Thursday, December 29, 2011

Bills need Spiller to be a Thriller and a workhorse in order to upset the Pats

It clearly wouldn’t remove the bitter taste of the seven-game free-fall that ruined their season, but an upset of the Patriots in New England Sunday would enable the Bills to finish on a high note. A victory would give Buffalo a season sweep of the AFC East kingpins for the first time since the final year of the Clinton Administration (1999) – not to mention a two-game win streak and a 7-9 record.

In order to beat the odds against a Patriots team that still has a shot at securing the top seed and homefield advantage throughout the playoffs, the Bills will need to play flawlessly and go for broke. No reason at all to be passive in this one. Heck, what do you have to lose?

Chan Gailey must stop pampering C.J. Spiller and ride him for all he’s worth. The second-year running back will have an entire off-season to recuperate. Spiller, who’s accounted for 463 yards from scrimmage in the past four games, needs to get at least 25 touches against a New England defense that ranks dead last against the run. Ryan Fitzpatrick will have to be a good game manager, not turn the ball over and hit a few big-plays to Stevie Johnson. And the defense will have to take some chances and put some pressure on Tom Brady the way it did while picking him off four times in the first meeting.


Not using it as an excuse, but I can’t help but wonder how much different this Bills season would have been if they hadn’t lost 17 players to the injured reserve list. They probably still wouldn’t have ended their post-season drought, but I don’t believe they would have suffered the long losing streak and would have remained in serious playoff contention into December.


Bills line coach Joe D’Alessandris and his assistant Bobby Johnson get my votes as NFL Assistant Coaches of the Year. Despite the loss of potential Pro Bowl center Eric Wood and other starters to season-ending injuries, Buffalo has managed to cobble together a mish-mash line that has yielded a league-low 21 sacks while opening holes for a robust ground game that’s seen its two leading rushers average more than five yards a carry.

Unless they allow the floodgates to open Sunday, the Bills O-line will finish the season with the fewest number of sacks in 30 years. Very impressive.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Jim Boeheim needs to choose his words more carefully

The instant the words left his mouth, I cringed. I knew Jim Boeheim would rue the day he made those asinine comments.

The Syracuse University basketball coach’s decision to lash out at the men who accused his long-time friend and assistant of sexual molestation is consistent with whom Boeheim is and has always been – a fiercely loyal, competitive, thin-skinned man ruled by emotion who occasionally speaks before he thinks.

As a reporter who’s covered him for 36 years and recently published an unauthorized biography about him, I’ve experienced his kindness and his wrath.

Sometimes, his genuine, unvarnished, shoot-from-the-lip comments have been refreshing and made for great copy and sound bites in an era of phony, sanitized coach-speak.

This was not one of those times.

And now the competitive fire that helped Boeheim become a Hall-of-Fame coach and build Syracuse University into a national college basketball power may ultimately lead to his crash-and-burn.

I understood his initial reaction to a point. He was angry that Bernie Fine, the trusted friend who had been at his side for nearly four decades, was under attack. He wanted to come strongly to his defense. But by labeling Fine’s accusers “liars” and opportunists, he went way too far. His bully behavior embarrassed himself and our alma mater, and, more importantly, showed a total lack of sensitivity to anyone who has been victimized by a pedophile. These types of forceful, public pronouncements inhibit victims from coming forward. They make a horrible problem even worse.

Boeheim’s statement of apology and total acceptance of Fine’s firing by the university Sunday night was a step in the right direction. But with some national columnists and victims’ rights groups calling for his firing, I’m wondering if his act of contrition was a case of too little, too late.

Interestingly, during his initial verbal barrage, Boeheim showed an additional lack of class by telling people he was not Joe Paterno. The reference, of course, was to the deposed Penn State football coach, whose failure to do the right thing in the sexual molestation scandal involving his friend and long-time assistant Jerry Sandusky ultimately led to more boys being victimized. Again, I know what Boeheim was saying. He was attempting to make a point that, unlike Paterno, he had no prior knowledge of Fine’s alleged acts of sexual abuse against former SU ballboys.

But, by attempting to distance himself from Paterno, Boeheim ironically wound up making the connection between the two closer. And, in a cruel twist, he could wind up meeting the same fate as Paterno by having his legacy tarnished by a child abuse scandal brought on by a long-time friend whom he didn’t really know.

While I’m not ready to call for Boeheim’s firing, I do think a suspension might be in order. And, in an effort to show that he truly is sorry for his remarks, I would like to see his charitable foundation throw further support to organizations that deal with the horrors of pedophilia. Shed a light on a problem that for too long has been hidden in the dark. Use lessons learned from a tragedy to avoid future tragedies.

Sadly, we live in an instant information age in which the tendency to rush to judgment has never been greater. There are way too many questions still to be answered in this bizarre scandal. Hard as it may be for some who want instant justice, we should allow this investigation to run its course. We must avoid engaging in witch hunts.

Again, unlike the Penn State case, no one has made any statements or provided evidence that Boeheim had prior knowledge of Fine’s alleged improprieties. If the investigation determines otherwise, then, yes, fire Boeheim immediately and punish him to the full extent of the law.

As I try to sort through this mess, I think about the biography I just wrote about Boeheim. (Yeah, I know. Great timing, huh?) In my attempt to find out what made him tick and how he made this incredible journey from little, Lyons, N.Y. to the upper echelon of college basketball, I discovered a very complex man, who, in many respects, is like his domineering father. Theirs was a complicated relationship – at times more a competition than a relationship, really.

But beneath the harsh veneer I also found a caring man, whose charitable acts – both publically and behind the scenes – have been extraordinary. And there is something admirable about the loyalty Boeheim has shown his players, his school, his community and his friends – though, at times, he has been guilty of being loyal to a fault.

This is not, by any means, to excuse Boeheim’s stupid and insensitive comments. But merely to point out that there are many layers to the man – some good, some bad.

As I watch this tragic tale unfold at a place where I received a world-class education and grew immensely as a person, I realize another chapter of the Jim Boeheim story remains to be written.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Opining on Bills, SU hoops and Golisano's interest in the Dodgers

Spraying opinions to all fields:

• To me, Eric Wood was the third most indispensible Buffalo Bill behind only running back Fred Jackson and quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (though, Fitzie, certainly has looked quite dispensable these past two games.) Wood was having a Pro Bowl-caliber year, anchoring a constantly-in-flux offensive line with great efficiency. The Bills have managed to weather several injuries this season, but I don’t know if they will be able to endure this loss.

• Wood’s absence means yet another challenge for the versatile Andy Levitre. The unsung hero of this Bills season has been up to the task at left guard and then left tackle this fall. But center is a whole new ballgame, requiring you to be responsible for putting not only yourself, but your four linemates in proper blocking formations. I guess, though, if anybody can do it, Levitre can.

• Went to homecoming at Syracuse University over the weekend and took in a football and basketball doubleheader within the span of about 22 hours. And after witnessing a lackluster effort in a football loss to South Florida Friday night and a decisive basketball victory vs. Fordham Saturday afternoon, I’m reminded that my alma mater continues to be a hoops powerhouse and a grid-iron pretender. The 2011 Orange football season mirrors the current Bills campaign. After promising starts, both teams are in a downward spiral. It appears that there won’t be a post-season in either club’s near future.

• Rochester billionaire Tom Golisano apparently is bidding to become the Mariano Rivera of sports franchises. He saved the Buffalo Sabres and now wants to do the same with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Just about everything he touches turns to gold, so if I’m a Dodgers fan who’s suffered through the Frank McCourt divorce debacle, I’d be rooting for Tom to spearhead a revival. I do wonder what this means for the future of the Bills in Buffalo, since Golisano has said he would be willing to looking into ownership if it was a case of keeping the team in western New York.

• Jim Boeheim has no choice but to ditch that seven-man rotation in favor of a 9- or 10-man rotation. The Orange men are that deep. "We're like Noah's Ark,'' said forward Kris Joseph. "We've got two of everything."

* Some are wondering who will be the go-to guy with a tight game on the line. I think sophomore guard Dion Waiters might be emerging as that guy.

• Hey Bills fans, it could be worse. You could be an Eagles fan. The dream team that too many had winning the Super Bowl is now a nightmarish 3-6 and going nowhere fast.

• Bill Belichick is a superb coach, but when it comes time for his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame he’d be wise to choose Tom Brady as his presenter. Belichick’s record with Brady is 117-35. Without Tom Terrific, it’s 66-68.

• Shameless plug: I’ll be signing copies of my new book, Color Him Orange: The Jim Boeheim Story, Friday night at 7 at the Greece Barnes & Noble. The signing will be preceded by a talk and Q-and-A, so please stop by and get an early holiday gift for yourself or that SU hoops fan in your life.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Penn State's next steps and catching up with Scott Norwood

So, if I’m running Penn State University in the aftermath of this unfathomable scandal, here’s what I would do.

I would take all the profits realized from Saturday’s home game against Nebraska and create a fund for those boys who were allegedly molested by Jerry Sandusky.
Furthermore, I would endow a child abuse studies program at the university. I also would hold seminars on campus to discuss the failures of Joe Paterno, Mike McQueary and other officials to do the right and moral thing.

Students need to get over their shock and anger and they need to realize that JoePa isn’t coming back, nor does he deserve to.

There has been enough deception and obfuscation in this sordid mess. It’s time for the school to be at the forefront of addressing the issue and to be honest and truthful. This is what institutions of higher education are supposed to do. These steps would certainly aid the healing process.


It was heart-warming to see Scott Norwood finally return to Ralph Wilson Stadium and receive a rousing ovation. The kicker who will forever bear the burden of Wide Right has handled his link to sports infamy with remarkable class and grace. I did a column for Bills Digest about Scott this week, and he appears to have come to grips with the missed kick that sadly has defined his career. He says he has accepted ownership of Wide Right and has put it into perspective. It is part of his legacy, just as all those game-winning kicks are. And that miss, though the most visible play in that Super Bowl XXV loss to the Giants, was merely one of numerous blown opportunities by the Bills that memorable evening in Tampa. Had they tackled better and executed better on offense, it never would have come down to a last-second 47-yard field goal.


If you are going to be on the Syracuse University campus tomorrow from 2-3:30, please stop by the bookstore and say “hello.” I’ll be signing copies of my newly published biography, Color Him Orange: The Jim Boeheim Story. I’ll have more about the book next week in this cyberspace. I have several other signings scheduled in the Syracuse and Rochester areas that I’ll let you know about.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Nittany Lions were right to jettison Paterno

Penn State’s board of trustees finally got it right. They finally did the right thing by firing Joe Paterno and the school’s president. There was no other choice.

JoePa’s inaction, along the inaction of other school officials during this sordid episode in which innocent children were allegedly violated by a monster named Jerry Sandusky, was inexcusable.

I still can’t fathom why Mike McQueary, then a grad assistant and now a full-time Penn State coach, didn’t come to the rescue of that 10-year-old boy and immediately call the police.

I still can’t fathom how Paterno and other school officials didn’t do the right and moral thing after this incident.

Even more incomprehensible is how these “molders of young men” allowed Sandusky to remain on campus and continue to be in situations where he interacted with children.

As recently as two years ago he was still running overnight football camps. Hello!!!! Anybody home, here!!!!! You have an alleged pedophile and you are pairing him with kids.

Some have bemoaned how sad it is to see JoePa’s laudatory 46-year coaching career come to such an ignominious end. Yes, it is sad – sad that this football coach who had graduated the vast majority of his players and who attempted to instill in them a solid moral compass failed to follow his own moral compass and do the right thing.

Had the pontificating Paterno practiced what he preached, at least eight other boys might not have had their lives ruined.

That is saddest thing of all, the true tragedy in Happy Valley.


Having been a foolish and immature college student many, many years ago, I’m trying to cut the protesting Penn State students some slack. I understand how raw their emotions must be because this scandal cuts to the marrow of an institution they love. I get that completely. They want to be true to their school and the coach who was the face of it.

But riotous behavior never solved anything. Ironically, these destructive shows of support are only making Paterno feel worse.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Fitz's new contract, Bills stadium renovations and Syracuse in BCS bowl game

For those of you who think $10 million per year is too much to spend on Ryan Fitzpatrick, please consider the contracts of Kansas City’s Matt Cassel ($9.67 mil), Arizona’s Kevin Kolb ($12.4 mil) and Oakland’s Carson Palmer ($11.7 mil).

Fitz definitely is in their league. So if I’m the Bills I would give him a three-year contract in that neighborhood and load it with incentives for team (playoffs) and individual (Pro Bowl invitation) achievements.

The Bills are far enough under the salary cap where they can afford it, and it would free them up to concentrate on procuring pass rushers in upcoming drafts.

I hope this deal gets done soon and I hope Buffalo also rewards running back Fred Jackson with a fair contract extension, too.

It’s not only the right thing to do, but also would send a positive message to their teammates and prospective free agents that the Bills are truly committed to winning.


Speaking of contract negotiations, you may have seen reports that it could cost in excess of $100 million to renovate Ralph Wilson Stadium, and that Erie County and the Bills are ready to talk about a lease extension. My feeling is that any lease extension and stadium refurbishment funds from county and state taxpayers should be tied to a commitment from Ralph and the NFL that the Bills will stay put for at least 10 years.

I don’t think that’s too much to ask.


Sports Illustrated is projecting that Syracuse will win the Big East football title and play Atlantic Coast Conference champion Clemson in the Orange Bowl. That’s definitely doable, given the way SU is playing and given the lack of a powerhouse team in the Big East. But it won’t be easy because the Orange men also are eminently capable of losing to remaining opponents Pitt, South Florida and Louisville.

Syracuse is now 17-15 under Coach Doug Marrone and has won 13 of its last 19 games. Contrast that with a 26-57 record in the seven seasons prior to Marrone’s return to his alma mater, and you can understand why people on the Hill are excited about their football program’s revival.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

A 'gorgeous" respite from football during the Bills bye week

No Bills game meant a rare Sunday off for moi, so my beautiful bride and I decided to take a ride down Rt. 390 to Letchworth State Park.

It is billed as “the Grand Canyon of the East,” and that’s not an exaggeration. The glacial gorges that the Genesee River snakes through are spectacular and enormous – the cliffs several hundred feet high in many places. And the vista was made all the more exquisite by the radiant sunshine and colorful leaves that were just a tad shy of peak.

We saw numerous out-of-state license plates in the lots throughout the park, and as we were leaving we came across an artist who was painting a water-color landscape from his vantage point near a stone wall just down the river from the upper and middle waterfalls.

I don’t mean to sound like a shill for the “I Love New York” tourist campaign, but I was once again reminded what a beautiful and diverse state in which we live. There are hundreds of breathtaking places to behold here – from the Big Apple’s skyscrapers to Niagara Falls to numerous points in between. We harried New Yorkers sometimes take our state for granted as we struggle with high taxes and a broken economy.

I can’t think of a better way to spend an autumn day. It was a welcome respite from the rat race, an opportunity to savor one of the most beautiful places on earth and replenish our souls.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Syracuse makes a statement in its biggest win in a decade

I journeyed to the Carrier Dome Friday night with my good friend, Max Robertson, in anticipation of a blowout.

And that’s just what occurred.

A blowout unfolded, but the team I expected to get routed (Syracuse) wound up routing the team (West Virginia) I expected to do the routing.

By crushing the 11th-ranked Mountaineers, 49-23, before a national television audience and more than 45,000 vociferous fans beneath the Dome’s Teflon-coated roof, the Orange men took another huge step on the road to national relevance.

No, I’m not saying SU is a top-25 club yet – heck, when you barely beat Rhode Island and Tulane, you obviously have much to prove. But the Orange men continue to move in the right direction under head coach Doug Marrone.

They still need to recruit more talented players in order to return to the prominence they enjoyed in the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s. But this impressive win, in front of an ESPN audience, might convince some prospects to jump aboard the Syracuse football revival train.

Although it’s seating capacity is just under 50,000, the Dome can be a terrific college football venue when it’s full. I was reminded of that last night as the Loud House truly was that.

SU quarterback Ryan Nassib was superb, accounting for five touchdowns – four passing, one on a run. With pass-rusher Chandler Jones healthy and back in the lineup, the defense harassed West Virginia’s vaunted quarterback Geno Smith all night long, sacking him four times and forcing two interceptions. There are few plays that quicken the pulse more than a kickoff return for touchdown, which SU’s Dorian Graham provided, going 98 yards to put the Orange on top, 21-9, in the second quarter. It was a game-changer for sure. As was Jeremi Wilkes interception of a Smith pass at the SU goal line just before the half, denying a score that would have reduced the Orange men’s lead to either four or five points.

And the icing on the cake was that this all occurred on a night when the university was commemorating the 50th anniversary of Ernie Davis’ Heisman Trophy season.

Again, I’m not going crazy here and telling you that 5-2 Syracuse is back with the big boys. But this was a statement win and it gives the ‘Cuse a legitimate shot at the wide-open Big East Champsionship and a major bowl berth in January.

And that’s great progress for a program that had experienced two 10-loss seasons in the years before Marrone returned to his alma mater to pick up the pieces.

He definitely has proven himself to be one of the most innovative coaches in America. And he appears to be the perfect guy to lead the renaissance of Syracuse football.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

It was a privilege to have known Kent Hull

Kent Hull was, without a doubt, the greatest center in Buffalo Bills history.

The three-time Pro Bowler anchored the line that gave Jim Kelly the time to complete all those passes to Andre Reed and opened the holes for Thurman Thomas to run from Orchard Park to Canton.

As Thomas eloquently said today: “I owe a lot of that stitching in my Hall of Fame jacket to Kent Hull.”

So do Kelly and former Bills coach Marv Levy.

Without Hull’s instant analysis of defensive alignments and blocking calls, the Bills pedal-to-the-metal, no-huddle offense would have been stuck in neutral. He quarterbacked Buffalo’s O-line as adroitly as Kelly quarterbacked the entire offense. And he was one tough hombre in the trenches. Just ask any of the condo-sized nose tackles or snarling linebackers who were on the receiving end of Kent’s crunching blocks.

Equally impressive was the work he did in the locker room. He and Darryl Talley helped keep in check a roster filled with massive egos. Everybody – and I mean everybody – on those Bills teams looked up to and respected Kent. They took heed when he offered advice.

Kent was one of the wisest and most accommodating guys I and my fellow ink-stained wretches ever dealt with. In a drawl as thick as Mississippi mud, he would provide folksy insight and perspective. And the thing we admired most about him is that he was a stand-up guy. Win or lose, Kent would face the music, and tell the unvarnished truth. He was our go-to-guy.

To be honest, a lot of people we cover in big-time sports are phonies. But not Kent Hull. The cattle-rancher was as genuine as they come.

Those of us who chronicled the Bills back in the glory days thought so much of him that when he retired following the 1996 season we took him out to lunch at Illio DiPaolo’s restaurant and presented him with a newspaper page containing tributes from each of us and the corny headline reading: A Hull of a guy. I’ve never heard of this sort of thing occurring before or since. It was a clear indication of just how much we thought of him. I remember him being touched by the gesture.

In the commemorative paper we gave him, I wrote the following blurb:

“Our copy editors used to razz us about quoting you so much, but we told them we couldn’t help ourselves. You always told the truth, always lent perspective, often in a humorous, entertaining manner. In 19 years of covering sports for a living, I’ve never encountered a classier, more up-front, down-to-earth athlete. I wish you nothing but the best in your retirement. We’ll miss you.
“By the way, would you mind if we call you for a quote or two after games next year?”

I remember how choked up Marv was at the press conference announcing Kent’s retirement. He said he was honored to be able to tell people he once coached Kent Hull.

Well, as I reflect on Kent’s passing yesterday at age 50, I’d like to say that I was honored to be able to say that I once covered Kent Hull.

RIP, my friend.


Here is a feature I wrote about Kent that appeared in the Jan. 18, 1991 edition of USA Today:

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. - The story was buried deep in the sports section in 1986, the headline rather small.

On any other day, news of Kent Hull's signing with the Buffalo Bills might have received better play. But not on this day.

Not with Jim Kelly finally coming to town. Bills fans had waited three years for the flamboyant quarterback to leave the USFL. And when he agreed to terms, the city greeted him with a welcome normally reserved for heads of state.

''I guess my timing was kind of bad,'' Hull joked. ''I guess you could say I followed Jim's limo and police escort into town. Buffalo was shut down by the time I got there. Everybody was at Jim's press conference.''

Five years later, Kelly remains headline king, but you no longer have to go deep into the sports section to find stories about Hull. He's headed to his third consecutive Pro Bowl and in a Sports Illustrated midseason poll of personnel directors, Hull was named the NFL's best center.

Not bad for a lanky farm boy from Pontotoc, Miss., who grew up thinking he'd make a living blocking basketballs instead of linebackers.

''My dad had been an All-American basketball player at Mississippi State, and I took to the sport right away,'' the 6-4 Hull said Wednesday. ''But there came a point where the game got too tall for me.''

Hull didn't draw much interest from the NFL scouts because he had spent four seasons playing for a wishbone offense.

Another hurdle awaited him when he arrived at the Bills' training camp complex in August 1986. During his first pass-blocking drill, Hull found himself face-to-face with a snarling 300-pounder by the name of Fred Smerlas.

''I looked at him and his mustache was twitching and smoke was coming out of his earholes,'' Hull recalled. ''I could tell that he was thinking he was going to absolutely rip this 260-pound guy apart. I hung in there and fought pretty good for a while. When we were done, he patted me on the butt and said, 'You are going to be all right, little boy.' ''

Although he is a country boy from the South, Hull has developed an affinity for hockey. He attended his first game at Buffalo Auditorium five years ago, and grew to love the sport after watching the Sabres and Boston Bruins go at each other. He now owns season tickets.

Hull also retains his love for basketball. He enjoys playing for the Bills' barnstorming team in the offseason and still wonders what might have been if only he were a few inches taller.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Here's how the Bills can still make the playoffs

Although the Bills head into the bye week nursing a long list of injuries and two disappointing losses in the past three weeks, I still believe they can make the playoffs. But it’s not going to be easy.

I think 10 wins earns them a berth, which means they will have to go 6-4 the rest of the way. Looking at the remaining schedule, here’s who they are going to have to beat: Washington in Toronto; the Jets at home; the Dolphins in Orchard Park and Miami; Tennessee at home and Denver at home. That’s daunting, but not impossible.

In order to do that, the Bills are going to need to get healthy. Football is a game of attrition and the injuries have been adding up. They need to get Kyle Williams, Shawne Merriman and Donald Jones back ASAP. The bye week obviously came at a good time.

Buffalo’s defense, which is still relatively young, has to become stouter and find a way to get more pressure on the quarterback. The Bills yielded several long drives against the Giants and were unable to force a turnover, at times giving Eli Manning enough time in the pocket to read his stock portfolio.

As the season progresses and the weather becomes more challenging, the ability to run and stop the run become more important.

As far as running the ball, I’m not worried, because Fred Jackson – with four, 100-yard rushing performances already this season – has proven he is ready to carry the load. Versatile Freddie is putting up numbers the likes of which we haven’t seen since Thurman Thomas during the Super Bowl years.

The Bills have proven they can play with – and beat – anybody, but they remain a work-in-progress. Which is a lot better than being a work-in-regress, which they’ve been for much of the past decade.

Two late field goals are all that separates them from a 6-0 record. Which leads to another thing they have to do a better job of down the stretch – close out games.


Further proof these Bills are legit: Their two close losses have come against teams that are now 4-2, the Giants and Cincinnati.


Some are grumbling that Chan Gailey should have played it closer to the vest, and worked to get into position for the go-ahead field goal instead of trying for a touchdown pass that resulted in an interception. Baloney! Gailey make a great call, Stevie Johnson got separation from the defensive back and Ryan Fitzpatrick threw a bad pass. The decision to go for the touchdown was on target. Unfortunately, Fitz’s pass was not.

As someone who covered the ultra-conservative Bills of Dick Jauron, I applaud Gailey’s willingness to take calculated risks. You play it safe the way Jauron always did and you’ll finish 7-9 every season. Again, good, aggressive call. Poor execution.

Monday, October 10, 2011

These Bills deserve to be where they are - 4-1 and tied for the divisional lead

Bill Parcells, the two-time Super Bowl-champion coach, liked to say, “You are what your record says you are.”

Well, right now the Buffalo Bills are 4-1 and tied for first in the AFC East.

And that’s what they are.

A good football team, not a mirage.

A playoff contender, not a pretender.

And it’s about time we all start acknowledging that.

And for those who still want to claim that the Bills are lucky and could easily be 1-4, I offer another sage quote, this one from Branch Rickey, the innovative general manager best known for signing Jackie Robinson to break baseball’s color barrier: “Luck is the residue of design.”

Coach Chan Gailey and his players have worked hard and smart to make this good luck happen.

And, in the process, have proven skeptics like me dead wrong.

I predicted a 7-9 record and thought I was being optimistic. Well, the bar has risen. Ten wins and a playoff berth are not out of the question as long as they are able to avoid injuries to key players.

There’s so much to like about this team and this story. To see all these guys who were overlooked and underappreciated for so long contribute to this revival has been truly heart-warming.

There isn’t a better story in the NFL than Fred Jackson, the unwanted running back from tiny Coe College (Marv Levy’s alma mater). He led the charge once more in the Bills’ 31-24 victory against the Michael Vick-led Philadelphia Eagles Sunday at the sunny, soldout Ralph. Twenty-six carries produced 111 yards and a touchdown. Six receptions produced an additional 85 yards. The scintillating, all-purpose performance prompted serenades of “Freddie! Freddie! Freddie!” from the appreciative throng of nearly 70,000 – a hardy bunch who have remained loyal and hopeful despite so many false starts by this franchise during the past decade.

With all due respect to quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who’s been marvelous this season, the true MVP of this team – and perhaps the league – has been Fred Jackson, who’s on pace to rush for more than 1,500 yards and catch more than 60 passes. We talk a lot about this being a quarterback-driven league – and it is. But running backs are still important cogs, especially versatile, gritty ones like Jackson.

Another guy who’s been under the radar for so long has been safety George Wilson. Like Freddie, he was undrafted and unloved and picked up off the scrapheap by the Bills. Yesterday, he was a man possessed, setting the tone immediately for a defense that intercepted Vick four times.

Wilson finished with 11 tackles, an interception, three pass deflections and one quarterback pressure. Not bad for someone who supposedly was going to be exploited by the Eagles speedy, game-breaking receivers.

The Bills defense is more generous, yardage-wise, than last year’s bottom-ranked unit. But this year’s “D” also is more opportunistic, as evidenced by its 12 interceptions – one more than it managed in 16 games last season.

Interestingly, despite all their success, they haven’t gotten overly giddy. They remain a grounded bunch, still motivated by the memory of last season when they stumbled to an 0-8 start on the way to a 4-12 record.

And that’s a good thing because they have a tough schedule remaining, with just two games at the Ralph over the next seven weeks.

But it’s foolhardy to look at that schedule, beginning with Sunday’s road game against the New York Giants, and think that the Bills can’t manage it.

Heck, who, before the season started, expected this team to beat both New England and Philly.

As Parcells says, “You are what your record says you are.”

And what the Bills are right now is a first-place team that’s won 80 percent of its games.


You can read and watch more of my commentary about the Bills at Channel 8's website, Or listen to me on the Bob Matthews Show on WHAM AM-1180 Monday nights from 7-8 or on The Bills Brothers Show on WHTK AM 1280 & FM 107.3 on Thursday afternoons from 3-4.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Fifty years ago today, Roger Maris homered to cap the most special baseball season of my life

Baseball didn’t appeal to him until the summer of ’61. Then, one day that June, the peach-fuzzed, 6-year-old from Rome, N.Y. saw these two guys named Mantle and Maris hitting balls into the stands. Looked like fun. So the boy and his friends got a wiffle ball and a bat and headed for a nearby playground. They used their bikes as outfield fences. The 6-year-old would pretend he was in Yankee Stadium. He even provided play-by-play when he stepped up to the plate. He would play ball from morning ’til night, breaking only for lunch and dinner. After he went to bed, he would pull out the transistor radio that he had hidden beneath his pillow and listen to see if the M&M Boys had hit any Ballentine Blasts. He would never make it past the sixth inning. Rizzuto’s voice would drone on, and the 6-year-old would be fast asleep, playing baseball in his dreams.


The wiffle ball and bat and the innocence are long gone. And so, too, is Roger Maris, a victim of cancer 26 years ago at age 51. The memories of that glorious summer, though, remain vivid despite the ravages of time – ’61 was quite a year.

Today marks the 50th anniversary of Maris’ historic home run – the one that landed in the right-field seats at Yankee Stadium before taking up permanent residence in Cooperstown. Only 23,154 people showed up that crisp, autumn day to see Maris hit his 61st and surpass Babe Ruth, who hit 60 in 1927. The radio call from Phil Rizzuto was filled with enough “Holy Cows” to stock a barn. The Scooter never talked about the torment Maris had been under. He never mentioned the tale of two seasons, how ’61 had been the best of times and worst of times for Roger Maris.

“People don’t understand the pressure Roger was under,” late Yankees third baseman and Maris teammate Clete Boyer told me in a 1991 interview. “Every day the press hounded him, and some of it was just plain vicious. I don’t think many athletes have ever faced the kind of pressure he did.”

Maris never wanted to be a Yankee in the first place. It didn’t matter to him that they were perennial World Series participants or that the stadium in the Bronx included a short right-field porch tailor-made for his home-run swing. Fargo, N.D. has been the home base of his youth, and the introverted slugger with the Midwestern values was quite content to remain in Kansas City, playing for the A’s.

But the Yankees needed a left-handed power-hitter to add the finishing touches to what would become one of the greatest teams of all-time. So, at the end of the 1959 season they traded a busload of players including World Series perfecto pitcher Don Larsen to the Athletics in exchange for Maris. These were the days before free agency, leaving Maris with only two options: play in New York or don’t play at all.

Reluctantly, he signed with the Yankees and wound up winning the MVP award after batting .283 with 39 homers and 112 RBI in 1960.

On his way to St. Petersburg, Fla., the following spring, his car broke down and there was some concern that his wife, Pat, had suffered a miscarriage. Those fears were allayed, but the strain of the ordeal may have contributed to Maris’ slow start in ’61. In mid-May Yankees General Manager Dan Topping called him into his office. Maris was batting only .210 at the time with just four home runs and the Yankees were only two games above .500, already trailing Detroit by five games. Maris figured the Yankees were going to trade him, but that wasn’t the case. Topping told him to settle down, to swing for the fences and not worry about his average.

Relieved to learn that he wouldn’t be sent packing for the third time in four years, Maris went on a tear, clubbing seven more homers in May and 15 more in June to raise his total to 27. That put him slightly ahead of Ruth’s pace and two in front of teammate Mickey Mantle.

“Watching those two was like watching two thoroughbreds go neck-and-neck,’’ Boyer said. “Roger would hit one, then Mickey would hit two. Then Roger would hit two and Mickey would hit one. It was unbelievable. I couldn’t wait to get to the ballpark to watch those guys play their own game of home run derby.”

In the book, Roger Maris at Bat, Maris alluded to the friendly rivalry between the M&M Boys. “It was becoming pretty obvious that Mickey and I were helping each other to hit home runs . . . It was like having someone pace you as you tried to break a record.”

There was no question that Mantle’s presence in the order helped Maris. Incredibly, with Mickey batting behind him, Roger didn’t receive an intentional walk all season.

Maris and Mantle shared an apartment in Queens, and became good friends. But the rapacious New York tabloids (more than a dozen papers covered the Yankees in those days) kept writing that the two didn’t like each other.

“Nothing could have been farther from the truth,” Boyer said. “Why would they share an apartment if they didn’t like each other? I mean, come on.”

By the All-Star break in July, Maris had increased his homer total to 33, four ahead of Mantle. The questions about whether the Babe’s record was in danger increased and it became obvious who the majority of the fans were backing.

“A lot of people didn’t want to see the record broken, period, but if it was going to be broken they wanted if done by Mickey because he was Mr. Yankee and Roger was considered somewhat of an outsider,’’ Boyer said. “The guys on the team were pulling for Mickey, too. But it wasn’t that we didn’t like Roger. Heck, the guy was like a brother to me. We had just seen all the injuries that Mick had endured through the years. He had carried our team so many times. We thought he deserved it more.”

Many of the writers covering the team agreed. They thought it sacrilegious that Maris, a lifetime .270 hitter, was challenging Ruth. Their bias was reflected in their coverage.

“The deeper we got into the summer, the tougher it got for Roger,” Boyer recalled. “More and more writers were jumping on the story, and Roger grew irritated answering the same questions over and over and over. And some of these writers acted like they didn’t have a brain. I remember one guy asking Roger if he fooled around on the road. Roger looked at him in disbelief and said, ‘No.’ The guy said, ‘Well, I do.’ And Roger said, “That’s your business. I’m happily married.’ “

The heat grew more intense in late July when Commissioner Ford Frick, a close friend of the Babe’s, decreed that Maris or Mantle would have to break Ruth’s mark in 154 games, otherwise an asterisk would be placed next to his name in the record books. Most columnists thought the ruling was fair because the schedule had been expanded that season from 154 to 162 games.

Many of Ruth’s contemporaries jumped on the anti-Maris bandwagon, the most hurtful comments coming from Hall-of-Famer Rogers Hornsby, who said: “Maris couldn’t carry the Babe’s jockstrap.”

It got to the point where Maris couldn’t please anybody. If he went homerless, they would boo him, and one drunken fan in Detroit went so far as to fling a beer bottle at Roger from the third deck of Tiger Stadium, striking the Yankee rightfielder on the arm.

“Who wouldn’t start to get surly after all that stuff,” Boyer said. “You could see Roger becoming more and more tense. He was smoking three, four packs of cigarettes a day. And down the stretch, patches of hair the size of half dollars started falling out of the back of his head. It was the damndest thing.”

Which makes what he accomplished all the more remarkable.

“I feel sorry for Roger because he never really was given an opportunity to fully enjoy it,’’ Boyer said. “He wasn’t a guy who liked the limelight. I think he sometimes wished he’d never done it.”

Although his record was surpassed by Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, many of us believe that Maris remains the true single-season record-holder because those three sluggers benefitted from the use of performance-enhancing drugs.

Regardless what the record books say, Maris’ feat remains remarkable and ’61 will always be one of the most special seasons in baseball history. That was the year the M&M Boys launched baseballs into the seats at an unprecedented pace and got a 6-year-old from Rome, N.Y. hooked on baseball.


The photo above is from my book Jewel of the Sports World: The Story of the Hickok Belt Award and shows Roger Maris with 12-year-old Ray Hickok Jr., who presented the Yankee slugger with the award, which recognized the top professional athlete of the year.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

It's safe, Bills fans, to board the bandwagon again

Some skeptics remain, their disbelief understandably hardened by an 11-year playoff drought and the tease of 2008 when the Bills started 4-0 and finished with nine losses in their final 12 games.

But the legions of doubters are dwindling dramatically each week as this motley crew of overachievers pile up the points and rewrite history with comebacks that defy logic.

After watching Ryan Fitzpatrick & Co. emerge from the crater they dug themselves against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots last Sunday to improve to 3-0, I left the ranks of the skeptical and climbed aboard the bandwagon.

And unlike three years ago I don’t believe I’m going to be nursing sprained ankles from having to jump off of it.

Yeah, I know what some of you are thinking. Remember ’08, remember ’08. But the comparisons with that season just aren’t valid.

That was a team coached by Dick Jauron, quarterbacked by Trent Edwards and riding the runs of Marshawn Lynch.

This is a team coached by Chan Gailey, quarterbacked by Fitzpatrick and riding the runs and receptions of Fred Jackson.

Need I say more?

When I look back at that team and that start and how I, like so many others, was duped into thinking the corner had been turned, I realize that torrid start was merely a mirage. Jauron clearly didn’t have what it took to be a successful NFL head coach. Edwards was never the same quarterback after being KO’d by the Arizona Cardinals, and Lynch lacked the intelligence, grit, versatility and consistency of Steady Freddie.

In other words, those Bills were counterfeit. These Bills are real.

Gailey is as fine a play-caller as there is in the game. But beyond that, he is a respected leader who has convinced his players to believe in him, the game plan, and most importantly, themselves.

It was nice to see the past embrace the present at last Sunday’s riveting win at the Ralph.

There was Jim Kelly, waving the big Bills flag before the game and singing the praises of Fitz afterwards.

There was Thurman Thomas interrupting Jackson’s presser to give him a big bear hug at the podium.

There was Van Miller, the retired Voice of the Bills providing some unexpected play-by-play for all to hear in the press box. When Rian Lindell’s game-winning field goal sailed through the uprights as time expired, Van the Man boomed, “Take that New England,’’ undoubtedly echoing the sentiments of all the Bills fans and players who had endured 15 straight losses to the Patriots.

Yes, it’s still very early. The Bills have many flaws and injuries, and bad bounces can change fortunes in a hurry. But I really believe the corner has been turned. I think this bandwagon is bound for the playoffs, not the junk yard.

Fasten your seat belts, and enjoy the ride.


Sunday’s game in Cincinnati has been called a trap game. The feeling is the Bills will be overlooking the 1-2 Bengals and instead be looking ahead to next week’s heavily anticipated matchup with the Michael Vick-led Philadelphia Eagles in Orchard Park. I really don’t think that will be the case. Yes, the Bills have enjoyed some long overdue prosperity this season, and are receiving love from near and far, but they haven’t forgotten last year’s 0-8 start. Guys like Jackson, Fitz and Chris Kelsay will help keep them grounded. Call it Buffalo 30, Cincy 13.


Through three games, Fitzpatrick has followed the trend of slow start, fast finish. His pass efficiency rating from the first-through-fourth-quarter reads: 75.3; 82.3; 120.7 and 131.1. His completion percentage in the final quarter is 12 percent higher than it is in the other three quarters.


I think it’s great that Bills cornerback Drayton Florence graces the cover of Sports Illustrated this week. There are still some who subscribe to the SI cover jinx theory. Yes, there have been a number of subjects who have experienced bad luck following their cover appearances. But the reality is that the vast majority of cover subjects experience continued success after receiving the national exposure.


Wicked week for Boston fans, huh? First, they watch Brady blow a 21-point lead for the first time in his magnificent career. Then, they witness their Red Sox miss the playoffs, completing the biggest collapse in baseball history.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

I love what Fitzpatrick has done, but I need to see he and the Bills beat an elite team before becoming euphoric about them

Euphoric, victory-starved Bills fans have begun asking, “Who needs Luck when you have Fitzmagic?”

The references, of course, are to current Buffalo quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and Andrew Luck, the Stanford University senior signal-caller who is destined to be the Heisman Trophy winner this December and the No. 1 NFL draft pick next April.

Believe me, as someone who has covered this lost decade of Bills football, I understand the fans’ giddiness. They’ve been famished for something, anything positive. And Fitzpatrick, the Harvard graduate who could easily be plying his trade on Wall Street instead of One Bills Drive, has given them reason for hope.

He and his surprising 2-0 Bills are one of the feel-good stories in the early going of this NFL season. His Brady-like numbers – 7 touchdown passes, just one interception, 40 points-per-game – have people in these parts and beyond thinking, maybe, just maybe, the quarterback roulette that’s been playing in Buffalo since Jim Kelly’s retirement 14 years ago is about to stop.

I hope that is indeed the case.

I hope the seventh-round draft pick who went to Harvard after failing to receive a single Division I scholarship offer is about to become the next Kurt Warner – a journeyman who came out of no-where to become an NFL star.

But I still need to see more from Fitz before I start clamoring for a cereal to be named for him.

Fitz, an eminently likeable chap, has guided the Bills to wins in six of his last 10 starts. But he has yet to produce a signature victory against an upper echelon team.

That opportunity presents itself Sunday when unbeaten Buffalo (man, I haven’t written that in awhile) faces the New England Bradys, er, Patriots at the soldout and sure to be rockin’ Ralph.

Tom Brady amazingly has taken his Hall of Fame game to an even higher level with close to 1,000 passing yards through two games. He is completing a mind-boggling 71 percent of his passes.

Of course, we are used to seeing such magnificence from the quarterback with the three Super Bowl rings.

Brady has helped the Pats dominate the Bills, who have lost 15 straight in the series.

The wizards of odds in Vegas have installed New England as touchdown favorites.
Interestingly, as good as the Brady Bunch has been, this is not a team without its flaws. The quarterback’s heavenly play has masked some serious defensive deficiencies. You can definitely throw and run and score on the Pats.

Fitz’s performances against New England last season were a mixed bag. In his first start against them, he was 20-of-28 for 247 yards, two scores and two picks in a 38-30 loss. When he met the Pats again later in the season, he struggled mightily – throwing three picks while compiling a paltry 37.1 quarterback rating in a 34-3 loss.

Credit Bill Belichick, who has a reputation for confusing even the brightest of quarterbacks, for making significant adjustments the second time around.

The best way for the Bills to win will be to control the clock, win the time-of-possession battle, keep Brady off the field. Engaging in a shootout might be entertaining for awhile, but Brady very well could wind up with 600 passing yards against a Bills “D” that still isn’t getting enough pressure on quarterbacks and was burned badly when its defensive backs didn’t compete strongly enough for balls in the air.

Fitz and the Bills have been impressive so far. They bludgeoned a bad football team in the opener the way good football teams are supposed to. And they kept their cool and made a stirring comeback against the Raiders.

New England, though, will be a much sterner test. Should Fitz & Co. pull off an upset, we’ll see giddiness in Bills Nation the likes of which we haven’t seen since Doug Flutie was performing his magic act a decade ago.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Opining on Bills riveting comeback and Syracuse's move to the ACC

There have been many positive developments during the first two games of the season for the Bills, but the one I'm most impressed with is the play of the offensive line.

Consider this: Buffalo's much-maligned line has yielded just one sack in 71 passing attempts and has helped Fred Jackson and Co. rush for 380 yards.

The combo of center Eric Wood, guards Andy Levitre, Kraig Urbik and Chad Rinehart and tackles Demetrius Bell and Erik Pears didn't back down against Oakland's physical front seven, even after falling behind 21-3 in the first half. Buffalo's front line gave Ryan Fitzpatrick time to stage one of the most thrilling comebacks I've witnessed in more than four decades of following the Bills and opened the door for them to rush for 217 yards.


It's foolhardy, but fun nonetheless to project stats. With that in mind, Fitz is on pace to throw 56 touchdown passes and Action Jackson is on pace to rush for 1,832 yards. Again, you can't expect those things to happen in a physical sport where attrition is high, but it is fun to play with the numbers.


Tight end Scott Chandler continues to make a big difference. He only had two catches for 10 yards and a score vs. the Raiders, but the numbers don't measure the impact he's having even when he isn't targeted. The winning touchdown pass from Fitz to David Nelson was the direct result of Oakland paying extra attention to Chandler in the red zone, which is understandable, considering Chandler had beaten the Raiders for a touchdown earlier and had scored twice in the opener against Kansas City.

Nelson was so open on his six-yard game-winning reception over the middle that he was afraid he might drop the ball. The 6-foot-7 Chandler clearly played a role in causing the blown coverage.


It was too bad that Ralph Wilson had to miss his first home opener in his 52 years as Bills owner. The soon-to-be 93-year-old missed one of the most riveting comebacks in franchise history because he was home in Detroit recuperating from a broken hip. Classy move on the part of Chan Gailey and the team to award a game ball to Ralph.


Nothing, of course, will ever top the comeback from 32 points in the 1993 playoff game against Houston at the stadium then known as Rich. But yesterday's ending was among the best I've ever seen. And what made the game even more thrilling was the way the Raiders kept responding. There were five lead changes in the second half. Extremely entertaining.


I think the big negative from yesterday's game was the Bills pass defense. Despite missing his top four receivers because of injuries, Jason Campbell was able to throw for 323 yards. Buffalo didn't get much pressure on him and the defensive backs lost too many battles for jump balls. The Bills need to shore that up in a hurry or Tom Brady might put 600 yards up on them this Sunday.


I understand why Syracuse had to take the preemptive move and join the Atlantic Coast Conference, but I still don't like the seismic shift going on in the big-money world of big-time college sports.

I'll always have a soft spot for the Big East Conference. SU basketball and the Carrier Dome benefited greatly from its formation and, likewise, the conference benefited greatly from Syracuse's presence.

The ACC membership makes geographic sense, particularly if West Virginia and either UConn or Rutgers are added to the mix. They'll be able to form a northern division that includes Boston College, Syracuse, Pitt, Maryland, West Virginia, Connecticut and possibly, Rutgers.

It certainly will be fun watching Duke and North Carolina make basketball visits to the Dome and Syracuse play regular games on Tobacco Road.

It's pretty obvious where this avaricious world of big-time sports is headed: Four super conferences (Pac 16, Big Ten, ACC and SEC).

As this unfolds, I would like to see hypocritical university presidents refrain from telling us that this is all about aligning their schools with colleges that share similar academic goals. That might be partially true, but the main reason you're doing this is for money.


(For more on yesterday's Bills game, please go to and check out my column and interview with Channel 8's John Kucko from the Ralph.)

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Opinions on Bills season-ticket sale decline, Syracuse vs. USC and Sabres great promotion

No one should be surprised that Bills season ticket sales have dropped dramatically – from 55,000 two seasons ago to 37,000 this season.

Clearly, the economy is a huge factor – Western New York has been harder hit than most areas of the country. And the Buffalo Sabres – rejuvenated by new owner Terry Pegula and the possibility of a Stanley Cup march – also have taken some business away.

But the biggest reason for the decline has been the cumulative effects of a decade of mediocrity by the Bills. You can’t go 11 seasons without a playoff berth and have just one winning record in that span and expect people to keep coming back for more misery.

The good news is that the Bills could still have a strong season at the gate this year. The keister-whipping performance in the opener at Kansas City last Sunday has fans stoked again. This week’s home opener vs. Oakland is a sell-out and next week’s home game against AFC East kingpin New England is close to being one.

A victory against the Raiders will get Bills fans and ticket-buyers even more fired up. It’s conceivable Buffalo could be 3-1 after the game against the Bengals in Cincy. And that certainly will ensure more sellouts.

Bills CEO Russ Brandon, though, is going to have his work cut out for him in December. The NFL schedule-makers didn’t do the marketing whiz any favors by saddling Buffalo with three home games in a month that traditionally is a difficult sell for fans strapped for cash because of the holiday season.

Of course, if the Bills were still in the playoff hunt in December Brandon’s job would be a lot easier.

I think the Raiders are going to be a much more formidable opponent than the confused Chiefs were. Buffalo is going to face a more serious challenge attempting to bottle-up running back Darren McFadden, and the Bills are going to need to establish the run and control the ball the way they did in Kansas City.

Two things are working in Buffalo’s favor. The Raiders played on Monday night, meaning they have less time to heal and prepare for the Bills. And teams going coast-to-coast are historically at a distinct disadvantage, a trend borne out by the fact Oakland is just 2-7 in East coast games the past three years.

Speaking of going coast-to-coast, Syracuse is a 17-point underdog on the road this Saturday night against the University of Southern California. And that might be a conservative spread. I think we could be seeing a lot of connections between NFL-bound quarterback Matt Barkley and NFL-bound wide receiver Robert Woods.

If you are looking for silver linings, the Orange men were 5-1 on the road last season, and won in Morgantown, W.V., one of the tougher places to visit because of the fans’ hostility.

SU hasn’t won a game on the West Coast since crushing Heisman Trophy-winner Gary Beban and UCLA, 32-14. Larry Csonka ran rough-shod over the Bruins that day.

What a great idea having Pegula and his star players serve as couriers and deliver season-tickets to Sabres fans yesterday. Other NHL teams have done this in the past. I wish all sports owners and their teams would follow suit.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Ruminating on Bills win, baseball's foolish decision and Syracuse football

The more I see and hear from Fred Jackson the more I’m impressed. Following the Bills annihilation of the Chiefs in Kansas City Sunday in which the veteran running back rushed for more than 100 yards, he lent some perspective. “It was just one game,’’ he said. “We didn’t win the Super Bowl.”

Given the abyss the Bills have been in for more than a decade, it’s understandable to become giddy and maybe overreact a bit when things go well. I do believe they are a much improved football team from a year ago, and I can see them beating Oakland at home this week and Cincinnati in two weeks (after losing to the New England Bradys in Week III.)

Hey, 3-1 would be a great start. But even if that happens, Buffalo isn’t going to the playoffs this year. I think most rational fans understand that. But a 7-9 or 8-8 record isn’t out of the realm of possibility, and that would be a significant improvement from last year and an indication that the Chan Gailey/Ryan Fitzpatrick/Buddy Nix trio has the ship headed in the right direction.

The big thing I would like to see is for the Bills to remain relevant until late in the season for a change.


(By the way, you can read my Bills blog and watch my television interview with Thad Brown about the opening-game victory at Once on the website, just click on the icon bearing my ugly mug and it should take you to the column and interview. Like last year, I’ll be doing blogs and interviews with sportscasters/friends John Kucko, Cory Hepola and Thad after each Bills game. Please check it out on the web or catch us on the Sunday 10 o’clock news on WUHF-TV 31 or the 11 o’clock news on WROC-TV 8.)


Watching Brady torch the Miami Dolphins for 517 yards and four touchdowns last night was a sobering reminder that the Patriots domination of Buffalo probably will continue.


Major League Baseball just doesn’t get it. The New York Mets players wanted to commemorate the 10th anniversary of 9/11 Sunday night by wearing hats representing first responders (NYPD, NYFD) during the game, but the commissioner’s office threatened heavy fines.

You’ve got to be freaking kidding me. For one night, you couldn’t put away your stodgy rules to allow a New York City team to pay a fitting tribute to the men and women who sacrificed their lives that tragic day.


Oh well, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised given who’s running the show.


Congratulations to Ryan Callahan for being named captain of the New York Rangers. He and fellow Rochesterian Brian Gionta (Montreal Canadiens) will be wearing the traditional “C” on their hockey jerseys this season. That speaks legions about them as individuals, but also reflects positively on the type of hockey players our proud burg produces. Bravo.


Syracuse football is off to a 2-0 start for the first time since 1999. The Orange men have looked shaky, but would you rather be 2-0 against two relatively weak opponents or have suffered two heart-breaking losses to strong teams, a la Notre Dame?

SU is a long ways away from being a football power and is looking at a huge challenge Saturday night in the L.A. Coliseum against a USC offense that has the potential of putting up 40-to-50 points on a defense that puts scant pressure on the quarterback.

And the following week back at the Carrier Dome doesn’t figure to be a cakewalk either. Toldeo comes to town and before you snicker, realize this: Toledo almost beat Ohio State last week.

I still like the direction that Doug Marrone has the program headed, but Syracuse remains very much a work in progress.


I was absolutely mesmerized watching yesterday’s U.S. Open men’s tennis championships between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal. You talk about two incredible athletes. The shots they were hitting at times defied logic.


Don’t look now, but the Tampa Bay Rays are only three games behind Boston for the Wild Card berth. And the Rays have several games remaining with the Red Sox and the Yankees. We might have a pennant – or at least a Wild Card - race after all.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

My search for sports meaning in the aftermath of 9/11

In the days and weeks following that horrific September day 10 years ago, I spent a lot of time soul-searching.

I began questioning whether I should continue to devote my life to writing about sports. The atrocities of 9/11 had made the games people play seem so insignificant, so irrelevant. I felt it might be time to do something more meaningful.

I remember bumping into David Hunke, the kind-hearted publisher of my former newspaper, the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, in the cafeteria a few days after the terrorist attacks changed our world forever. A kind-hearted man who actually cared about his newsroom, Hunke could see that I was stressed and asked me to come up to his office and chat. I told him I was having a difficult time writing about such inane matters as who should start at left tackle for the Buffalo Bills in the aftermath of 9/11.

I said that I didn’t believe sports mattered to me anymore. Hunke said he understood completely, telling me that he and many others were involved in similar introspection, wondering if what they were doing was relevant. He advised me to give it a little time before making the decision to bag a career that I had devoted my heart and soul to since I was a teenager.

Over the next several weeks, I continued to struggle. I sought out human-interest stories that had always been my niche in hopes they would help me get back on track.

I wrote a column about former Rochester Red Wings player and current Rochester firefighter named Rey Palacios, who grew up in Brooklyn not far from the World Trade Center and who knew several of the first-responders killed that fateful day. I wrote about Bills-offensive-lineman-turned-commercial-airlines-pilot Jim Ritcher, who wanted to return to the cockpit as quickly as he could to show the terrorists they hadn’t won. And I spoke to fans at the first Bills home game following 9/11 to gage the meaning of sports in time of tragedy.

Ultimately, though, it took an 11-year-old boy, a baseball team in pinstripes and a wounded but resilient city of millions to convince me that sports could be relevant, even in the worst of times.

That 11-year-old – now a 21-year-old – was my son, Christopher, who convinced me over the protestations of his mother to take him to Game Three of the 2011 World Series at Yankee Stadium, a scant 10 miles north of the ruins of Ground Zero.

Below, I’ve reprinted the column I wrote off that experience that appeared on Nov. 1, 2001.

It was a trip we’ll obviously never forget.

One that convinced me that sports could have a powerful galvinizing impact, and that somehow, some way we’d all get back on our feet after the atrocities of one of the worst days in American history.


NEW YORK - My son Christopher greeted the purchase of two World Series tickets with a gleeful leap that would have made Derek Jeter proud.

My wife wasn't nearly as gung-ho.

With the warning that a new wave of terrorist attacks might occur at any time, she was deeply concerned, as I was, that Tuesday's World Series game at packed Yankee Stadium before a national television audience would be a prime target.

It was only after Christopher, a sometimes wise-beyond-his-years 11-year-old, convinced us not to give into fear that she reluctantly agreed to let us go.

As we drove from Rochester to the south Bronx on Tuesday, I felt many emotions. A part of me was euphoric because I realized that this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience - one of those unforgettable moments between a father and a son. I wanted so much for it to be like one of those MasterCard commercials: priceless.

But a part of me also was a tad apprehensive. Was I doing the right thing? Or was I jeopardizing the welfare of my child and myself?

The longer I drove, the better I felt. I knew that with President Bush throwing out the ceremonial first pitch, and with security at the stadium and above it beefed up, the old ballpark at the corner of 161st and River Avenue might just be the safest place in America.

Crossing the George Washington Bridge from New Jersey into New York, I pointed to the Empire State Building in midtown, then to the tip of Manhattan where the Twin Towers once stood. Christopher's eyes were transfixed. After parking in the Yankee Stadium garage, we took the No. 4 train to Wall Street, just blocks from Ground Zero.

The subway cars were stuffed with workers and students, and that was good to see, because it told Christopher and me that, despite the atrocities of Sept. 11, New Yorkers were forging on as best they could.

Emerging from the subway tunnel, we were greeted by an indescribable odor and a dusty haze that seared our nostrils and made our eyes watery and red. The area within four blocks of the crumpled skyscrapers was cordoned off, but we could hear the roar of cranes, dump trucks and bulldozers.

After walking the streets for about 30 minutes, we boarded the No. 4 uptown to Yankee Stadium. I doubt either of us will ever forget that pungent odor.

The atmosphere at the Stadium was slightly more subdued than for previous World Series I had attended. There seemed to be as many cops as fans, but that was OK with me.

I bought my son a sweatshirt and a program, and we tailgated at our car, before walking through metal detectors and heading for our seats near the top row of the upper deck on the first-base side.

The game was tightly contested and quite entertaining. To my son's delight, Roger Clemens pitched brilliantly and the slumping Scott Brosius delivered a clutch hit to lead the Yankees to a 2-1 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks.

But those won't be the lasting memories.

Years from now, I'll remember seeing the president throw out the first pitch to thundering chants of "U.S.A. ! U.S.A. !"

Years from now, I'll remember joining 56,000 others in the singing of God Bless America during the seventh inning stretch. My eyes welled as Yankee Stadium became the world's biggest choir. The tears were not caused by the frigid wind.

Driving across the GW Bridge on the way home, I stole a glance at the Empire State Building, which had been lighted in Yankees blue, and at my son, who was asleep in the back seat. I thanked God for keeping us safe and for giving us the opportunity to share this special time.

I recalled a sign I had seen at the Stadium. It read: THE USA WILL NOT GIVE INTO FEAR - PLAY BALL!

It sounded like something my occasionally wise-beyond-his-years son would have told me.

Friday, September 2, 2011

We of little faith bailed out on SU's comeback

When we were students at Syracuse University in the 1970s, my good friend, Ed Shaw, and I would dutifully attend every SU home football game at the antiquated concrete monstrosity known as Archbold Stadium.

We fancied ourselves as diehard fans (though others viewed us as somewhat deranged and masochistic) because we would sit, kickoff to final gun, through the losses that usually transpired, often in raw, inclement weather.

There was one game in particular during our senior year when we and about 10,000 other fools sat through a chilly, game-long, torrential downpour. Fortunately, our loyalty/stupidity was rewarded when Dave Jacobs somehow managed to kick a field goal in the quagmire for a 3-0 victory against “football powerhouse” Tulane. We thought for sure that ugly, muddy game was destined to end in a scoreless tie.

Ed and I often boasted about our dedication to a floundering football program that was making the painful transition from Ben Schwartzwalder to Frank Maloney and from old Archie to the Carrier Dome. Heck, we joked, anybody can follow Penn State or Ohio State or USC. But it takes real character to keep coming back for more punishment when your team is wallowing in mediocrity. It got to the point where Ed and I would razz fellow students for leaving games early or not showing up at all. "Hey, where’s your school spirit?" we’d ask.

During the autumns that have ensued, my former college roommate and I have continued this tradition of reuniting for at least one SU home football game per season. It just so happened that our schedules were open for last night’s 2011 season-opener against Wake Forest in the Dome.

The reason I bring all of this up is that we were among the 15,000 to 20,000 fans who gave up on the Orange men a quarter and an overtime too soon.

Yes, the same guys who endured so much bad football and crappy Syracuse weather through the years wound up being momentarily un-true to their school. We bolted with SU trailing by 15 late in the third, the lure of some more tailgating and two mighty fine cigars obviously stronger than our belief that Doug Marrone’s charges would somehow muster a comeback.

As we smoked our stogies – a stinky, bonding ritual we childishly partake of once or twice a year – we stood near my car listening to the play-by-play of the game blasting from the radio. As Matt Park described the cardiac ‘Cuse comeback that was unfolding, we were half tempted to snuff out our cigars and hike back up the Hill to see if we could re-enter the sauna-like Dome for the dramatic finish.

But we didn’t want to risk altering the good karma, so we stayed put and listened excitedly as the Orange men put the finishing touches on a 36-29 overtime victory against Wake Forest.

Not long after the victory, we watched hundreds of loud, orange-clad students fill the streets near M Street, the campus hotbed. The SU marching band soon joined in the festivities, playing the fight song. Cars were honking horns. The school spirit was nice to see.

We made sure we told people passing by that we were smoking victory cigars, a la legendary Boston Celtics coach Red Auerbach, in honor of the SU win.

We conveniently, however, forgot to mention that we bailed out on one of the great comebacks in recent SU history.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Some signs of life from the Bills offense

Nearly three decades of covering the NFL have taught me not to read too much into preseason performances. That said, I was encouraged by several things I witnessed from my press box perch at the Ralph last night during the Bills 35-32 overtime victory against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Game Three of the preseason is usually the most telling because that’s the game you usually play your starters the longest, and the contest in which you might even do some game-planning.

Chan Gailey had his first-teamers in there for an entire half and the offense, in particular, looked very sharp. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was at the top of his game, completing 11-of-12 passes for 165 yards and two scores – an 11-yarder to Marcus Easley and a 52-yard bomb to Stevie Johnson.

The pass to Easley was one of those trademark Fitz gunslinger passes, where he took a chance and zipped it in there against tight coverage. Easley made a nice grab.

The TD hook-up with Johnson was the result of Fitz recognizing one-on-one coverage before the snap and banking on Johnson beating his man. Fitz’s arm strength and accuracy aren’t his strong suits, but he lofted a perfect ball to Johnson on the fly pattern and No. 13 hauled it in for six.

Easley, playing in place of the injured Donald Jones, seized his opportunity by catching five passes for 51 yards. The second-year player from Connecticut who spent all of last season on injured reserve has emerged as the likely candidate to be the No. 2 receiver in the Bills offense.

Another positive development from the game was the overall performance of the offensive line. This much-maligned, always-in-flux unit did a decent job of protecting Fitz and opening holes for Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller. Gailey opened with Andy Levitre at left guard and Demetreus Bell at left tackle, though Levitre did see some time later at left tackle. Both appeared to perform well, so maybe there will be some stability there after all.

Again, I try not to get too excited about preseason contests because everything is pretty vanilla and Jacksonville was without its primary weapon, running back Maurice Jones-Drew. Still, there were some positives to be taken from this game as the Bills prep for their season opener two weeks from today in Kansas City.


I think it's a travesty that NFL teams that play in taxpayer-funded stadiums are allowed to black-out games. And when they don't show home exhibition games they take the absurdity to a new level. I wish some politician with some guts would take the NFL to task about this, but the league and its army of corporate attorneys and Washington lobbyists apparently are too powerful a foe. Once again, the fans (who just so happen to be taxpayers and consumers) get shafted. Ridiculous.

Friday, August 19, 2011

'A Talk in the Park' is a wonderful read

Late President Gerald Ford once told a reporter, “I watch a lot of baseball games on the radio.”

Now, that might sound like a malapropism of Yogi Berra-proportions, but I knew exactly what the President meant because I, too, have “watched” a lot of baseball games on the radio through the years.

The really good baseball announcers – the likes of Ernie Harwell, Mel Allen, Red Barber, Vin Scully, Curt Gowdy, Jon Miller and Bob Costas, just to name a few – have always painted exquisite word pictures that have brought the game to life for me and millions of other listeners.

The really good ones also have had the ability to make us laugh – occasionally unintentionally, with malapropisms that would make Berra and Ford (the Prez, not Whitey) approve.

In his marvelous new book, A Talk in the Park: Nine Decades of Baseball Tales from the Broadcast Booth, friend and former presidential speech writer Curt Smith has gathered scores of great stories and perspectives from baseball announcers past and present.

Here’s a sampling:

• “I was honored (to make it to Cooperstown as an announcer), but I think I should have gone in as a player. After all, anyone with ability can make the majors. To trick people year in and year out is, I think, a much greater feat. I only wish the forty-four Hall of Famers there that day agreed. A lot of them were my teammates, but won’t admit it. – Bob Uecker

• “One day the camera spotted a teenage girl. Phil (Rizzuto) said: “She reminds me of that old song, ‘A Pretty Girl is Like a Memory.’ I said, “Scooter, I think that’s Melody.” Phil: “Really? How do you know her name is Melody?” ” Bill White

• “Baseball can be wonderful, but a little parochial. Early in 2009, a Mariners backup catcher read that there was a big deal being made about an important person due to visit Seattle. The catcher said to no one in particular: ‘Hey, who’s this Dailai Lama chick?’ ” – Dave Sims

• “Phil Rizzuto and I are doing the Yankees, we’re in a rain delay, and somebody calls us: Name the all-time Yankee team. We can’t choose between Bill Dickey and Yogi Berra at catcher. First base, Lou Gehrig, best guy there in baseball history. Second, Joe Gordon; Till he made Cooperstown in 2009, I’d bitch to the Hall each year. Shortstop, the Scooter. Third base, Red Rolfe. Outfield, we put Mantle in left, Joe D. in center and Roger Maris in right. Great team. We’re feeling good till the phones light up. “Hey fellas, did you forget somebody? Where the hell is Babe Ruth?” Oops. A time like that you want to curl up in a fetal position and find yourself a closet.” – Jerry Coleman

There are hundreds of more anecdotes like those in A Talk in the Park. I highly recommend the book, which is now available in stores and on the web. And, if you’d like an autographed copy, you can get one at Frontier Field before Saturday night’s Red Wings game, where Curt will be doing a signing.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Jeter proving his critics wrong. Plus some thoughts on the Bills O-Line and Scoop Jardine

I admit it.

I was one of the skeptics who thought Derek Jeter was done back in June when he was hitting dribblers seemingly every other at-bat.

Well, as Tom Brokaw said after the networks kept wrongly calling the winner of the 2000 presidential race, I don’t just have egg all over my face; I have the entire omelet.

Since his return from the DL two months ago, Jeets is batting .326 and has a major-league leading 13 multiple-hit games in that span. The surge by the 37-year-old shortstop has boosted his average 25 points to .285.

I know it can’t go on forever, so I’m savoring these moments of seeing Derek Jeter playing as he did in his prime.


Bills fans better hope this benching, rotation or whatever you want to call it of right guard Andy Levitre is just a message being sent by Coach Chan Gailey and not a permanent thing. As of today’s practice, Buffalo’s offensive line is Eric Woods at center, Chad Rinehart and Kraig Urbik at guards and Demetrius Bell and Erik Pears at tackles.

Not exactly the Great Wall of China.

I was concerned about the O-line heading into the season. This shuffle just 25 days before the regular-season opener hasn’t done anything to boost my confidence in who will protect Ryan Fitzpatrick and open holes for Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller.


Guard Scoop Jardine has been playing lights out for Team USA this off-season. If that trend continues this winter, Syracuse University will wind up justifying those lofty, high pre-season basketball rankings.


Yesterday marked the anniversary of the day drummer Pete Best was given his walking papers by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, opening the door for Ringo Starr to join the Beatles.


Here’s wishing a belated Happy Birthday to one of my early sports editors, Phil Spartano, who recently turned 91 years young. Phil was one of my early mentors and was instrumental in my development as a sportswriter.

And all the best to my long-time friend and former newspaper colleague Vic Carucci on his new gig – a nightly radio show devoted entirely to the Cleveland Browns. Vic was a superb football writer at the Buffalo News and for Browns fans are fortunate to be able to listen to his expertise each evening on the ESPN radio affiliate in Cleveland.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Putting the Maybin draft bust into historical perspective

So Aaron Maybin now joins the scrapheap of Bills first-round busts, a crowded, lamentable junk yard littered with the likes of Mike Williams, Walt Patulski, Al Cowlings, Perry Tuttle, J.P. Losman, Erik Flowers and John McCargo.

Taken 11th overall two years ago – the personal pick of ex-Bills head coach Dick Jauron – Maybin finishes his Buffalo career with zero sacks and zero starts in 27 games. The only surprising thing about the news of his release is that it didn’t happen sooner. Say like last season.

As far as his place in Bills lore, you can make a strong case for him being the biggest draft day bust in franchise history. Not only couldn’t he start for a 4-12 team that opened last season with eight consecutive losses, he couldn’t even dress for five of the games despite being healthy. The aforementioned draft day blunders at least started for a few seasons before being jettisoned.

When I saw Maybin for the first time at the Rochester Press-Radio Club’s Children’s Charities Dinner three years ago, I couldn’t get over how slender he was. That night Maybin actually dozed off for a minute or two at the head table. Little did we know that would be the only sack time we would witness from him.

It wasn’t that Maybin didn’t try. The Penn State linebacker appeared to work hard. He just didn’t have the size or the talent necessary to make it in the NFL, which is why several in the Bills front office argued vehemently against drafting him but were overruled by Jauron.

So another page is turned on why the Bills have gone 11 seasons without a playoff appearance.

Consistently poor draft picks, especially in the first few rounds, have been the biggest reason for this prolonged wallow in mediocrity.

Interestingly, despite the whiff on Maybin, the 2009 draft still might be judged as one of the better ones in recent Bills history if center Eric Wood, Jairus Byrd and guard Andy Levitre continue being productive players for several more years.

The apathy shown by the sports world to Minnesota Twins slugger Jim Thome reaching the 600 home run milestone is a reflection of just how much damage the steroid era did to our appreciation of the game’s history and record books. It’s too bad, because Thome, unlike Bonds/Sosa/McGwire, has never been accused of using the stuff. Sadly, everybody’s reputation is impugned by this mess thanks to Bud Selig and Donald Fehr, who as baseball’s commissioner and union chief, respectively, did great impersonations of ostriches.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Some finals words on the departed Lee Evans, the dramatic drop in scoring in baseball and cool names

Lee Evans’ numbers (37 receptions, 578 yards, 4 touchdowns) may have been down significantly last fall from his average the previous six seasons (57, 892, 6.5). But he was still a dynamic part of the Bills offense and had a big impact on the success Stevie Johnson enjoyed during his breakout year.

It’s going to be interesting to see how Johnson responds now that he’s the top dog and Lee’s not around to take the pressure off him.

The NFL record books are filled with receivers who were one-hit wonders.

I’m not saying that Stevie is going to fall into that category, but it’s a whole different ballgame when you are the marked man.


Evans is one of the classiest guys I’ve dealt with in my 27 years covering the Bills. Win or lose, he was there to face the music – a real honest, stand-up guy. So, I’m not surprised he would issue a statement thanking the fans and the organization for his experiences in Buffalo. The guy always takes the high road.

It was his misfortune to be with the Bills during the longest stretch of futility in franchise history. That he put up the numbers he did despite the constant flux of quarterbacks, head coaches, coordinators, teammates and offensive schemes speaks volumes. I believe fans will come to appreciate his Bills career more down the road.


I recently wrote a column for Bills Digest saying that I believed Lee will have a bounce-back season this year, and I’m sticking to that prediction. Sadly, it will be with the Baltimore Ravens and not the Bills, who got fleeced by only getting a fourth-round draft pick in exchange for Evans.


It was only preseason and they were going against a sieve-like offensive line that is sure to keep Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler running for his life all year, but I was impressed with the quickness and moves displayed by both rookie defensive lineman Marcell Dareus and veteran linebacker Shawne Merriman. If those two play anywhere close to expectations this season, the Bills defense no longer will be a pushover.


Scoring in baseball is at a 19-year low and I couldn’t be happier. The testing for performance-enhancing drugs and perhaps, more importantly, the negative reaction to the fraudulent slugging of the past two decades by fans and sportswriters apparently has helped the game regain its bearings somewhat.


Each year, (Minor League Baseball’s website) holds a best name contest. Among my favorites in this year’s competition: Shooter Hunt, Forrest Snow, Zelous Wheeler and Deik Scram. But the best name, in my opinion, is Seth Schwindenhammer. He’s a 6-foot-2, 205-pound, left-handed hitting outfielder for the Lowell (Mass.) Spinners of the New York-Penn League. Through 48 games, Schwindenhammer has been struggling somewhat to live up to his slugger’s name, batting just .215, but he does have 9 dingers and 28 RBI.


In a blog from a few weeks ago, I speculated that Queen Elizabeth probably would light the Olympic cauldron in Wemblay Stadium next summer. But, as my bride and resident Anglophile correctly pointed out, heads of state are in viewing boxes during the Opening Ceremonies. They’ve never ignited the flame. Lady Beth also astutely noticed that the queen never goes anywhere or does anything without clinging to her purse. So, it would be kind of humorous to see her up there, torch in one hand, royal pocket book in the other, trying to get that blasted flame lit.

I would still like to see Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, the two surviving members of the Beatles, receive the honor. A more likely, and certainly deserving candidate, is Roger Bannister, the first man to break the four-minute barrier in the mile.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Opining on the NFL going to LA, Lee Evans trade rumors and the great Mariano Rivera

I know it doesn’t do any good to fret about things you can’t control, but I feel a little queasy each time I hear a report about Los Angeles taking steps to get another NFL franchise.

Yesterday’s news that the L.A. City Council has backed a private investor’s plan for a new downtown stadium made me wonder again about the precarious, long-term future of the Bills in Buffalo.

The NFL, of course, wants in the worst way to get at least one and possibly two teams back in the nation’s second-largest city and television market.

Oh, well. Nothing we can do about it, except enjoy the NFL while we have it in western New York.


The rumors are flying hot and heavy that teams are interested in trading for Bills wide receiver Lee Evans, the Baltimore Ravens and Arizona Cardinals being the most aggressive suitors.

I know I’m in the minority, but I believe Evans, who just turned 30, is going to have a bounce-back season after declining numbers and an ankle injury that cost him three games in 2010.

I know Stevie Johnson has emerged as Ryan Fitzpatrick’s favorite target, but I believe Evans received too little credit for Stevie’s breakout campaign that saw him catch 81 passes and score 11 touchdowns. Not only did Evans take coverage away from Johnson, he also served as an astute mentor and coach.

Now, I’m not totally opposed to dealing Evans, giving the potential of this young Bills receiving corps and the fact Buffalo isn’t going to the playoffs any time soon. I just hope Buffalo gets a good return on its investment – at least a third-round draft pick.

Regardless what happens, I wouldn’t be surprised if Evans puts up some big numbers this fall while Stevie’s numbers drop off a bit, especially if Lee winds up playing alongside Larry Fitzgerald in Arizona.


Yes, he's blown two straight saves and will turn 42 in November, but it’s way, way too early to panic about Mariano Rivera. He has failed to preserve the lead in two consecutive games, giving him five failures in 46 appearances. He isn't as dominating as he once was, but he's still pretty darn good, as his 29 saves and 2.23 earned run average attests. I believe this is just a temporary blip for the man who is just 12 saves shy of becoming only the second reliever to record 600 in a career.


I’m happy to see that the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame is considering inducting Yao Ming as a contributor next year. The 7-foot-4 center sparked a hoops revolution in his native China. While covering the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, I witnessed just how crazed the Chinese are about basketball. And much of that is due to Ming’s success there and in the NBA. As I wrote back then, "Yao’s become more popular than Mao." And that's not hyperbole.


Congratulations to Leigh Ann Carlson (Brattain) for scoring the first hole-in-one of her golfing career. Leigh Ann, who many of you will remember as an anchor for R-News (now YNN), merely is continuing a family tradition. The Cleveland resident's parents have six holes-in-one between them.


By the way, the only holes-in-one I've scored have been at miniature golf courses.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Opining about the Bills, Yankees, Tiger's ex-caddie and SU football

Some sporting thoughts as I pop the Ibuprofen after subjecting my fiftysomething, occasionally uncooperative bones and muscles to four 19th century base ball games in the span of 26 hours:

• As part of the celebration of Lucille Ball’s 100th birthday, the Jamestown Jammers donned uniforms bearing pictures of Lucy and Desi Arnez last Thursday night. Good thing the Jammers won that New York-Penn League baseball contest for their native daughter or there would have been a lot of “’splaining to do.” The Jammers scored six runs in the victory against the Tri-City ValleyCats. I wonder if the Jamestown players shouted, “Ricky, I’m home” as they crossed home plate on their way to the dugout.

• Here’s Bills coach Chan Gailey assessment of 2009 first-round draft pick Aaron Maybin: “Aaron tries hard every time he walks on the field. The key for him is being productive on the field. He has to become a consistent player against the run and a consistent pass-rusher. He has a lot of work to do. He’s not there yet. So we will see how he continues to develop.”

Interpretation: Barring a miracle transformation, the much-bally-hooed linebacker from Penn State with the zero-sack total and a paltry 26 tackles in 27 NFL games won’t be a Bill this season. That means Maybin will go down in Bills lore as arguably the worst draft pick in franchise history, surpassing Mike Williams, Perry Tuttle and Walt Patulski for that dubious distinction.

I feel badly for Maybin because he does, as Gailey says, appear to work hard. I just think it’s a case where he doesn’t have the talent to play linebacker at this level.

• Speaking of Gailey, he is one of the most honest, up-front NFL coaches I’ve ever dealt with. Unlike so many of his paranoid peers, he usually tells it like it is.

• So which athletic diva do you find most annoying? A-Rod or Brett Favre?

• There are bad matchups in sports, and for the 2011 Yankees the worst matchup just happens to be against their cursed AL East rival. Boston is 11-2 in the series this season, meaning the only way the Bronx Bombers will get to the World Series is by having someone upset the Red Sox in the first round of the playoffs.

• I’m going to go out on a limb here early and predict a bounce-back season for classy Bills wideout Lee Evans. I just think teams are going to be paying a lot more attention to Stevie Johnson this fall, creating more single-coverage opportunities for Lee. Although his numbers dropped off significantly last year and he just turned 30, Evans remains a dynamic deep threat. I think he still has some good seasons left and I’m glad Buffalo didn’t deal him.

• Another Bill I’m expecting a lot more from this season is C.J. Spiller. Gailey is a very creative offensive mind. I believe he is going to find a lot more ways to get the second-year running back in space.

• It was good seeing Darryl Talley at St. John Fisher, and I hope the former Bills linebacking legend does pursue coaching because he has a great feel for the game and for people. He was a coach on the field during the Bills Super Bowl run, and played a huge role in helping Bruce Smith learn the pro game and realize his Hall-of-Fame potential.

• Syracuse University’s hopes of contending for a Big East football title in Doug Marrone’s third season as his alma mater’s head coach suffered a serious blow last week when promising wide receiver Marcus Sales was arrested for drug possession. It’s sad to see young people squander golden opportunities. Sales was finally beginning to live up to his potential during the second half of last season and had a monster game in the Pinstripe Bowl with 5 receptions for 172 yards and 3 touchdowns.

• There are few fraternities in sports more close-knit and caring than the hockey fraternity. This was underscored again yesterday when local NHLers Brian Gionta and Ryan Callahan came back to play in the Craig Charron memorial charity hockey game at the ESL Center.

• I wish someone would stuff a Big Bertha into caddie Steve Williams’ big mouth. The blow-hard continues to over-value his role in helping golfers win tournaments.

Listening to Williams you'd think Tiger Woods wouldn't have won a single major without him lugging his clubs. If I'm not mistaken, Williams didn’t pinch-swing for Tiger during that remarkable run and he did become a multi-millionaire working for Woods.

Williams’ fairway-sized ego continued to be out-of-control Sunday after he caddied for Adam Scott, who won the World Golf Championship in Akron, Ohio. Williams took another shot at Tiger when he called this the “greatest week of caddying” he’s ever experienced.

Hmmm, bigger than those 13 majors? Yeah, right, Steve.





Friday, August 5, 2011

Our pastime without TV, megadeals and egos

If you want to see base ball played for the sheer love of the game, may I suggest a trip to the Genesee Country Village & Museum this weekend in Mumford to watch the National Silver Ball Tournament. It’s the ninth time we local 19th century base ballists have staged the three-day event, which will feature vintage teams from the Northeast, Midwest and Canada.

We wear funny uniforms and don’t use gloves (yes, I know that sounds crazy; see more below). And some of our rules might be foreign to the 21st century baseball fan. But I think you’ll get a kick out of it, and I guarantee you, you’ll see players giving it their all.

There are a few games this afternoon around 4, and tomorrow there will be matches from 9 in the morning till 5 in the afternoon at the only 19th century ballpark in the country.

As a primer, I offer below, an essay I wrote in my previous life as a newspaper scribe. Hope to see you this weekend – and if you go, be sure to say “hi” to this hurler from the Flower City Base Ball Club.


When I told one of my son's Little League baseball teammates that I play in a 19th century league where they don't use gloves, he looked at me as if I had three eyes. He wondered if I also played football without a helmet and drove my car blind-folded.

"You mean you catch the ball with your bare hands?" he asked. "Geez, that must hurt like hell."

At times, it does.

Jammed and broken fingers occasionally are the price we pay to transport ourselves and visitors to the Genesee Country Village & Museum back in time. But any vintage baseballist worth his salt will tell you that the price is right. We are having too good a time to be stopped by minor inconveniences such as bruised hands or bloody knees.

In many respects, we are like those folks who reenact Civil War skirmishes. We enjoy interpreting history. We believe the past helps us understand the present and the future.

Plus, we are hams. The thespian and the little kid in us often comes out during these matches. The diamond is our stage and our playpen. This is one of those places where men will be boys.

There are some obvious differences between us and our Civil War brethren. For starters, we interpret the 1800s on a ballfield rather than a battlefield. We wield double-knobbed, bottle-shaped bats rather than rifles with bayonets. And the ball, while capable of hurting you, isn't nearly as hard as a bullet or a modern-day hardball. It is made of a leather cover wrapped around yarn and an India rubber core. (For that, we are thankful.)

We all go by nicknames. Yours truly is "Scribe," after what I do for a living. We have a University of Rochester med student known as "Doc," a quick-footed leprechaun of an outfielder known as "Irish," a wily hurler we call "Perfessor," and a long-ball stroking first baseman known as "Country Mile."

In character, we often resort to language that sounds foreign to the 21st century fan. When we want a teammate to hustle, we implore that he show a little ginger. Our bats are willows, our ball an apple, pill, horsehide or onion. The catcher is a behind, infielders are basetenders, and outfielders scouts. A daisy cutter is a well-hit grounder, while a dew drop is a slow pitch. Batters are strikers and fans are cranks.

The rules sound foreign, too. Pitches are delivered underhand with a locked elbow - slow-pitch softball style without the arc. A striker can ask the umpire to tell the hurler exactly where to place the pitch. Foul balls don't count as strikes, but if you catch one on the first bounce, the striker is out. The one-bounce rule also is in effect for fair balls.

Hitters are required to bat flat-footed. There is no striding into the ball, meaning your power must be generated by your arms and torso. (Our game is a chiropractor's dream.)

The umpire has final say in all matters, though on occasion he'll seek the help of the fans or the tallykeeper.

Matches are truly social events. There are pre-game parades through the village, featuring military bands and horse-drawn wagons. Players court single women at the park (that hasn't changed) and reporters (that has). Positive publicity occasionally can be garnered by bribing a base ball scribe with a bottle of his favorite whiskey. (Sportswriters clearly had lower standards in those days.)

Playing surfaces are rocky and uneven. True hops are the exception rather than the rule, even at lush, green Silver Base Ball Park, the only 19th century replica diamond in the United States.

Our uniforms are somewhat odd looking. We wear wool-blend long-sleeve jerseys with bow ties and caps that remind you of a railroad conductor. Metal spikes aren't allowed. Neither are Nike swooshes or adidas stripes.

The emphasis is on hitting 'em where they ain't rather than over the fence. Sorry, Mr. Bonds, but home runs are looked down upon. Singles hitters are the rage in vintage base ball, particularly those who can direct the ball to the opposite field. There is no stealing or leading off, and bunting is frowned upon, though some attempt to cloud the issue with what is known as a slow hit.

The game we interpret stresses sportsmanship and gentlemanly behavior. Players blurting profanity are usually hit with a fine by the umpire.

We interpret a purely amateur game. We are a century removed from the era of whiny millionaires. When we say we play for the love of the game, our words are as solid as one of our northern white ash willows.

Although I've competed in the 19th century game for three years, I'm still learning that I have to unlearn so many 20th and 21st century rules. This is not your father's game. Or your grandfather's game, for that matter.

But it is a lot of fun. An opportunity to take ourselves and others back, back, back in time.

For additional information, go to

P.S. That photo is of the Excelsiors team that won the Silver Ball championship seven years ago. The Excelsiors are now the Flower City BBC.