It Was the Year That Was
by Andrew Kulyk & Peter Farrell
The year 2006 was another exciting one in the world of sports, both on the local and national stages. Here in Buffalo, the dominant story was certainly the Buffalo Sabres, who captivated the entire community with their playoff run. The story continues…the team unveiled its new logo amidst some controversy; Sabres season ticket sales smashed all expectations and the season is sold out; the hot start and top seed in the conference has fans dreaming of a team that will at long last bring the Stanley Cup to Buffalo in 2007.
As we wrap up yet another year of sports coverage for Artvoice, we’ve picked out a few sports highlights to share with you as we look back on 2006. We want to thank you, our readers, for your support and extend our wishes for a wonderful holiday season.
Circle April 5 on your calendar for one awesome downtown doubleheader. The Bisons play ball for the home opener at 3pm at Dunn Tire Park. Later that evening, the Sabres close out their home schedule at HSBC Arena against the Boston Bruins, and the playoffs start a few days later.
We’ll be there…along with Taro.
THE JOE MESI CIRCUS GOES ON…AND ON…AND ON…
After sustaining a brain bleed in August 2004 at the hands of Vassiliy Jirov, “Baby Joe” Mesi should have hung it up for good. Undaunted, he appealed to the Nevada Boxing Commission for reinstatement, but was initially rebuffed.
With sanctioning approved in Puerto Rico, Mesi resumed his boxing career in 2006, and on June 23 was set to fight a journeyman named Daniel Frank in Montreal. But at the last moment, Frank bowed out under mysterious circumstances. Some said that Frank was too dangerous an opponent for a still rusty Mesi; the official line was that Frank had encountered unspecified “visa problems.”
At this point the fight should have just been cancelled, but that was not in the cards. Setting the bar yet another notch higher in the ridiculous category, the Mesi camp and the promoters scared up a substitute tomato can named Stephane Tessier. Perhaps Apollo Creed or Rowdy Roddy Piper were busy that night. Not surprisingly, Mesi easily won a six-round decision, improving his record to 31-0.
FIX THE LOGO!
Okay, we’re not rehashing the Sabres logo controversy—been there and done that. We’re talking about the ABA Buffalo Silverbacks logo. After the close of the Buffalo Rapids’ first season, the team changed its nickname to the Silverbacks and adopted a logo of a red gorilla. (A silverback is the head male in a tribe of gorillas.) Apparently some city officials and community leaders had a problem with a predominantly African-American team with a gorilla as its logo, even though the idea came from Modie Cox, a Silverbacks player who is African American. After some initial rebuffing by the Silverbacks, the team eventually changed the logo to a hyena/panther with a silver back to it. Political correctness gone haywire.
Incredibly, this team has survived despite the chaos of its first season, and is making a go of it at under the helm of new head coach Trevor Ruffin. Their home games are at the Buffalo State Sports Arena.
It’s entertaining basketball. They deserve a better fate.
CAMPBELL’S SOUP: CREAMED
Game One of the 2006 Stanley Cup playoffs, and for Buffalo fans, the long playoff drought was finally over. After a three-season absence and then the lockout, we were so happy just to be there, and standing in the way was the Sabres’ long-time nemesis, the Philadelphia Flyers.
Would the Sabres hold their own against the bruising Flyers? Would our guys be content to just be in the playoffs, or would a statement be made?
That question was answered at 11:28 in the first overtime, when Sabres defenseman Brian Campbell laid out Philadelphia’s R.J. Umberger. The hit was a clean one, and Umberger laid prostrate on the ice for several minutes before being helped off. Predictably, Umberger’s Flyer teammates ignited a brawl in the corner, but it was a little late for that.
Buffalo went on to win that first game 3-2 in the second overtime, sending Buffalo fans pouring into the streets in jubilation.
Campbell’s powerful hit in that first game set the stage for what became one of the most exciting playoff runs in the franchise’s history.
THE BISONS LOSE THEIR SECRET WEAPON
Mention the name John Farrell and you’ll probably elicit a blank stare from most Buffalo sports fans: “Who?”
The 44-year-old Farrell has served as director of player development for the Bisons’ parent Cleveland Indians for the past several years. On October 17, he was named pitching coach for the Boston Red Sox, where he will join his friend and mentor, Manager Terry Francona.
Under Farrell’s stewardship, all that Cleveland’s minor league farm teams have done is win. And win. And win. Championships at A Mahoning Valley, A Kinston, AA Akron, numerous playoff appearances and a 2004 Governor’s Cup here in Buffalo. Cleveland’s minor league system was named Organization of the Year by USA Today in 2003 and 2004, and was cited by Baseball America in 2004 for having baseball’s best farm system.
Farrell always believed that the minor leagues are about much more than just developing talent. “We’re here to teach players to win, because guys who win championships at the lower levels take that experience into the big league clubhouse,” Farrell once said. Those words rang true in 2005 when the Indians made an amazing run and almost clinched a division pennant, with a ragtag squad consisting almost entirely of former Bisons.
The Bisons’ continuous success this past decade and more has John Farrell’s imprint all over it. His ability to find talent to fit his teams’ needs is uncanny. He will be missed.
THE ODD COUPLE…ERR…...
The Bills franchise was in shambles. Ralph Wilson had just announced that Tom Donahoe was out as Bills president, and a few days later Head Coach Mike Mularkey decided to call it quits. After a disastrous 5-11 season, Wilson turned to an old friend to save the day.
Marv Levy, Hall of Fame coach and Buffalo Bills icon, was introduced to the public and the media as the team’s new general manager on January 5. “I’m an 80-year-old rookie and looking forward to it with unbounded enthusiasm, not just to get back into the mainstream of the football world, but to do it with the Buffalo Bills, for whom I have such longtime affection,” said Levy.
With an 87-year-old owner and and 80-year-old GM, more than a few snickers could be heard around the league. In true Levy form, Marv was never at a loss to come up with just the right quote. “The age factor means nothing to me,” Levy said. “I’m old enough to know my limitations and I’m young enough to exceed them.”
TEAM OF THE YEAR!
A long-suffering city with a much-beloved team that’s been down in the dumps for years suddenly goes bonkers, as their team has a far better than expected season and takes their fans for an unforgettable, mesmerizing ride that falls just short of the coveted prize.
But enough about the Buffalo Sabres, we’re talking Detroit Tigers, baby! Three years ago these guys were in the midst of setting the single season record for most losses by an American League team, and by 2006 expectations weren’t much better. But a fast start propelled them to the top of the division on their way to their first postseason bid in nearly 20 years. Any unbiased sports fan had to have the chills seeing the Tigers win the pennant in game four, on a walkoff homerun by Magglio Ordonez in a delirious Comerica Park. And who can forget the celebration after their series win over the hated Yankees, as the players brought the champagne out of the locker room and doused any fans within reach of the spray. Even the local police on hand to maintain a semblance of order joined in on the fun. It was an electric moment that Yankee Stadium will never experience, no matter how many pennants they win.
(As a footnote—Taro was in Detroit for the Red Wings/Sabres game that weekend and boy was he ticked. He had tickets for ALCS game five.)
Issue Navigation> Issue Index > v5n51: Bye-Bye Skyway (12/21/06) > It Was the Year That Was
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