, and finished an eight-year NFL career with 26 interceptions. Others: Curtis Brown, Sabres; George Wilson, Bills.

38 – Mark Kelso, Bills. The Eagles drafted the safety out of William and Mary in the 10th round in 1985, but he found a home for eight seasons with the Bills a year later. Kelso had 30 career picks. He’s now serving as an analyst on radio for the team. Others: Jeff Nixon, Bills; Adam Creighton, Sabres.

39 – Dominik Hasek, Sabres. He might be the greatest goalie in hockey history, and we saw him at his peak. The Dominator won two Hart Trophies here as the league MVP, and led the team to the 1999 Stanley Cup Finals. Other: Bill Gerrie, Bandits.

40 – J.D. Hill, Bills. The first-round pick of Buffalo in 1971 was a dangerous wide receiver during his five years here, averaging more than 14 yards per catch in each season. He would have been even more dangerous in today’s game. Others: Robin Lehner, Sabres; Troy Cordingley, Bandits; Ed Rutkowski, Bills.

41 – Stu Barnes, Sabres. The forward was dependable and consistent during his four years here. He had always worn #14 before, but couldn’t here. So he flipped the numbers on his back – but still wrote #14 on his equipment. Others: Phil Villipiano, Bills; Ken Sutton, Sabres; Jamie Mueller, Bills.

42 – Tom Stith, St. Bonaventure. He was a two-time All-American for the Bonnies, and was the second overall pick in the NBA draft in 1961. Sadly, his pro career came to an abrupt end because of tuberculosis. Others: Butch Byrd, Bills; Richard Smehlik, Sabres; Walt Hazzard, Braves.

43 – Darris Kilgour, Bandits. An original Bandit, Kilgour won three championships in his first five years of pro play. He went on to have a Hall of Fame playing career, and then coached indoor lacrosse for more than a decade. Others: Tony Greene, Bills; Martin Biron, Sabres; Juan Mendez, Niagara.

44 – Elbert Dubenion, Bills. The wide receiver came out of Bluffton College, and became a standout in the early years of the Bills. In 1964 he averaged 27.1 yards per catch. Elbert was memorably nicknamed “Golden Wheels.” Others: Alexei Zhitnik, Sabres; Andrew Nicholson, St. Bonaventure; Anthony Cosmo, Bandits; Larry Fogle, Canisius.

45 – John Hummer, Braves. The Princeton forward was the first draft choice in the history of the Buffalo Braves, as the team passed over local favorite Calvin Murphy. He was traded to the Bulls for Gar Heard. Others: Hagood Clarke, Bills; Dmitri Kalinin, Sabres; Derek Keenan, Bandits.

46 – Khalil Mack, UB. It’s fair to call Mack the greatest football player in Bulls’ history. Come to think of it, he is one of the top five defenders in the NFL right now. Khalil was the fifth overall pick by Oakland in 2014. Too bad he didn’t just move down the road to the Bills. Others: Leonard Smith, Bills; Keith Moody, Bills.

47 – Curtis Brown, Bills. The running back from Missouri went in the third round to the Bills in 1977. He needed a year to become a regular, but was part of a couple of playoff teams in 1980 and 1981. Later in life he suffered from dementia. Others: Zach Bogosian, Sabres; Kirby Jackson, Bills; Peter Tavares, Bandits.

48 – Daniel Briere, Sabres. He came to Buffalo in a deal with Phoenix for Chris Gratton, one of the all-time steals for the Sabres. Daniel peaked in 2006-07 with a 95-point season, and then left for Philadelphia as a free agent. Others: John Pitts, Bills; Roosevelt Leaks, Bills; Marty O’Neill, Bandits.

49 – Booth Lustig, Bills. He’s remembered as the place-kicker who replaced Pete Gogolak, who jumped to the NFL’s New York Giants after the 1965 season. One of the game’s great characters, Booth also kicked for the Dolphins, Steelers and Packers.

Go to Buffalo's Uniform Numbers - Part One

Be notified of new posts on this site via Twitter @WDX2BB.