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2012: The Year in Sports

Is this in the Buffalo Bills' future? Who knows, but credit Nick Stracick and George Hasiotis of Greater Buffalo Sports and Entertainment Complex for jump-starting the conversation.

It’s that time of year again… time to look back on the past 12 months and pick out our favorite sports stories from the headlines.

Is the Buffalo cursed when it comes to its sports teams? One would think so. The Buffalo Bills just wrapped up another disappointing year and the curtain has come down on the Chan Gailey era. Remember the Sabres? So far off the radar screen now with no end in sight to the lockout, but their season ended in April just short of a playoff berth. Missing in the luster of the AAA All Star Game at Coca Cola Field was the collapse of the Buffalo Bisons, where the loss of key players took its eventual toll, and the team sent the parent Mets packing after four bleak seasons. Indoor lacrosse, anyone? In 2012 coach Darris Kilgour and his Buffalo Bandits could not have humiliated themselves any more if they tried.

Nonetheless, hope springs eternal, and better days are ahead for sure. As we begin our 10th season here at the AV sports desk, we wish all our readers a very happy new wear, and hope to see you at the ballpark come April 3 and (fingers crossed) at First Niagara Center when the puck drops once again.

Fireman Ed Packs It In

He was the loutish guy dressed up in green and white Jets gear in the end zone at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, exhorting his fellow fans with that signature “J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets” chant. Ed Anzalone, better known as “Fireman Ed”, announced to the public via a weekly publication in the tri-state area that he was hanging it up and no longer would lead the famous cheer.

What was the reasoning behind this announcement? Seems Ed was taking a lot of abuse from fellow fans for his unwavering support of embattled quarterback Mark Sanchez, which just got worse when the Fireman began showing up at games wearing a Sanchez jersey. In his comments, Anzalone wrote, “Listen, I went through the Rich Kotite era—we were 4-28 in that era. Any Jets fan knows this isn’t the worst of times; it isn’t close. It’s been about the nastiness. I just think society in general—you’re out in your car there’s no respect at all. I don’t want to put up with that from people taking it out on me anymore.”

Society’s response? For the most part the message was “good riddance”—many negative blog posts, columns, and tweets. Apparently, Fireman Ed’s act had worn thin with the masses, and while the famous chant is still intact, Anzalone now attends Jets games incognito.

A New Stadium For Buffalo?

Back in October negotiations for a new Bills lease were seemingly stuck in neutral, and talk of $220 million and up for infrastructure improvements to the aging Ralph Wilson Stadium was being thrown around. Then out of the blue came an exciting new proposal. A company called the Greater Buffalo Sports and Entertainment Complex unveiled their plans for a waterfront stadium project, which they projected would cost $1.4 billion to make a reality.

The principals, Nicholas Stracick and George Hasiotis, went way farther than just putting forth an idea. They invested significant time, finances, and resources, bringing on respected architect HKS Sports to design a dramatic facility with a retractable roof, to be built on the Outer Harbor. The new stadium would serve as a multi-use, year-round venue, with a similar business model to that of the hugely successful Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis.

The plan received praise and acclaim from some segments of the community and derision from others, mostly for the proposed location and lack of suitable public infrastructure in place.

With a memorandum of understanding on a new lease between the Bills and Erie County signed for another 10 years at the current location, almost all elected officials and civic leaders chimed in with the same refrain: new stadium. By bringing the much-needed public discussion and debate to the forefront, Stracick and Hasiotis did this community a great service. And the time and energy they put forth with their bold concepts, with a blueprint and drawings in place, may prove invaluable in the long run to keeping the Bills in Buffalo.

Celebrating Baseball in a House Where MLB Never Came

Has it really been 25 years?

That was the thought expressed by many as the AAA All Star Game, a concept which had its humble beginning right here in Buffalo back in 1988, returned in celebration of the event’s 25th anniversary.

And what an event it was, now expanded to a three-day extravaganza with a separate skills event and then a game, combined with VIP celebrations and an All Star luncheon. The host Buffalo Bisons were more than up to the task of showcasing to the nation and to the baseball community that our city is still the marker for all of minor league baseball.

Few remember that the PCL All Stars beat the IL All Stars 3-0. Or that Bisons ace Matt Harvey pitched two scoreless innings. What is most remembered is that 18,025 fans packed the place, a crowd that was typical on most weekends back in the 1990s, when Buffalo was roaring to the front of the pack in the competition to land a coveted Major League expansion team.

Next year the 26th All Star Game shifts to Reno, Nevada. After the way the Bisons and the City of Buffalo pulled together such a great extravaganza, this will be a hard act to follow.

Three Perfectos

In 135 years of Major League Baseball, only 20 times had there been a perfect game. Better than a no-hitter, this is an accomplishment where a pitcher retires 27 straight batters without allowing anyone on base.

Incredibly, this past season three such games were recorded, two of them played at Seattle’s Safeco Field. On April 21, Chicago’s Philip Humber did it against the Seattle Mariners. Two months later, Matt Cain thrilled the hometown Giants fans at AT&T Park. Finally in August, the Seattle Mariners got their own perfect game at Safeco against the Tampa Bay Rays.

When did the pendulum in the game swing toward pitching? Most argue that the end of illegal steroid use put a crimp in hitting, especially the long ball. Pitching is just that much better, with a rising crop of aces entering the game. Finally, with longer postseason play and more teams, there are more games played, and that increases the statistical opportunity for more such occurrences.

Throw in Johan Santana’s first no-hitter in New York Mets history, and it was a memorable year for pitching greatness.

Notre Dame's Magical Season

The luck o’ the Irish fittingly began on Labor Day weekend in Dublin, Ireland, where the Notre Dame football team demolished Navy 50-10. Then there were the nail-biters…the 20-17 victory over Purdue that following week, and those tense moments against Pittsburgh, Stanford, and Brigham Young. All wins.

But what stood out most in Notre Dame’s magical season was the final game. The goal line stand in the rain at the Coliseum in Los Angeles against the USC Trojans. Thanks to penalties and do-overs, the Trojans were given six opportunities to punch in a late touchdown and make a contest of it. Their net gain? Three yards. Notre Dame’s incredible defense did it again, preserving a 22-13 win at USC and cementing a perfect 12-0 record.

Can the Fighting Irish persevere one more time and win a national title? Standing in the way will be the Alabama Crimson Tide, who have their own date with destiny as they try to earn dynasty status. More than a few Western New Yorkers will be watching.

Replacement Refs Blow It

One referee was signaling touchdown. The other an interception. On the last play of a Monday Night Football game between the Green Bay Packers and the Seattle Seahawks in late September, the Packers were essentially robbed of a win when the referees incorrectly ruled that a jump ball simultaneously caught by the receiver and defender was a touchdown.

What the referees overlooked during video review is that the receiver pushed the defender away and should have been clipped for pass interference, a call that would have ended the game.

Two days later, the NFL gave its weak reply to the entire situation, supporting the on-field referees’ decision not to overturn the ruling made on the field. The statement concluded with these words: “The result of the game is final.”

By the following weekend, the labor dispute with the real officials had been settled. The replacement refs were no more.

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