Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Close Encounters

Every so often, a fad runs through Facebook that is something of a guessing game. Which musical act have I not seen? Which baseball stadium have I not visited? What's your favorite type of fruit?

Here's one that caught my eye. "List five famous people you've either met or have been within a few feet of, but ONE is a lie. Which one is it?"

One of the few advantages of reaching your 60s is that you can fill out such lists pretty quickly, particularly if you've done a little traveling over the years. Why, I once saw the Rev. Al Sharpton in the Atlanta airport. My family bumped into Bob Hastings, Lt. Carpenter in "McHale's Navy," while touring Disneyland. He couldn't have been nicer, even if he did talk about being hot and thirsty on that summer afternoon. I've met a couple of astronauts.

Could I come up with four such real encounters, and a fake one, in a few minutes? Absolutely. I even could do 10.

Jimmy Carter
Bob Costas
Mario Cuomo
Phil Donahue
Robert Kennedy
Sandra Day O'Connor
Arnold Palmer
Pete Rozelle
Leon Spinks
Mike Tyson

I mentioned that I had only shaken hands with one of them. My Facebook friends could guess that too. The first person that answered guessed Jimmy Carter for the handshake, and she was right. Jimmy spoke at Syracuse University in 1975 when he was running for President. Larry Pantages and I attended it, and hung around to shake his hand and wish him well. Come to think of it, we both said, "Best of luck, Governor," to which Larry said later, "Couldn't you have come up with something a little different?"

Let's go through the guesses in the order that they were posted, and see how everyone did.

* Arnold Palmer - I went to the 1968 United States Open at Oak Hill in Rochester with my father. I convinced my dad that we should be part of Arnie's Army for a few holes. But I got a good look at Arnie along the way.

* Sandra Day O'Connor - Jody and I paid a visit to Williamsburg some years ago. They were getting ready for the 400th anniversary of Jamestown's founding, and a big-time committee was formed to get ready for it. One of the leaders of that committee was O'Connor. We looked up and she was walking toward us on some sort of official visit, surrounded by men in suits. Jody recognized her first. Downright tiny.

* Phil Donahue - I think this dates back to 1966 or so. We were driving from Elmira to Chicago, and made an overnight stop outside of Cleveland. Our family was having breakfast when Mom recognized Donahue, who was a syndicated talk show host out of Dayton then, sitting at the table. If we needed confirmation, well, two sons were sitting with him. One of them wore a football jersey with the word Donahue on the back.

* Robert Kennedy - When you are a Senator from New York, it helps to show up in the small towns once in a great while. Bobby Kennedy came to Elmira once to speak at the Mark Twain Hotel. Mom grabbed my sister and me, and we headed for the main entrance. We were part of a small crowd that watched him get out of a car, walk briskly into the hotel, and wave to us in the process as people applauded. I've still got a letter that Kennedy sent to my father about some safety-related legislation; it's even personally signed (I think).

* Pete Rozelle - This goes back to my radio days, when I spent some time covering Bills' news. Rozelle had a news conference either before a game or at halftime, so I got pretty close to him. The quote I remember is that he talked about how other networks were counter-programming well to cut into Monday Night Football's ratings. "They're showing TV-movies like, 'I was a Teen-Age Hooker Who Found God' to get people to watch," he said.

* Mike Tyson - I was covering the Sabres when I was checking out of a hotel near the Capital Centre in Landover, Maryland, around 5 p.m. That's when I look up and see Mike Tyson troll through the lobby; he had been preceded by some flunkies. Mike was scheduled to be the commentator on a fight card at the Cap Centre the next night on Showtime. Tyson is one of the widest men I've ever seen - built like a cube. By the way, boxing fans will be impressed that Dr. Ferdie Pacheco, "The Fight Doctor," was at the next table from me during breakfast that morning.

Those were all of the guesses, and they were all wrong. Let's go through the other contenders:

* Leon Spinks - The Sabres and I were in St. Louis for the pregame skate, and Leon was working on the custodial staff of the arena. When work got out that Spinks was in the building, everyone crowded around to shake his hand and pose for a photo. This was almost 25 years ago, and I can report that Leon could be barely understood, even then. Boxing ... a tough business.

* Mario Cuomo - I should have replaced him with someone else, since it would figure that he would have been in Buffalo at some point. Cuomo did something of a town hall at a downtown location, and my radio station broadcast it live. I was asked to help out with the production, and thus got a good seat to hear the Governor. He was superb at it - couldn't stump him, very articulate, etc. I was extremely impressed. I also made sure to shake hands with Senator Chuck Schumer turned up at the Allentown Art Festival, surrounded by signs that read, "Come meet Chuck Schumer."

That leaves one name - the fake one - on the list: Bob Costas. I think people assumed that I met him somewhere along the line because we both went to Syracuse, although I just missed him there. The closest we've come is that we were both listed on the program of the Daily Orange's 100th anniversary (it's the student newspaper) in 2003. Somehow, I think that his check was bigger than mine.

Upon reflection, I naturally came up with more names. Jim Kelly hosted some sort of gala athletic competition at Pilot Field around 1994 that featured Donald Trump and Fabio as guests. I covered it for AP and was part of a group interview of both. Fabio had better hair. George Foreman stood near me for a couple of minutes in the Bills' press box as he waited for a halftime interview with the ABC crew. He was bigger and wider than Tyson. I had a one-on-one conversation with Wayne Gretzky after a preseason game in Buffalo. Gordie Howe used to be part of a small media lunch in the Sabres' offices once a year after he retired in the 1980s. He'd tell stories and even refilled water glasses at one point. Magic Johnson was spotted outside the Bills' locker room after the game; he was thinner than I thought. I once sat at exactly center court at the media table for a Bulls' exhibition game in Buffalo, which meant I could have shaken hands with Michael Jordan without any effort from either of us. Warren Buffett came to The Buffalo News as part of a party for the opening of the new presses. I shook his hand, posed with him for a photo, and thanked him for what he had done for the community.

Cue the Marmalard to play "Reflections of My Life."

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Buffalo's Biggest Free Agents: No. 41-60

Visit Buffalo Sports Page for a full recap of the careers of players listed:

41. John Tracey – Signed by the Bills in 1962

42. Shane Nelson – Signed by the Bills in 1977

43. Teppo Numminen – Signed by the Sabres in 2005

44. Jordan Poyer – Signed by the Bills in 2017

45. Scott Chandler – Signed by the Bills in 2010

46. Sam Adams – Signed by the Bills in 2003

47. Kyle Okposo – Signed by the Sabres in 2016

48. Dan Brouthers – Signed by the Bisons in 1881

49. Tom Day – Signed by the Bills in 1960

50. Rian Lindell – Signed by the Bills in 2003

51. Micah Hyde – Signed by the Bills in 2017

52. Pud Galvin – Signed by the Bisons in 1878

53. Mark Anderson – Signed by the Bills in 2013

54. Ray Bentley – Signed by the Bills in 1986

55. Frank Grant - Signed by the Bisons in 1886

56. Bill Brooks – Signed by the Bills in 1993

57. James Patrick – Signed by the Sabres in 1998

58. George Ratterman – Signed by the Bills in 1947

59. Matt Vinc – Signed by the Bandits in 2018

60. Dixon Ward – Signed by the Sabres in 1995

(Here's the full list)