Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Praise for Chan Gailey and remembrances of Syracuse's not-so-sweet Sugar Bowl

One of the things I don’t like about my job is when you have to call for someone to be benched or fired. I realize that sports, particularly at the professional level, is a highly competitive, results-oriented business, and that athletes and coaches are handsomely compensated, making more money – sometimes in a game or two – than most of us will see in a lifetime.

But they are human beings, too.
And there are times, like during Chan Gailey’s emotional, two-minute press conference at One Bills Drive yesterday, when you can’t help but feel a person’s pain.

The man who had just been fired as Bills coach choked back the tears while delivering a statement in which he thanked ownership and the front office for giving him an opportunity and Buffalo fans for being so loyal. 
“I understand this is a business,’’ said Gailey, who had a 16-32 record in his second go-around as an NFL head coach. “We didn’t get the job done.”

He concluded by saying, “I think (this) will be the first place that’s ever fired me that I’ll pull for. Thank you.”

There’s no question that Gailey poured heart and soul into trying to turn things around in Buffalo. He did some positive things, but not enough of them to right the ship. It was time for a change. He understood that. Through it all, Chan handled himself with class and dignity. The reality is that he probably won’t get another shot to be a head coach in the NFL, but he’s a bright offensive mind and should land some place as a coordinator. I’ll be rooting for him to succeed.

Twenty-five years ago today, I was at the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, watching a brilliant Syracuse football team cap an undefeated season with a disappointing 16-16 tie against Auburn. It was a great time to be covering the Orangemen, with their colorful, quotable coach – Dick MacPherson – and a bevy of talented players, including quarterback Don McPherson, a classy, entertaining performer who got jobbed out of the Heisman Trophy.

It was a hard-hitting, defense-dominated game, and I still can’t believe that Auburn coach Pat Dye opted to go for the tying field goal instead of going for the win. If memory serves me, the tying field goal was booted by a young man whose name was Win Lyle. Talk about a headline writer’s dream: Win Gives Auburn a Tie.

I remember Coach Mac, a man who wore his heart on his sleeve, being furious with Dye. I couldn’t blame him. The Auburn coach became known as “Tie Dye” in Syracuse and an enterprising Central New York radio station collected 2,000 ugly neck ties that were delivered to the Auburn coach’s office.

SU finished 11-0-1 and ranked fourth in the AP polls, tying the 1959 national championship Orangemen for most wins in a single season. And to think, just a year or two earlier, SU fans had tried to get Coach Mac fired. Fortunately, he survived, kicking off a 15-year stretch of winning football at the Carrier Dome.
There were many wondrous moments for my family and me in 2012 – my daughter’s wedding, Beth’s return to the airwaves at WXXI and my fun-filled book tour with the great Johnny Antonelli. But there also were moments of tragedy and unrelenting stress.

My heart goes out to the West Webster firefighters and their families as well as to the people whose lives were shattered in Newtown, Conn., and so many other places ravaged by man’s inhumanity to man.

Here’s wishing you a healthy, happy and prosperous 2013 in which peace and the goodness of people prevail.

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