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2008: The Year in Sports

Highlights of the Year that Was

The NHL Winter Classic

Hard to believe it, but we are completing our fifth year covering the sports desk here at Artvoice. So during this holiday season, we want to send props to our editors and staff at Artvoice for their unwavering support, our fellow bloggers at the WNY Media family, the terrific media relations folks at the Buffalo Bisons and Buffalo Sabres, and to our fellow sports journalists here in Buffalo and all over. Most of all, we want to thank you, our readers, and wish everyone the merriest of Christmases and a Happy New Year.

Each year we pick out some of the best sports moments and sports memories in an end-of-year recap. 2008 was special and memorable, not only here in Buffalo, but wherever the drama of sports unfolds. Here are some of our favorites:


Any recap of the year that was has to begin on New Year’s Day at Ralph Wilson Stadium, with an event that Buffalo sports fans will remember for the rest of their lives. 71,217 patrons, an NHL record, turned out that day to witness history—only the second NHL game to ever be played outdoors. It was as festive and electric a scene as anyone could ever hope to see. Fans tailgating like Buffalonians do best. The grills, the booze, pickup street hockey games between the rows of cars. The stadium bedecked in Sabres blue and gold. The eyes of two nations focused on Buffalo as the game was beamed live across the USA and Canada.

Even Sidney Crosby’s shootout winner for the Pittsburgh Penguins couldn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the crowd; we had all taken part in something truly special and we knew it.


No, it wasn’t as big as a Super Bowl trophy for the Buffalo Bills. Nor was it the Buffalo Sabres hoisting the Stanley Cup on HSBC Arena ice. But for the National Lacrosse League Buffalo Bandits, their fourth ever indoor lacrosse championship, and their first won at HSBC Arena, was especially sweet.

The team won home field advantage in the postseason, thanks to a complex tie-breaking formula involving four teams, then dispatched the Philadelphia Wings and New York Titans in the playoffs to advance to the championship game.

Standing in the way were the upstart Portland Lumberjax, who on paper were the clear underdog but gave the Bandits plenty of fits throughout the contest. A last minute Portland goal brought it to within one and had Buffalo desperately clinging for dear life in the closing seconds. With a flurry around the Bandits net, the final horn sounded, and Buffalo had won the game, and the championship, 15-14.

In the jubilant celebration which followed, someone might have asked co-captain Rich Kilgour if he was going to Disneyland. His reply? Mimicking the signature chant in Banditland, Kilgour shouted, “B-A-R! B-A-R! To the bar! To the bar! To the bar, to the bar, to the bar!”


In this magical year full of comeback wins, dramatic overtime finishes, and the MAC Championship trophy won earlier this month at Ford Field in Detroit, the one play that epitomized the UB Bulls football season took place on September 13 at UB Stadium.

The opponents that afternoon were the Temple Owls, and the Bulls were still feeling their way through the young season.

In that game the lead changed hands three times in the final two and a half minutes. Temple then went ahead with 38 ticks left on the clock, giving the UB Bulls one last shot. It would be a beauty.

On the final play of the game quarterback Drew Willy sent all his wideouts deep. His heave-ho Hail Mary pass found Naaman Roosevelt in the end zone, and just like that UB had a miracle comeback finish.

Many of the 18,333 in attendance poured onto the field in celebration, a scene that was replayed on ESPN again and again throughout the week. Little did we all know then that many more electric moments would follow in this amazing season.


The Memorial Cup is a round-robin tournament to crown the best team in junior hockey in Canada, and this past year the event took place at the Kitchener Aud in Kitchener, Ontario.

The final game on May 25 was a matchup between the host city team Kitchener Rangers and the WHL champion Spokane Chiefs. On this day, it was all Spokane, defeating Kitchener 4-1 on their home ice and claiming the Memorial Cup.

What happened next could easily make it onto any blooper video: League officials brought the cup out and presented it to team captain Chris Bruton. As Bruton was about to hand the trophy over to teammate Trevor Glass, it fell to the ice and smashed into two pieces. A gasp went through the crowd, all the players looked horrified.

Undaunted, the players picked up the halves of the trophy and resumed their victory lap, skating around with the parts of their coveted prize, and savoring every bit of their accomplishment.


Who says that the baseball playoffs aren’t compelling unless the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox are involved?

This year’s Fall Classic ended up with the most unlikely of matchups: the Tampa Bay friggin’ Rays, perennial doormats since they began play in the 1990s, and the Philadelphia Phillies, whose lone world championship happened a generation ago in the Mike Schmidt era.

This series would end in bizarre circumstances: With the Phillies leading three games to one, the fifth game in Philadelphia had to be suspended due to brutal game conditions. The game was resumed the next day, and fans packed Citizens Bank Park to watch their team’s date with destiny. It didn’t take long. Tampa’s Rocco Baldelli tied the game at three with a solo shot in the top of the seventh, but Pedro Feliz’s RBI single in the bottom of that frame gave the Phillies a 4-3 lead. Brad Lidge would close it out in the ninth, and it was party time in the City of Brotherly Love.


Yes, all of us around here were wringing our hands in consternation. Our beloved Buffalo Bills, falling way behind in the revenue-raising and premium-seat-selling derby, laid it all out in a news conference in Toronto in February. The Bills would be playing eight games over the next five seasons in Toronto’s Rogers Centre, as a way to tap into the lucrative and seemingly wealthier Canadian market.

Toronto billionaire and communications magnate Ted Rogers predicted huge popularity and demand for the Bills and the NFL in Toronto. When asked how many cheaper-priced tickets would be available for purchase, Rogers held up his fingers and said “Two,” prompting guffaws from his staffers and the media.

The Rogers people found out the hard way that even Torontonians weren’t about to pay ridiculous prices to see the Bills. For both games in 2008, freebies and huge discounts were quietly meted out to insure a bogus “sellout.” The games in Toronto failed to come close to the excitement and pageantry of a day at the Ralph, prompting many to question the future of this experiment.

Sadly, Rogers did not get to witness the first NFL regular season game played on Canadian soil. He passed away just five days before the Bills/Dolphins game. We can only surmise that the line at his wake stretched all the way to Queen Street.

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