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For Sabres and Bills fans, Thank God it’s Monday

“Someone has a case of the Mondays!”

If that’s you, don’t fret. You’re not alone with that feeling in the City of Mad-as-Hell Neighbors. Our top pro teams, the Bills and Sabres, just delivered another weekend full of frustration, ineptitude, and sickening losses.

Some of us are numb to it, and for good reasons. The Bills have been doing this to us for years, but a more recent trend has the Sabres habitually falling apart on Saturdays as well.

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Ain't no amount of coffee gonna' save us from this sports hangover.

Steel yourselves: here’s a run-down on the Sabres’ Saturday night performances:

  1. Oct 8 (in Europe @ LA) – 4-2 Win
  2. Oct 15 (@ PIT) – 3-2 Win
  3. Oct 22 (@ LA) – 0-3 Loss
  4. Oct 29 (vs FL) – 2-3 Loss
  5. Nov 3 (@ OTT) – 3-2 Win
  6. Nov 12 (@ BOS) – 2-6 Loss
  7. Nov 19 (vs PHO) – 2-4 Loss
  8. Nov 26 (vs WAS) – 5-1 Win
  9. Dec 4 (@ NSH) – 3-2 Win
  10. Dec 10 (vs NYR) – 1-4 Loss
  11. Dec 17 (@ PIT) – 3-8 Loss
Meanwhile, the Bills’ annual self-destruction started in November. After beating Washington 23-zip, the Bills lined up against the New York Football Jets on the 6th. With the Bills at 5-2, the ultimate football buzzkill was about to begin:
  1. Nov 6 (vs NYJ) – 11-27 Loss
  2. Nov 13 (@ DAL) – 7-44 Loss
  3. Nov 20 (@MIA) – 8-35 Loss
  4. Nov 27 (@ NYJ) – 24-28 Loss
  5. Dec 4 (vs TEN) – 17-23 Loss
  6. Dec 11 (@ SD) – 10-37 Loss
  7. Dec 18 (vs MIA) – 23-30 Loss

Wow.

Since that November 6 weekend, Buffalo fans have endured 11 losses and 2 wins between their two once-promising teams.

The good news on this particularly putrid Monday is that the Sabres are still very much alive, (once they figure out how not to play like zombies as they continue to crawl up out of the grave that they’re digging for themselves).

For fans, well, we all feel a bit like we just crawled up from a grave – again. Hungover on beers, brats, and bad hockey and football, there sure doesn’t feel like there is anything much to look forward to next weekend. In fact, the very thought of it kinda makes my own flesh crawl.

My simple advice: keep your trips to the water cooler brief, and avoid eye contact with anyone wearing Buffalo Bills/Sabres themed clothing. If you’re lucky enough, your fantasy football team is winning in the playoffs right now. Especially since the playoffs are, for now, a question mark for the Sabres this season, and a big question mark for the Bills for their foreseeable existence.

Good luck sleeping this one off, sports fans.

Go Bills.

Go Sabres.

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Bipolar Media on Buffalo High, Again

I’ve confessed that I’m “Billspolar” already.

Now, the national media is showing symptoms too – but not just over the Bills, or even the Sabres, but over Buffalo. Over us.

As the decades pass along, we endure column after column, news clip after news clip, about how it snows here. We get to see Scott Norwood’s kick go wide right. We see photos of Brett Hull’s foot in the crease. We’re chided for being a cesspool town with a spendthrift NFL owner who isn’t willing to spend what it takes to build a winner. Heaps of grief are heaved onto the region when a NHL owner like Tom Golisano won’t overspend to keep the Drurys and Campbells in town, and then heaps of sniveling ire are pitched about Terry Pegula investing his own money in players to build a true contender (too much money, cap circumvention, blah blah blah).

Damned if we do, damned if we don’t. Well, the Bills have won three games now.

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It's amazing what three wins can do to the talking heads of the national press.

Today, Les Carpenter of Yahoo! Sports put this column out for our morning reads. It’s a heckuva read – it’s poignant, exciting, enriching, and put the verve of our hearts and hopes here front and center. It is one of many columns celebrating the team and our City lately. But it’s old, old news.

 

This is a story about football. More specifically it’s a story about a team often tucked into irrelevance in a city where the boom left long ago and not fully come back. Much of America seems to think the Bills won’t last here. Much of America sees the team’s owner Ralph Wilson is 92 years old without a succession plan upon his death and it figures the franchise might head to Los Angeles or Toronto, where it plays one regular season game annually as part of a five-year agreement that ends in 2012.

What Buffalo sees is perhaps its greatest asset, a team and its heartache that becomes a calling card when traveling around the country as in the case of its mayor Byron Brown, who upon arriving at the White House for a Super Bowl party this year was greeted by President Obama who shouted, “There’s my Buffalo diehard!”

And yet just as many were giving up hope, there have come signs of surprise. Last year, Buffalo’s unemployment dropped to 7.5 percent. More bio-medical jobs are being created. The city is starting to pop up on those lists of best places to live. And like the city, the football team that hasn’t been to the playoffs since the 1999 season is 3-0, something no one can believe. Last Sunday the Bills beat the New England Patriots for the first time in 15 games.

The city exploded with joy…

…Something about Buffalo gets into the men who come to play here. The team’s history is filled with players who wanted nothing to do with a Rust Belt town and begged to stay away only to arrive and fall in love with the place. For some it is the way you can be left alone at the supermarket; for others it’s the unconditional love that spills from the fans.

Kelly never wanted to play here. Rather than play in Buffalo, he ran to the USFL. Now he lives here permanently. Shawne Merriman(notes) didn’t want to come either when the Bills claimed him off waivers last fall. “I thought I was going to be miserable,” he says. “I got pretty comfortable pretty fast.”

For the legions of subscribers to Forbes (or any Buffalo promotional Twitter feed), how is this news? Goodness, we’ve been hearing this song for decades now, haven’t we? This whole “small town in a big city” epiphany that the national media reminds itself of – after we win a few football games – is getting old.

We know we’ve got a good thing goin’ on in this town, in our stadiums and in our neighborhoods. The vast amount of NFL, and NHL players that settle here after their careers has been widely publicized, reported, and lauded over for longer than I can remember. This isn’t breaking news.

While Buffalonians continue to live just as any other ordinary Americans live, we’ve continued to lose at the Ralph, and we’ve continued to pack the seats. Again, not breaking news.

You want to start talking about bandwagons? National media, welcome aboard your own bipolar ride. Yes, we’ve won three football games, so it is time again to remind the world again that we’ve got great architecture, a thriving music and arts scene, glorious parks, and by all means tell everyone that it snows here.

Welcome back to town. It hasn’t changed since the Kelly Era, or the Music City Miracle.

Buffalo is still the same great place it’s been all along. You’ve called it a cesspool, a rust belt town, a brick-field, a tundra, a place where the big names like Chris Drury, Brad Richards, Bill Cowher and Tyson Clabo flirt with before writing off. You know, because we’re too small a market, or too dirty, or snowy, or whatever convenient adjective seems appropriate for the given season or time.

Three wins later and we’re talking about a veritable re-emergence of the national economy in Buffalo, NY.

Take your Paxil, and give us a break.

The Bills are one loss away from next week’s “power rankings” posting messages like “Well, that was fun,” or, “Welcome back to Earth, Buffalo fans.” Reminder: we’re not the ones in outer space over the Bills right now. It’s the rampant stampede of media too buzzed out of their minds to forget how they described this team and this town during the preseason.

The Sabres are one back-to-back loss early on in the regular season before the magical 16-4-4 “Pegula Run” to close out the last regular season begins to be scrutinized as a fluke, before the cap-friendly signings of Ville Leino and Christian Ehrhoff are revisited as potential busts. Actually, you’ve been doing that already.

We know how it works.

Please, do us a favor, and try to stay objective. That is, after all, your job as professional media. Try to follow our lead: enjoy each game, but get over the thrill of a win (or the gutting of a loss) and get yourselves ready for the next game. In Buffalo, that’s what it’s really about: the next game. The next day. Make sense?

Buffalo is not a cesspool, and it’s not necessarily always a “City of Good Neighbors” all the time, either. We have our good moments, and bad. We are just like any other American city. Sure, maybe we just have a little more hope for a championship someday. Going from the “City of Good Neighbors” to the “City of Champions” was a reach one year ago. Now, oh so suddenly, that long shot hope is within reach. Maybe.

It’s a big maybe. But it’s a fun maybe. Just keep your heads cool, and stay with us here – one game at a time.

Again, enjoy the ride on your bandwagon. And please, when we do lose a football game (and yes, we will), don’t turn on the good folks here. It’s about time you started treating our football team as a football team, our hockey team as a hockey team, our men and women as typical Americans, and our city as a city.

Go Bills.

Go Sabres.

And dammit, let’s go Buffalo.

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Sabres, Bills Fans on the Precipice of Glory… and Disaster

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October 25th, 2008:

Happy “New Year,” folks.

To me, the New Year begins with the Bills and the Sabres. How’s this for a new beginning: the Sabres and Bills just spent a few days with the same record – the same winning record of 5-1 – marking the first time both teams had season starts like this one since 1975, when the Bills were 4-0 and the Sabres were 8-0.

In 1975, I was wearing a blue and gold onesy and shooting Cheerios with a plastic mini-stick at the family dogs from my high chair. Since then, I’ve grown out of my onesy and into adult x-large Sabres jersey sizes with names like Audette, LaFontaine, Peca, and Stafford decorating the back. Since then, I’ve had to listen to games on the primitive internet of the 90’s while living in Australia. I’ve spent late nights at grimy sports bars in Florida, watching the old over-the-hill analog TV’s that management sticks in the corner for hockey fans while the big screens rage with college football. You can imagine some of the strange conversations I had to endure in those places, while decked out in my seemingly inappropriate hockey jersey:

“Hey, dude, are you a hockey fan?”

“No. I’m a rapper.”

“Ohhhhh… cool. Hockey is stupid anyway.”

Sigh. True story.

Since 1975, well, since the beginning, neither the Bills nor the Sabres have been able to win the Big Game. But recently I’ve made my return to WNY, and so far, that return has been a triumphant one. And this rapper smells a championship or two at “year’s end.”

I’ve mentioned the undying hope of WNY sports fans here many times. Despite the snow, despite the legendary losses, despite the reputation as a cursed sports citezenry – each year, when the puck drops on game one, anything is possible. Isn’t that the true spirit of New Year’s Day? “Auld lang syne” means “times gone by.” Those sad years and mournful losses are in the past, and who knows what is in store for the WNY sports fan.

Right now, I am drawing up blueprints for my backyard rink, and conjuring up zealous visions of a Stanley Cup and Superbowl party at my place this summer.

There are many games left to be played, heck, that legendary snow hasn’t even fallen yet. But something is different this year. I can feel it.

I’ll go see if my mother still has that lucky 1975 onesy somewhere.

I’m finally coming clean. I was the one who jinxed it all in 2008-09. Right after I wrote that piece, things began to fall apart. After such auspicious beginnings, our teams floundered down the stretch, my championship barbecue slowly flamed out. There would be no championships that year – not even a playoff game.

The Sabres would finish with a record of 41-32-9 – good enough for 91 points, and good enough for missing the playoffs by just 2 points. One game.

The Bills would finish at the bottom of the AFC East, stumbling their way to one of seemingly a dozen records of 7-9.

It’s been three years. The Bills are 3-0 and are turning heads all over the NFL landscape. The Sabres are 4-1 – in the preseason – but the infusion of Pegula fever has the NHL world spinning its wheels, trying to calculate all that has changed for the Sabres and what it bodes for the future.

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Placed atop my TV just before the Bills began their Week Two comeback against the Raiders. It hasn't been moved, or touched, since. Rally cat!

“This time is different,” we’re being told. OK, fair enough. For Bills fans, this is not the team of 2008-09 that squandered a 5-1 start. It’s a new energy, we’re being told. A new confidence. Well, for me, that’s all far too familiar. I’ll keep Rally Cat atop my Vizio, but I’m not painting up a “Super Bowl or Bust” sign for the bandwagon just yet.

There are many games left to be played, heck, that legendary snow hasn’t even fallen yet. But something is different this year. I can feel it.

This time, I’m just enjoying the ride, taking the games one at a time.

For most of the first half of the Bills/Pats game, I was knee deep in water, hiking along Stone Creek as I like to do to clear my head when my family man lifestyle affords me the chance. I might be a sports nut, which should be obvious by now, but I also need to breathe sometimes. I still need to get my feet wet and my hands dirty. A blog cant do that, but a creek can really refresh the soul.

So there I was, letting the water rush around me, the fish dart past me along the sunlit creek bed. But those weren’t the only things rushing over me. I was close enough to the Ralph so that I could hear the roar of the crowd echo around me, and could hear the announcer call the plays.

I hadn’t really gone anywhere.

So, I climbed up the small shale cliff, and worked my way back through the tall grass back to my car. I got on Milestrip Road just in time to hear Stevie Johnson’s touchdown grab to make the game 21-7, and was back in front of my Vizio – back in front of that Rally Cat – when Ryan Lindell cashed in a field goal to close the gap to 11 points at the half.

My feet were still muddy, cold and wet, but my heart was beating hard and fast. I guess you could I’m a lot more down to earth (literally) this time around. I’m sweating every down, but I’m more objective now. I’m looking to enjoy the ride, win or lose, listening with my feet in a stream or my eyes watching the game with the magical power of Rally Cat getting things done.

It’s a balancing act for me this year.

So far, the Bills are doing well. The Sabres haven’t entered the regular season yet, but they’re doing well too. I’m just not going to jinx it this time. I’m not going to get all antsy-in-the-pantsy and predict anything silly or stupidly hopeful – those days are done. I’m a new man now. Patient, balanced, and taking it one game at a time.

At least, I’m trying to – when Lindell hit that game winner as time expired, I felt those magical hopeful stirrings again, and there was no way I even wanted to tune them out.

Is it really going to be different for us this time? Well, I can’t answer that, but I do know this:

If anyone touches Rally Cat, there’s gonna’ be trouble.

Go Sabres.

Go Bills.

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For Many Bills Fans, it’s a Love Hate Relationship

To coin a phrase: I’m “Billspolar.”

This time of year, every year, I go crazy over our Buffalo Bills – and not in a good way. My mood swings up and down with each incoming news report that the Bills might sign a great RT, and then fail to do so. Things don’t go very well for the Bills during free agency. The draft has mostly been a disaster. The team has been off the NFL map for so long, that ESPN reported that one of the Bills’ key losses this season was James Hardy.

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That's Matt Warren of "Buffalo Rumblings." Check out the blog. Good stuff.

If you forgot, Hardy was indeed cut by the Bills – in September of 2010. I’d like to blame ESPN for this lazy journalism, but really, the Bills have been so bad for so long that I can’t blame anyone for not paying them much attention.

I know – we’ve all been handed the line that Buddy Nix is rebuilding this team through the draft. We need to be patient. I respect his efforts, but I am done being patient. Here’s a dandy quote from “@TheCockfight” on Twitter:

So the Bills are planning on getting better by drafting and developing their own guys, huh? That frees up my Sep-Dec for a few more years.

And one more:

Don’t forget the 61% LOSING record over last 10 yrs.

We haven’t been in the playoffs since 1999. We haven’t hosted a playoff game in Orchard Park since December 28, 1996. There’s a good chance that some of you reading this weren’t even born by 1996. A whole generation of teenagers is walking around town without ever having felt the buzz in town when it’s playoff game day. That can’t be good for the future of the fan base, well, at least it would be in any other town.

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A few beers usually helps get us through the games, too.

Just as I am Billspolar, the rest of the region is clinically insane about this team. Come game one of the regular season, I’ll put on one of my Bills jerseys (I have to choose between Lynch and McGahee), and cheer for every down like my life depended on it. This is what we do.

And on an aside, I was oh so close to snapping up one of those Posluszny jerseys at the Bills online store that were on sale for $20 during the lockout. Did the Bills store know something we didn’t? (It wouldn’t be the first stupidly weird conspiracy surrounding the team. In an “X-files” episode – coincidentally aired in 1996 – the “Cigarette Smoking Man” stated that the Bills would not win a Super Bowl while he lives. Someone put a hit on that bastard.)

Now, if that weird tangent tells you anything, it shows the how deeply this Billspolar sickness has gone. This is just not a good time of the year to be a Bills fan.

I just get through another offseason – I need to get to week one.

Billspolar or not, it is during the season that I return to the flock. I’ve painted myself up and attended away games in Jacksonville. I’ve written before how I was one of those folks who stayed seated at the stadium for “The Comeback.” (That, frankly, is a much better read than this – I highly recommend reading it after suffering this post. It will cheer you up.) And I’ve also written more recently how Terry Pegula and the Sabres have put Ralph Wilson and his Bills “on notice.” While we’re told to be patient, we’ve got an actual contender for a championship in this town right now. Guess which team that young generation of teenagers I just mentioned is going to spend their lawn-mowing money on?

And am I the only one whose favorite memory of Ralph Wilson stadium over the last ten plus years is attending the Winter Classic?

Joe Pinzone at “Buffalo Wins” put up a great post on what we’re experiencing as fans, and how to remain optimistic. “The Scizz,” over at “Dear God Why Us Sports,” put up a post detailing the more agonizing side.

For now, I’m with The Scizz.

Just get me to week one.

Go Bills.

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Have the Sabres put the Bills “On Notice?”

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Are you ready for some hockey ?”

Many sports fans in WNY are marking the days off their calendar in anticipation for October 7th, when the rebuilt, refreshed, and Pegula-powered Buffalo Sabres take to the ice. As we’ve discussed before, Pegs did a whole lot for his team and its fans long before the most recent upgrades of the roster.

For Bills fans, lately, it has felt like the reason for existence of the Buffalo Bills has been to just keep them in town. It’s not like Ralph Wilson is suddenly going to change the way he does things – at 200 years of age, he’s pretty much set in his ways. Yea, he put a team in Buffalo (because his first choice, Miami, didn’t pan out). And yea, he’s kept the team here. But that’s about it for Bills fans. They’ve got a team – a middling team, a team that has gone from the glorious stat-sheet days of the Superbowl 90’s to the ever-lengthening joke-sheets of NFL analysts.

Bills fans, praise their thick Buffalo hides, will never give up on their team. Heck, this is Buffalo. This is what we do. Still, there has been a slight change in attitude that has been picking up around the football fan base as they’ve seen what some other rich guy with deep pockets can do for a small market sports franchise.

Pegula has set that standard pretty darn high, and the way the Bills are run, it simply can’t be ignored. We’re not elitists, but we have pride in this town. We want to win.

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"...and remember, don't take any wooden nickels!"

We deserve to win.

Of course, this is pro-sports – deserve ain’t got nothin’ to do with it. One thing that does have a lot to do with it is putting your self on notice for the team that you own. That is what Pegula did. We’re on a three year Cup mission right now, and it is on his name that the end result of that quest falls.

As the Sabres surge forward by Pegula’s lead, Wilson has also been inadvertently been put on notice. Again, he won’t shake things up at One Bills Drive. But maybe, just maybe, he’ll learn a thing or two from Pegula and turn Buffalo into a football destination again.

Right now, we’re in Hockey Heaven, and Football Hell.

Go Bills.

Go Sabres.

*For a incredibly wild ride through the historical antics and let-downs of Ralph Wilson, check out the article “Ralph Wilson is an Odious Taint,” over at “Dear God Why Us Sports. It’s a fine, fine piece by “The Yachtsman.” You’ll either laugh until you burst, or get incredibly offended, or if you’re really lucky – both. (NSFW, kiddies.)

 

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