Buffalo, My Buffalo

by John Furgele

If I was sports talk host in Western New York, I could throw this topic out on a Sunday; “Is Buffalo jinxed as a sports city?”  I could take calls for hours about the Sabres and their playoff failures, the Bills going to four Super Bowls and hear people say that “by dumb luck, they should have won one Super Bowl.  Even my friend’s grumpy father, the legendary and ornery Bob Jellinick would call in and complain about the JoJo White call in the 1974 NBA Playoffs(Buffalo News columnist Milt Northrup put it in his Top 10 Aud memories). 
 
Deep down, I really don’t believe in that stuff, but I know many sports fans—in all cities—do.  Okay, maybe Florida Marlins fans don’t.  They don’t support that team, they don’t really care about that team, they don’t talk about that team on the radio, but in 17 years, they have made the playoffs only twice and of course, are 6-0 in postseason series with two World Series titles
 
We know that there is no such thing as the Sports Gods, and why would God let the Akron Zips make the NCAA Tournament over the Buffalo Bulls and let a 28 year old die of cancer?  Makes no sense.  Never has, never will.  God has way more important things to worry about.  But, if he could do something about the economy…..
 
But, I am starting to reverse my thinking.  Now, I am beginning to wonder if Buffalo sports teams, like the city itself is destined to be second rate.  I say this with no disrespect.  Had I gotten a teaching job in Buffalo in 1991, I would have never left the area—never—and I love the area as much as anybody.  Case in point:  what other idiot drives 290 miles on the first  Saturday morning in March to run a road race and drink beer?  I do and as long as I can, will continue to do so.
 
Buffalonians do not like to be referred to as second class, second rate, second anything.  It offends them, but here, in my current hometown the natives refer to Albany, NY as Smallbany and the moniker doesn’t offend them at all.  Jim Rome calls Rochester “Crapchester,” and in 20 years, I don’t think a Rochester caller has ever called in to complain about it. 
 
But, there I was watching Akron “zip” past Buffalo last night, and it did make me think, after Siena beat Niagara on Monday night; is Buffalo destined to get close and fall short—-forever?  Why can’t Buffalo fans experience that run on the court sensation that many programs do.  In Albany, the Great Danes have made two NCAA Tournamentsand Siena just qualified for the second straight year and fifth overall.  Yes, Niagara and Canisius have made the NCAAs, but they are small private schools, with small alumni and because of the high cost of attending, in the elite category.  If Niagaramakes the NCAA Tournament, much of WNY is happy, but I believe that if the Bulls, a team with “BUFFALO” stitched across the uniforms made it, all of WNY would be happy, because when BUFFALO appeared in the NCAA brackets, the region would feel the pride of seeing the city’s name up in lights.  It just isn’t the same to see Niagara, Canisius, or St. Bonaventure. Why?  Because the average American doesn’t know where these schools are, but most know, or have heard of Buffalo, NY.
 
Philadelphia fans feel that their city is jinxed, but they did have their heyday from 1974-1983.  In that span, the Flyers won two Stanley Cups, the Phillies won a World Series, a National League pennant, and four more times played in the playoffs.  The 76ers played in four NBA Finals and won it all in 1983, and the Eagles won the 1980 NFC Championship.  Yes, they had a 25 year drought before the Phillies rang the championship bell in October, but they had their halcyon days, something Buffalo really hasn’t had.  The Bills did win four straight AFC Championships, but during that time, the Sabres really did nothing.  In Philadelphia, all four teams were really clicking and they won four overall titles in a nine to ten year span, something Buffalo can only long for.
 
Buffalo is decent at getting to championship events, they’re just not very good at winning them.  The Bulls played in the 2005 MAC Championship Game and lost with seconds to go.  Niagara made the 2009 MAAC Championship Game, but with the score tied 50-50 late, couldn’t make the plays to make the Big Dance. 
 
Buffalo’s loss to Akron didn’t upset me, because like most Buffalonians, I expected them to lose and expected to be disappointed.  But, there is hope and for that, we can look to Boston.  The Red Sox were cursed, for 86 years, but have risen up and won two World Series titles in 2004 and 2007.   The Patriots went from laughingstock to elite, and the Celtics shook off the death of Len Bias and conquered the NBA in 2008.  This year, the Bruins have caught the fever and are number one in the NHL’s Eastern Conference.  If they somehow win the 2009 Stanley Cup, then maybe a city can truly overcome its insecurites and turn fate around. 
 
Even in Buffalo.
 
 
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