Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Owens certainly knows how to create a stir

Got my first taste of T.O. mania last night at St. John Fisher College, and I must admit it was a sight to see - and hear.

The instant Terrell Owens emerged from the locker room (surprise, surprise - he was the last Bills player to make his way onto the field), a cereal-box waving, liquored-up group of college-aged students began chanting his name.

One of them held up a sign reading: THE PANDEMONIUM THEOREM - T.E. + T.O. = TD. (Intepretation, Trent Edwards to you-know-who equals six points.)

Owens grinned and soaked it all in as he sauntered across the turf oh, so slowly.

He made a point of doing his stretching not far from his adoring fans, which included three bare-chested teenage boys, who had painted the letters "T'' "O'' "U'' on their respective torsos.

One of the leather lungs, obviously auditioning for time on Owen's reality show, bellowed that he had eaten his T.O. cereal for breakfast, lunch and dinner and added that "they were delicious!''

I couldn't help but notice the narcissistic synergy between star athlete and the vocal cheering session. I don't know who was seeking more attention - the player or the fans.

Cynicism aside, I can honestly say that in 10 years of journeying to Bills training camp at Fisher I've never seen a player create a buzz quite like this. Even Doug Flutie, the original cereal inspirer, didn't evoke a response this crazy. (It should, though, be pointed out, that nothing equals the hysteria surrounding Jim Kelly's arrival at Fredonia back in the summer of 1986.)

Of course, we'll see how long this mutual narcissism society lasts. Bills fans must hope that pandemonium theorem is valid.


New York Daily News pro football columnist and former SU classmate Gary Myers doesn't think much of the Bills-Owens connection. In his Sunday column he wrote:

"T.O. will be absolutely miserable in Buffalo despite the chicken wings at the Anchor Bar. Here's why Owens is in Buffalo: Nobody else wanted him. Can't wait to see him standing by himself on the sidelines at The Ralph in mid-November with the Bills hopelessly out of the playoffs and icicles forming on Owens' nose as the wind whips at 40 mph. It's not going to be pretty.''


So, I ask you: Is Brett "Flip-Flop'' Favre retired for good, or just for today?


I think the Michael Vick-New England Patriots connection makes sense because Bill Belichick doesn't cater to stars (except, of course, his meal ticket, Tom Brady). He'd demand that Vick be on the straight and narrow, and he'd have no problem showing him the door if he's not.

And Belichick, always the innovator, undoubtedly would find creative ways to utilize Vick's unique football skills.


It's hard to fathom how Chicago White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle could follow up a perfect game with six more perfect innings last night. For him to retire a major-league record 45 batters in a row is mind-boggling.

But Buehrle wasn't able to celebrate his achievement because the Minnesota Twins wound ruining his bid for an unprecedented second straight perfect game and saddling him with a loss.
A huge "thank you'' to my hometown of Rome (New York, not Italy) for inducting me into its sports hall of fame last weekend. They included us in their "Honor America Days'' parade on Saturday (they had more bands and floats than the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade) and they staged a plaque-hanging ceremony at their museum on Sunday and a banquet later in the day.
Rome boasts the only municipal sports museum in the state, and it's very impressive. I highly recommend it for any sports or museum buffs out there. It's located on the west side of the city, next door to the Erie Canal Village, which you also should check out. (Rome was where construction of America's most famous canal began back in 1817.)
As I said in my acceptance speech, "I may have left Rome long ago, but the values of Rome never left me.'' I'll always have a special place in my heart for my hometown.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Goodell showed fairness in dealing with Vick

Some wanted Michael Vick reinstated immediately.

Others wanted him banned for life.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell did the right thing by avoiding either of those extreme measures yesterday and conditionally reinstating the former Atlanta Falcons quarterback who spent nearly two years in prison for murdering dogs.

In this high-speed Internet society, many have a tendency to want everything done fast. But Goodell realizes that true remorse takes time, and that just by saying you're sorry doesn't mean you're truly contrite. Not everything in life, folks, can be immediately gratified.

As part of his condition for reinstatement, Vick must show that he is remorseful for his heinous acts and that he has distanced himself from the riff-raff of his past.

And in a move, both brilliant and compassionate, the Commish has assigned one of the most respected men in sports, former Colts coach Tony Dungy, to mentor Vick. Dungy is one of the kindest and wisest people you'll ever meet, but he's also a deeply religious person who will not lie. So, if Vick reverts to his old ways, Dungy will be sure to tell Goodell the truth.

I thought Goodell also was generous in allowing Vick to sign with a team right away and be eligible to play in the final two exhibition games and continue to practice with a team until he is totally reinstated.

With all due respect to great arbiters of justice such as Bills wide receiver Terrell Owens - who foolishly said Goodell needed to spend 23 months in jail to understand Vick's situation - I thought the Commish handled this case with intelligence and fairness.

Now, it's up to Vick to show he's a changed man. And that can only be determined over time.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Meet the "Mess''

In honor of "Banners Day'' - at one time an annual event at old Shea Stadium - the New York Times asked Mets fans to suggest slogans they would have put on their banners were such a day scheduled for this summer.

The flood of responses clearly indicate that Mets fans haven't lost their sense of humor during this lost season.

Among the more creative submissions:





So I ask you: If Tom Watson can seriously contend for a golf major at age 59, does that mean 33-year-old Tigers Woods has 26 more years to pick up the five majors he needs to surpass Jack Nicklaus?


As suggested in a previous column in this cyberspace, I was hoping to see Syracuse play the first college football game at the new Yankee Stadium. Unfortunately, Army, Notre Dame and Rutgers beat them to it, with the West Pointers playing the Irish and Scarlet Knights there. The fact Rutgers was able to beat SU to the punch is embarrasing to the Orange program, which is attempting to reestablish a recruiting foothold in the metropolitan New York area.

Word is, though, that SU and Notre Dame are in negotiations to play each other at the new Giants Stadium in the not-so-distant future.


I see where the NFL has decided to spread the draft over three days instead of two, which means we can be bored to tears for three days instead of two. That third day should make for really compelling television, as fans wait with bated breath to see who their respective teams pick in the fifth and sixth rounds.


LeBron James did a terrible public relations job handling this incident of a college player dunking on him during his recent Nike camp. By confiscating the videos, King James turned a molehill into a mountain, and showed how immature and small-minded he can be.


I'm not surprised one iota that Gerry McNamara has decided to pursue his coaching career as a grad assistant with the Syracuse basketball staff. I think it's a great move for him and for the Orange hoopsters. There's also talk that Greg Paulus will join the basketball team as a grad student manager once his football season with the 'Cuse finishes. Those are two great additions to Jim Boeheim's veteran staff.


Congratulations to my niece Katie O'Brien and Jeff Tudini who will be tying the knot today in Buffalo.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

I'm taking a time out from T.O.'s show

Perhaps it’s a sign of aging and the crankiness that accompanies it, but I opted for retrospectives rather than the so-called new “reality’’ on Tuesday evening.

I chose to watch replays of man landing on the moon 40 years ago instead of the launching of Terrell Owens’ new show on VH-1.

And from what friends, colleagues and total strangers have told me, I made the right television decision.

Yes, I know T.O. has created a buzz among playoff-starved Bills fans, and that’s a good thing. And I was on board with the signing of the receiver with the penchant for self-promotion and catching touchdown passes.

But I really have little interest in watching another self-indulgent athlete profess he is “The Eighth Wonder of the World’’ or that “There’s not much that doesn’t look good on me.’’

And as one of the seven million Americans who lost his job in the past year, I can do without scenes of an athlete spending $137,000 on some diamond-studded earrings. More power to you, Terrell. Go knock yourself out. But those of us struggling to make mortgage and tuition payments don’t need to have it flaunted in our faces.

I’m told that the two beautiful women assigned to keep T.O. on the straight and narrow said they were using the show to rebuild Terrell’s image. Puhlease. This is all about building bank accounts, not images.

Of course, the media and fan frenzy is expected to reach a fever pitch Friday when the Eighth Wonder shows up for the opening of Bills training camp at St. John Fisher College.

Sadly, ESPN, that self-important organization which fancies itself as the be-all and end-all in sports journalism, will be following T.O.’s every move this season, as if, somehow, his decision to put marmalade on his English muffin was somehow as important as Obama’s decisions about health care reform and the war in Afghanistan.

It’s times like these, when I’m happy I’m no longer a full-fledged sportswriter. It’s times like these when I realize how silly our society can be.

New reality?

Let’s be real.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

And that's the way it was

I remember the announcement as if it were 46 seconds, not 46 years, ago. I was 8 at the time, a second-grader at Bell Road Elementary School in Rome, N.Y., and our principal, Mr. Clough, came on the public address system to tell us that President Kennedy had been shot and that the buses would be arriving early to take us home.

I recall fighting back tears as I gathered up my stuff and headed to the bus circle.

I arrived home to find my parents glued to the old, black-and-white television set in our living room. My mom hugged me tightly, and asked if I was OK. I sat down next to her and began watching the tube in hopes of making sense of the chaos.

Over the next several, surreal days, we and millions of other Americans were gracefully and gently guided through this tragedy by an avuncular, bespectacled man visiting all of our living rooms simultaneously.

His name was Walter Cronkite.

"Uncle Walt'' would become the trusted voice of my generation over the next 20 years, leading us through the triumphs and tragedies of a tumultuous time in American history.

He was the soothing, authoritative narrator we turned to during the Kennedy and Martin Luther King assassinations; the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights movement, Watergate, the moon landings, the Beatles music invasion and so much more.

In this age of seemingly infinite information sources, it's difficult to put Cronkite's reach and impact into context. Back in the day, you didn't have the Internet and YouTube and a jillion television options. We essentially had three tv choices - CBS, NBC and ABC - and the majority of us put the dial on CBS because Uncle Walt was a man we believed in most.

One story sure to be repeated often in these days following the anchorman's death Friday night at age 92 underscores his enormous influence on American society in the late 1960s. Cronkite went to Vietnam to do a series about the war. His indepth reporting convinced him that the battle had reached a stalemate and that negotiations for a settlement should begin as soon as possible, lest thousands more pointlessly lose their lives. With the encouragement of his boss (I don't believe that media honchos would have the guts to to this today), Cronkite ended his series of reports on the war with a commentary suggesting peace talks should begin immediately.

A deflated President Lyndon B. Johnson flipped off the set after watching the commentary and resignedly told press secretary Bill Moyers: "If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost middle America.''

Cronkite was a journalistic giant, an American icon who revolutionized news coverage.

It will be interesting to see in the coming days how his passing is treated.

The celebrity-obsessed media of today clearly won't go ga-ga the way it did in it's over-the-top coverage of the recent death of entertainer Michael Jackson. It may not even cover it as extensively as it did the passing of journalist Tim Russert a year ago.

And, knowing Cronkite, that's probably the way he would want it. A consummate journalist, he was interested in covering the story, not being the story.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

British Open leaderboard: Mr. Watson, I presume

Tom Watson's rounds for the (middle) ages yesterday and today at the British Open were inspiring to me and other graying baby boomers who refuse to act our age when playing competitive sports.

Shooting a 65 and a 70 just two months shy of his 60th birthday at a major tournament makes a geezer want to grab his clubs, racquet, baseball bat, hockey stick - whatever - and head to the nearest golf course, tennis court, baseball diamond or rink.

Yes, I realize Watson could blow up in the final two rounds, but it's cool seeing a legend close in age to many of us, ahem, 'experienced' citizens post scores like those against a field that includes the greatest golfer of all-time (Tiger Woods) in the prime of his career.


I thought that was rather magnanimous of quarterback Brett Favre to tell the Minnesota Vikings that he'll let them know by July 30 whether he's going to come out of retirement. I was worried there that he might wait till the eve of the regular-season opener.


I was happy to hear that "The Express'' won an ESPY for best sports movie of the year. I know a lot of people grumbled because the movie took some historical license, but I thought the film was extremely well done. The bottom line is that, unless you lacked a heart, you walked out of the theater after that movie realizing what a remarkable player and person Ernie Davis was.


Congratulations to Don McPherson, who will be enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame tomorrow. I know this sounds like homerism coming from a Syracuse alum, but I still can't get over how the former Orange quarterback was screwed out of the Heisman Trophy after a fabulous senior year that saw him earn first-team All-America honors and the Johnny Unitas Award as the nation's top QB while leading the 'Cuse to a 10-0-1 record and a No. 4 ranking. There's no way Tim Brown from Notre Dame should have beaten him out for that honor in 1987.

Students of college football history recall a similar injustice when Jim Brown was edged by another Notre Dame player - Paul Hornung - for the award in 1956. Brown was a first-team All-American do-it-all running back who led his team to the Cotton Bowl. Hornung, meanwhile, quarterbacked an Irish team that went 2-7. In retrospect, it was pretty obvious that racism played a role in Brown's snubbing.

I don't know which repulses me more - the drug trafficking that landed former Bills running back Travis Henry in prison for three years or the fact he fathered nine children with nine women.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Remembering Tom Batzold

Those of us who worked with the man we called “Batz” are feeling a profound sense of loss after news of his death yesterday at the much-too-young age of 56 following complications from a stroke.

I first got to know Tom Batzold when I was a sophomore at Syracuse University back in the winter of 1974-75. (Actually, I didn’t meet him in person until I came to Rochester years later. But I felt like I knew him from reading his game stories, advances and features in the Syracuse Post-Standard.)

I was an aspiring newspaper reporter, and I would look for Batz’s by-line every day because his chronicling of SU basketball’s first trip to the Final Four made me a fan of his reporting. He did what good writers do – he made players like “Rocket Man’’ Chris Sease and Jimmy “Bug’’ Williams come to life.

Not long after the Orangemen’s marvelous season, Batz’s by-line disappeared from the Post-Standard. I learned that he had left Syracuse to return home to Rochester to write for Gannett’s afternoon paper, the Times-Union.

I joined the Democrat and Chronicle in January of ’85, and although I was a member of the enemy newspaper, I finally met the man behind the by-line, and we became friends.

Batz and I shared many interests. Each of us had gone to Syracuse, and closely followed the Orange sports programs, particularly basketball and football. We were huge fans of the Yankees (Mickey Mantle, in particular), Wilt Chamberlain and the Beatles. And we loved human-interest and nostalgic sports stories.

In the early 1990s, the staffs of the Times-Union and Democrat and Chronicle merged, and we went from being competitors to colleagues.

Batz was a very creative person. No one was better at coming up with catchy, to-the-point headlines – saying in two words what others needed 10 to articulate. His creativity also was evident in the pages and special sections he helped design. They were fun pages to work on and read. Many of them received national recognition.

Because he was from the area and he got out of the office (something too many editors and reporters no longer do), he was able to gauge the pulse of the community. Batz didn’t need surveys or phony focus groups to determine what interested people. By actually living in this community and having a vested interest in it, he developed a good sense of readership desires. And he didn’t just have his finger on the pulse of sports. He also had the finger on the pulse of politics, business and music. Through the years, he suggested numerous story ideas to other sections of the paper.

His formula for successful sports sections included heavy coverage of the Buffalo Bills, SU basketball (and football back in the day when it was good) as well as the local professional teams, colleges and his baby – high school sports.

Batz would tell us that he was blessed to oversee a veteran sports staff, but there were times when we (me, in particular) could make it challenging. On several occasions, we would lock horns over some newspaper issue – an editing change, story play, etc. But the great thing about Batz was that he never took anything personally. Both parties would blow off steam, then all would be forgotten.

A devoted family man, he would allow me to rearrange my schedule from time to time, so I would be able to coach my son’s baseball team or attend my daughter’s soccer matches. He did things like that with all the staffers because he realized what truly was important.

As a middle manager, Batz also was good at being a lightning rod, and protecting us from the foolish, occasionally petty criticisms of the deep thinkers at the top.

It was a sad day two years ago when health issues and the incessant meddling from above forced Batz to leave his dream job.

But he wound up turning lemons into lemonade. He had been a workaholic, devoting ridiculous hours to the newspaper. These past two years gave him an opportunity to lead a more sane existence and form even closer bonds with his family.

This past winter, he coached the modified boys basketball team at West Irondequoit, and the part-time sports memorabilia dealer was as happy as if he had just come across a ’52 Mickey Mantle card in mint condition. The kids loved Coach Batzold, and he loved them.

They were privileged to have known him.

And so was I.

I’m grateful for all the story ideas he fed me through the years and the great play he gave those stories. And I’m grateful for the assignments, particularly the Olympics in Athens and Beijing that he lobbied for me to have.

But most of all I’m grateful for his friendship.

My thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Pam, and their family.

He was a good man, and goodness never dies. His goodness will live on in all of us he touched.

RIP, my friend.


No one was a bigger booster of high school sports in our area than Tom Batzold. I believe a fitting tribute would be for him to be inducted into both the Section V football and basketball halls of fame. No one is more deserving.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Tiger, Federer - two of a kind

Fitting, wasn't it, that Tiger Woods and Roger Federer won on the same day? They are the best there's ever been at what they do, and we would do well to take a moment to appreciate and savor their greatness on the golf course and tennis court while we can. They are the Babe Ruth and Michael Jordan of their respective sports, and we shall not see their likes again. So drink in what you are witnessing. It's truly something historic.


Woods and Federer have become friends and fans of one another. One of the reasons they are members of each other's mutual admiration society is that they are among the scant few people on the planet who can truly understand the genius and focus required to achieve what they have.


It was very classy of Woods to allow scores of children 12-and-under to attend his tournament for free. (Wouldn't it be great if the NFL, Major League Baseball, the NBA and NHL followed suit at least occasionally?)

I also liked the way he honored veterans of the Armed Forces. The most memorable moment for me wasn't one of Woods' classic swings, but rather the scene of a veteran in a wheel chair motoring up the fairway with Tiger.


The winner of that hot-dog fest on the Fourth downed 68 franks in 10 minutes. That's more dogs than I probably will consume in the next 20 years.


I'd like to thank my friend and loyal reader, Blaise Lamphier, for keeping me on my toes. Like most of the media, I erroneously reported that Lou Gehrig's No. 4 was the first jersey ever retired by a professional sports team when the Yankees put it into mothballs in 1939. As Blaise correctly points out, two years early the Montreal Canadiens retired Howie Morenz's jersey (or as they used to refer to them in hockey - his 'sweater') after the player's untimely death.


Concerning my assertion that the Williams sisters had further distanced themselves from the Manning brothers as the greatest athletic siblings of all-time, reader and friend Gary Larder of the Rochester Red Wings advised me not to forget about baseball's Waner brothers.

I did some research and the Pittsburgh Pirates dynamic duo definitely belongs in the discussion. Known as "Big Poison'' and "Little Poison,'' the Waner Bros. combined for 5,611 hits while playing in the 1920s and '30s. Paul finished with a career batting average of .333, 17 points better than Lloyd's career mark. They are the only set of brothers enshrined in Cooperstown.


My Father's Day column evoked considerable response from readers. And it also elicited a few memorable stories of other dads out there. Here is one from Scott Kindberg, a long-time newspaper reporter and editor in Jamestown, who I got to know during my formative years as a Bills beat reporter in the mid- to late-1980s:

"Thanks so much for sharing your memory of your trip to Yankee Stadium with your dad. In a word, it was awesome.

"My only trip to the Bronx was with a friend and our sons, so I was never able to experience that thrill with my father, something I truly regret. Happily, I have plenty of other Yankees memories that I shared with him.

"Knowing your interest in all things in pinstripes, here's a story from May 1970. The Yanks were playing the Tribe at Cleveland Stadium. It was a doubleheader (back in the days when they had such things) and my father and I arrived early and headed straight to will-call to get our tickets.

"Because the will-call window hadn't yet opened, I struck up a conversation with a woman who was an avid Indians' fan. Keep in mind I was all of 9 years old. The lady was trying to convince me that Duke Sims — the Tribe's catcher — was going to have a better season than the Yanks' rookie catcher, a young man named Thurman Munson.

"Our debate lasted about 15 minutes and, apparently, I was doing a pretty good job of making a case for Thurm, but it was cut short when the will-call window opened. My dad got the tickets, handed me one and I headed for the turnstiles.

"Just as I was about to push my way through, a woman in front of me, turned in my direction and stuck out her hand to shake mine. As I looked up at her, she said (according to my dad), "Thank you for your kind comments about my husband. I'm Mrs. Thurman Munson." I don't think I uttered a word. I was too stunned.

"It's been nearly 40 years since that encounter and I remember it like it was yesterday. Is there any wonder why I've loved the Yanks my whole life? The best part, though, is that's a story my dad and I shared over and over again. The best part for me is that my father was there to witness it.

"There's not a game that goes by that I don't want to pick up the phone and talk to him about it. I take comfort by being able to watch games from his leather recliner that I inherited after his passing. One thing's for sure: I sound just like him as I alternately yell and cheer at every hit, run and error. Thanks again for making the Yanks a regular topic on your blogs. I hope all is well, and keep up the great work.

"All the best,"

Scott Kindberg, Jamestown

Saturday, July 4, 2009

A day to remember a hero

I'm often critical of Major League Baseball and its clueless, short-sighted, money-grubbing leadership, but today - brace yourself, folks - I'm using my cyberspace to doff my cap to Commissioner Bud Selig.

I think it's fabulous that today, on the 70th anniversary of Lou Gehrig's poignant speech, the Commish is having the Gettysburg Address of Baseball recited by various speakers in Major League parks throughout America.

Sadly, we live in a time in which history is considered bunk. So, I believe it's even more important that we use these anniversaries to celebrate and educate people about moments that speak to the character and spirit on which the game and this country were founded.
That Gehrig, a shy, humble man, was able to tell the world that he "considered himself the luckiest man on the face of the earth" while dying of Amyotrophic Lateral Scelrosis (ALS) remains one of sport's most inspirational and transcendent moments.
The slugger's comments that day in front of 61,808 spectators at Yankee Stadium were so moving and so eloquent that William Safire included it in a book about the great speeches in history, alongside those of popes, presidents, kings and philosophers.
Gehrig remains the finest first baseman ever to play the game. But his enduring legacy will be the grace and dignity he displayed in the face of death. His name became associated with the hideous disease that destroys the nerve cells and results in paralysis and death, usually within five years.
There currently are about 35,000 Americans who suffer from ALS. Each year about 5,000 people die from it and 6,000 new cases are diagnosed.
Gehrig, a strapping man who played 2,130 consecutive games, remains an important figure in the search for a cure, nearly seven decades after his death at age 37.
Today's recitations of Gehrig's speech in ballparks across America will raise awareness about ALS and serve as a reminder about being grateful for the blessings we've been given.
Good job, Mr. Selig. Good job, Major League Baseball.
For those of you interested in learning more about Lou Gehrig, may I suggest two wonderful biographies - Ray Robinson's Iron Horse and Jonathan Eig's Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig.
In addition, I recommend Gary Cooper's portrayal of Gehrig in the movie, "The Pride of the Yankees.'' It can be a little sappy at times, but it's still one of my all-time favorites. And you'll even see a cameo by Babe Ruth himself.
Eleven years ago today, I took my kids - Amy and Christopher - to their first game at Yankee Stadium. Talk about an All-American way to spend the Fourth of July - family and baseball.
Not surprisingly, the trip and harkenned many memories of my first trip to The House That Ruth Built 32 years earlier.
One thing that made it even more memorable was that the Yankees, in honor of Lou Gehrig Day, had actress Teresa Wright throw out the first pitch. Wright, some of you may recall, played Gehrig's wife in "The Pride of the Yankees.'' As I've said before, love 'em or hate 'em, nobody does nostalgia like the Yankees.
One final Gehrig note: He was the first athlete in professional sports to have his number retired, which is why you'll see his No. 4 before Ruth's No. 3 in the lineup of retired uni's in Monument Park in Yankee Stadium.

Friday, July 3, 2009

The All-Williams Tennis Club

With all due respect to the Manning Brothers, I believe the Williams Sisters have firmly established themselves as the greatest athletic siblings in American sports history.

Tomorrow, Venus and Serena will meet in the Wimbledon Finals for the seventh time in the past nine years. As if that wasn't enough, tennis' dynamic duo also be gunning for their fourth doubles title on Sunday.

Peyton and Eli are going to have to add a few Super Bowl rings to their jewelry collection to get back into the discussion.

(And, by all means, let me know if I left out any sports siblings you think are better.)


Congrats to Greece's Brian Gionta for landing that five-year, $25 million contract with the Montreal Canadiens. I was hoping Brian would wind up just down the Thruway with the Buffalo Sabres, but the money and the opportunity to play with the most storied franchise in hockey was an offer he would have been foolish to refuse.

I disagreed with a former newspaper colleague who said "the Sabres have too many Brian Gionta's already - 20-goal scorers.'' That may be true as far as the 20-goal scorers end of it, but Buffalo definitely could use a player with Gionta's professionalism, grit and clutch scoring ability. As he proved in New Jersey, he is a winner. He reminds me a lot of Chris Drury because he brings so many intangibles to your team, on and off the ice.

The other reason I'm biased toward Brian is his humbleness. I've experienced it on numerous occasions. Despite his lofty fame and wealth, he has never forgotten his roots. He is as loyal to his family and to his hometown as he ever was. Every time we've asked him to be a head table guest for the Rochester Press-Radio Club Children's Charity Dinner, he's come for no appearance fee.

I won't mention names, but there have been several prominent local athletes who've made good and have demanded sizeable appearance fees. They clearly have forgotten where they came from.

Brian's never been like that. A true class act from a salt-of-the-earth family.


While we're on the subject of hockey, count me among those applauding the Rochester Amerks' hiring of Ted Nolan as their director of hockey operations. I would like to see them go a step further and put the former Sabres and Islanders coach behind the Amerks bench.


Of course, Nolan isn't a miracle worker. I'm still concerned about Rochester's affiliation with the Florida Panthers. The big club is a mess, and that doesn't bode well for putting a competitive team on the ice at the Blue Cross Arena.

I still think the Amerks need to reconnect with the Sabres if they are going to survive.


Tomorrow, they will stage the annual Nathan's Hot-dog Eating Contest on Coney Island. Contestants attempt to wolve down as many franks as humanly possible in a 10-minute gorgefest.

If this were a marathon rather than a sprint, I would sponsor my friend, Danny Guilfoyle, who is the most prodigious hot dog eater since Babe Ruth. Danny, the long-time radio sales exec and singer, prefers to savor his dogs. Give him several hours, and I think he would eat the competition under the table.


Hey, even the big boys are getting hurt by this recession. Tiger Woods, the highest-earning athlete in the world, is making 22 percent less than he did a year ago. I just don't know how he managed to scrape by on the $99 million he earned in 2008. By the way, roughly eight mil of that came from playing golf, the rest from endorsements.


Please keep my friend and former sports editor, Tom Batzold, and his family in your thoughts and prayers.