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
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