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Bob DiCesare column: Raising the flag for hoops.

September 7, 2013 Leave a comment

The Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY)

November 1, 2006
Nov. 1–Maybe you’re old enough to remember when Buffalo had a franchise in the National Basketball Association. Maybe you were around when Western New York, while perhaps not the center of the college basketball solar system, was no less than the first planet from the sun.

Our area has a rich basketball heritage, one that dates to the 1950s. We’ve been home to Naismith Hall of Famers, NBA rookies of the year, college All-Americans and national scoring champs.

One of the world’s great athletic wonders, the Bo Jackson of his day, went to college here and emerged from the depths of the draft to forge a record-setting NBA career that commenced with the Buffalo Braves. One of the top 10 collegiate centers of all time came out of a Buffalo high school, played in the Final Four and embarked on a long and distinguished Hall-of-Fame career.

It’s only right that we acknowledge the historical pedestal on which they reside. It’s time to have a banner day for Buffalo basketball and hoist flags recognizing the worthy to the roof of HSBC Arena.

Reggie Witherspoon, homegrown basketball coach of the University at Buffalo, came up with the idea, and what a marvelous one it is. It would be ideal, Witherspoon said, to build the ceremony around an NBA exhibition game, preferably one involving the Miami Heat, whose coaching roster includes Bob McAdoo, who was NBA Rookie of the Year with the Braves, NBA MVP with the Braves, the player you think of first whenever you think of Buffalo‘s good old NBA days.

McAdoo would be a shoo-in for a banner. So would Randy Smith, a Buffalo State College grad who was an All-American in soccer, basketball and track, a trifecta made all the more impressive considering Smith felt baseball was his best sport. The Braves threw the local college star a bone by selecting him and his suspect jump shot in the seventh round of the 1971 draft. Smith never stopped repaying his debt of gratitude, playing in a record 906 straight games and coming off the bench to earn MVP honors in the 1978 NBA All-Star Game.

Who else is deserving? Calvin Murphy, Niagara’s All-American guard, is a must. The world-class baton twirler dumped 48 on Canisius on Jan. 13, 1968, breaking the Memorial Auditorium scoring record in the first Little Three game in which he ever played. A little over a year later he had 27 in a two-point loss to St. Bonaventure, the closest the Bonnies came to losing a Little Three game during the Bob Lanier era. He set a then-NBA record by converting 78 straight free throws. He’s in the Hall of Fame. Yeah, Calvin cuts it.

Lanier? How can we pass on Lanier? One of the stipulations for having a banner should be a show of excellence at the Aud. Lanier, a Bennett grad, played sparingly there as a collegian and a pro, and there’s no ignoring the man who would have delivered Bona a national title, guaranteed, had Villanova’s Chris Ford not taken out his knee in the 1970 NCAA Elite Eight.

Other candidates abound. There’s John McCarthy of Canisius, who played seven years in the bigs. And Ernie DiGregorio, NBA Rookie of the Year with the Braves in 1974, a season in which he set the rookie single-game assist record of 25. Anyone for Larry Fogel? Coming up with nominations is the easy part. It’s reducing the list that becomes the challenge.

Buffalo‘s basketball history should have a place above the main stage at HSBC. The city’s hoops history deserves recognition. There should be kids pointing to the banners overhead and asking their parents, or their grandparents, “Who was Bob Lanier?” Just the way they do with Tim Horton, the French Connection, and the Knoxes.

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Categories: Uncategorized

Bill’s Ticket Move Boost For Baseball

April 12, 2012 Leave a comment

phil ranallo     

WHAT’S NEW, HARRY? November 29,1980

(Preamble by Chris Wendel)  Several things happened to me today that led to the reprint of this 1980 Phil Ranallo column. First was reading a Facebook post discussing the concept of an outdoor stadium in downtown Buffalo. Next was a friend (who grew up in LA) asking me why Buffalo never had a major league baseball team. The last was seeing this column in a pile of papers in my office. This column has a little of everything: The questioning of Ralph Wilson’s motives, discussion of a stadium that could breathe life into an ailing downtown, and the prospect of major league baseball in Buffalo. Enjoy this work from “Courier Express” sportswriter Phil Ranallo:

RALPH WILSON’S sale of those 35,000 tickets to Pennsylvanians for last Sun­day’s Bills-Steelers game may one day may one day be labeled a godsend by advocates of major league baseball for Buffalo.

Last weekend’s happening — the influx of out-of-towners and their two-fisted spending — served as a fine example of what a big league baseball franchise could do for our town.

Revelation that the invasion of all those Steeler faithful may have had as much as a $l-million economic impact
on the community had to open a lot of eyes.

I’m talking about the eyes of all — the city and county fathers’— as well as the residents of the area, many of whom have long opposed construction of a stadium suitable for major league baseball.

WHAT TRANSPIRED last weekend —-the business the visitors brought to our hotels, motels, restaurants, taverns, etc.—could be the greatest possible advertisement for construction of a baseball stadium in downtown Buffalo.

It should provide the Erie County Sports Board with, ammunition in its fight for such a facility.

Perhaps Ralph Wilson had all this in mind when he made the decision to hus­tle tickets in Pennsylvania for the Bills-Steelers game.

It’s my guess that Wilson would do anything in his power to help Buffalo build a downtown stadium and land a big league ball club.

I’m sure Ralph isn’t averse to a big league baseball team being located here and competing for the Buffalo sports en­tertainment dollar.

LAST WEEKEND’S goings-on were unique for a regular season pro football game. Almost all the fans, generally speaking, hail from the area represented by the home team.

Not so, though, in, baseball.

A baseball team with its long home stands, does something that neither a pro football team nor a hockey team does. A baseball team attracts fans from hundreds of miles.

Many of these fans spend theirvaca­tion  time or weekends in the baseball town. They stay in your hotels and mo­tels, dine in your restaurants, shop in your department stores, patronize your theaters, etc.

Why, a big league baseball club per­forming in a beautiful stadium at the Crossroads would even lure people from suburban Buffalo to the central city.

PERSONALLY, I feel that construc­tion of a new downtown stadium — to accommodate a, major league baseball team would ‘be the most progressive step this community could take.

It would be good for some of the things that are ailing Buffalo — terrific for the city is economic growth and the attrac­tiveness of the downtown area.

With major-league baseball as part of our Buffalo life, sports fans would have somewhere to go during this communi­ty’s current sports-dry months — from May to September.

They’d have a baseball club to root for — something that would put a little fun in their lives.

And at reasonable prices, since base­ball — unlike pro football and hockey does not turn the pockets of its customers inside-out

THE SAD PART of all this is, it could have happened here in Buffalo long ago. Your newspaper the Courier Express thumped the tubs for a downtown stadium in the late 60’s and early 70’s.

And it definitely would have happened, had it not been for those certain people in certain quarters.

Our head-in-the-sand leaders, men with lack of foresight, acquiesced to the dictates of those selfish certain people!

They built Wilson his 80,000-seat football-only stadium in Orchard Park and thereby slammed the major-league baseball door on Buffalo —and for that baseball fans in Montreal and Toronto will be forever grateful.

Those Canadian cities landed big league baseball franchises, either of which could have been Buffalo’s — if we had the proper leadership.

THE COMMUNITY’S current leaders may get the chance to correct the colos­sal blunders of their predecessors.

The economic impact the visitors from Pennsylvania had on this area last week should enable our leaders to provide the state with a strong argument for state funding of a new stadium in downtown Buffalo.

Is failing to plan, really planning to fail?

January 3, 2011 Leave a comment

The end of 2010 brings with it a sense of renewal or a cold dose reality with the dismal prospects for the Bills and Sabres. I can’t think of a time in the recent past where I held such pessimistic feeling for both teams to perform any better, let alone get to the point of being relevant nationally.

For many the cure all for the Bills would be a franchise quarterback to build a contender around. A year ago I thought the “can’t miss” prospect was Washington’s Jake Locker. Locker could have come out after his junior season and thought it better to stay another year, only to suffer through horrible early season losses to BYU and Nebraska.

Our attention then turned to Andrew Luck of Stanford, who now is also thinking of sticking around for his senior year. Some of Luck’s decision rides on where his coach Jim Harbaugh decides to go (more on Harbaugh’s career choice later). I still like Locker, a durable type of quarterback who battled adversity and a limited supporting cast to finish the season strong and beat that same Nebraska team in a late December Holiday Bowl. Perhaps Locker is the quarterback the Bills need at this point, without the higher price tag of Luck.

Harbaugh will tonight take the stage as his refurbished Stanford Cardinal takes on Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl (please note that the game’s corporate sponsor has been deleted and forgotten). It’s a foregone conclusion that Harbaugh will leave Stanford shortly after tonight’s game for either his alma mater or to coach in the NFL. Counting on a deal with Michigan may have made weeks ago, the Wolverine brethren feel that Harbaugh will return them to their entitlement of ten win seasons and national prominence.

It wasn’t that long ago many of these same fans tossed aside Lloyd Carr for a coaching phenom named Rich Rodriguez. If Michigan doesn’t get its wish, and Harbaugh goes elsewhere, there is no apparent plan B. Just remember, the reason that things don’t according to plan, is because there never was one. Now, where does that leave the Bills and Sabres?

Categories: Uncategorized

Once a bridge runner

April 6, 2010 4 comments

By Chris Wendel

Growing up east of Lockport, New York along the Erie Canal, an unusual district configuration planted us in the Royalton-Hartland Central School System (Roy Hart). We traveled daily down the canal nine miles away from Lockport to Middleport for high school .

I remember occasionally running the 9 miles or so along the towpath to school, while training for track and cross country. The soft surface of the towpath was named after the mules (remember Sal?) that pulled the packet boats along the canal (filled with lumber, coal, and hay). Long after the canal served as the nations’ major route to the expanding west, the towpath remained and is now part of one of the longest contiguous trail systems in the country.

The towpath was also a great surface for track and cross-country training runs. Our coaches would simply tell us which canal bridge to run to (and return). For example “Hurdles Bridge and back” meant a relatively easy four mile tempo run, while Peet Street meant a long slow ten mile run. Some of us started a tradition on slapping one hand on the cement abutment of each bridge we passed under, marking off another leg of a long day’s work.

I was never much of a contributor to Roy Hart’s track success, but the school was a dominant high school track program in the 1970’s, with times and distances that could compete with most of region’s larger schools. Regardless of the varying levels of talent, those Roy Hart days provided a work ethic and appreciation for running that many of us took with us into our adult lives.

So it was interesting to read a recent story about Vincent Donner a current Roy-Hart student who was the surprise winner at the  Beast of Burden 24-Hour Ultra Run. The ultra-marathon started in Lockport consisting of 25 mile laps along the canal towpath, to Middleport and back. Donner entered as a relative unknown and finished his 100 miles (four laps in 22 hours, 50 minutes and 41 seconds).

Whie his winning performance evoked a certain “Who is that guy?” quality for many seasoned runners,  it was good to hear of a new running hero from Roy-Hart, especially one who knows those canal bridges as well we did.

Blizzard Knowledge

February 6, 2010 Leave a comment

By Tim Wendel

Sometimes simply being from Buffalo reminds you about the important things in life.

Even though I’ve lived in the Washington, D.C., area for 20 years now, I will always consider myself a Buffalonian. Of course, we’re getting nailed by a nasty stretch of weather as I write this. (Silently praying that the power doesn’t go out). At the moment, we’re at two-plus feet and counting.

So, I’ve been trying to impress upon my 17-year-old son the importance of getting out there and doing the shoveling. How the white stuff isn’t going to disappear any time soon. Not this much snow. And how it’s important to help your elderly neighbors clear their driveway, too. Even when their snow blower breaks down.

Tomorrow is the Super Bowl. We were supposed to host old friends from Buffalo, who have resettled in this area. That won’t happen now with the weather. But during the Colts-Saints showdown, I’ll tell my son about the great teams from Buffalo. How Kelly & Co. made the Super Bowl four consecutive seasons, only to come up short. How that remains something to be proud. How that’s an accomplishment to be honored and remembered.

Bills’ franchise doldrums places extra pressure on Gailey

January 24, 2010 Leave a comment
By Tim Wendel

My initial reaction to the Buffalo Bills’ naming Chan Gailey as their new head coach? I flash-backed to Lowell “Cotton” Fitzsimmons.

At first blush the two appear to have little in common. Gailey has an 18-14 record in the NFL, while Fitzsimmons went 832-775 in the NBA.

But as I watch the dysfunctional Bills unravel, I’m reminded of the final season of the Braves in Buffalo, when Fitzsimmons was coach. The team went 3-10 in December, 3-9 in January and 3-10 in February in 1977-1978, en route to a dismal 27-55 record. By that point, season ticket sales, including partial plans, had fallen to 2,400. Soon after the year ended, with a 131-114 defeat to Boston, the Braves left Western New York. With John Y. Brown wheeling and dealing, the franchise was swapped with the Boston Celtics and sent west to become the Los Angeles Clippers.

“I think Buffalo got a raw deal as far as the NBA,” Fitzsimmons told my friend Pete Weber years later. “I enjoyed everything Buffalo. What I feel bad about is the franchise … I guess I’ve got to take credit for folding the franchise.”

That brings me back to Chan Gailey. Will he singing the same tune when the Bills leave town? Everyone knows the Bills are in big trouble, seemingly destined to end up in Los Angeles or Toronto or another larger market.

Ironically, if you compare the Braves’ coaches and the Bills’ coaches, the spiral downward is remarkably similar. Both had Hall of Fame coaches, followed by pretenders when the teams desperately needed to win. The Braves’ high-water mark coincided with Jack Ramsay. He was followed by Tates Locke, Bob MacKinnon, Joe Mullaney and Fitzsimmons.

The Bills haven’t been the same since Hall of Famer Marv Levy left after the 1997 season. Those who tried to fill his shoes include Wade Phillips, Gregg Williams, Mike Mularkey, Dick Jauron and now Gailey.

Buffalo fans better pray the Bills’ new guy can make the team competitive. If not, we could be looking at the Braves’ scenario all over again, with Gailey telling us years later how the Niagara Frontier deserved better.

Kiffin’s and Beilein’s career paths provide new meaning to coaching loyalty

January 17, 2010 Leave a comment

by Chris Wendel

Many of us watched is disbelief this week at the surreal scene in Knoxville with Lane Kiffin making the quick exit to LA to replace Pete Carroll at USC. Kiffin’s career path has a Forrest Gump bent to it, parlaying a dismal stay with the Oakland Raiders and a mediocre one season record of 7-6 into a the head coaching spot with USC.

Hidden in the hijinx that ensued with Kiffin this week was the University of Michigan’s announcement that John Beilein signed a long-term contract as the school’s basketball coach. While Kiffin’s departure from Tennessee was ridiculed, some might say that it is no different from Beilein’s job changing pattern.

I bring up Beilein because of his Buffalo area roots. Born and raised in Niagara County’s orchard country (Burt to be exact), Beilein has the distinction of progressing from high school coach to head coach in the Big Ten Conference without ever being an assistant coach.

There is a marked difference between Beilein and Kiffin, however. Since Beilein began coaching in 1976 at Newfane (N.Y.) H.S.), his average stay at one position is about five years, and it would be fair to say that every school he left had a basketball program that was in better shape then when he arrived.

Kiffin’s one-and-done season at Tennessee could be justified by his narrow window of opportunity to accept his “dream job” at USC, but he has to realize how making that choice radically changes how the press and public view his coaching loyalty. The disarray left in Knoxville and the Vol’s inability to secure Kiffin’s replacement is rivaled only by the Buffalo Bills’ ongoing coaching search.

Somehow I felt that Beilein’s acceptance of a new contract means that he’s in Ann Arbor for the long-term. Time will tell if Michigan made the right choice with Beilein, my hunch is that they did.