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The Year in Sports
by Andrew Kulyk & Peter Farrell
Memorable moments in and out of the stands
Trying to mine unique and interesting stories from 2010 was a challenge. It was same-old same-old from One Bills Drive and from the Buffalo Sabres. Our local college football and basketball programs failed to captivate. Nonetheless, we still managed to come up with our list of favorites to share with you.
We extend our wishes for the best of the Holidays to our friends, associates, fellow members of the media corps, and to you, our readers. We are always awed and humbled that people find the stuff we write relevant and worth reading. See you at HSBC Arena and Coca-Cola Field in 2011!
Vuvuzelas and rejoicing at the World Cup
Once a fringe sport on these shores, the FIFA World Cup of Soccer is now very mainstream, and this year in the host country of South Africa, it was Team USA desperately trying to make it to the knockout round of 16 teams. Standing in the way was Algeria, with USA needing a win to advance.
The two teams went back and forth, one USA goal was wiped out on an offsides, and at the end of 90 minutes the two teams remained scoreless.
On to extra time, and it didn’t take long. Just 47 seconds in, Landon Donovan kicked in a rebound for Team USA in what turned out to be the only goal of the game, setting off cheers and jubilation across the American continent. “I had no idea we would ignite this sort of reaction,” said Donovan, after a compilation video of scenes of celebrations went viral across the internet.
For the underdog American squad, there would be no World Cup glory, as the team once again succumbed to Team Ghana, their nemesis from four years ago, in the round of 16. But with more and more people enjoying the sport of soccer here in the US, and English Premier League scores now a ubiquitous part of the sports ticker on most cable sports networks, look for yet new viewership records to be broken come 2014 when the next games are held.
Strasburg throws heat at Coca-Cola Field
It was all hands on deck on June 3 at Coca-Cola Field, as fans filled the ballpark for a Thursday matinee to see the Buffalo Bisons take on the Syracuse Chiefs, the minor league affiliate of the Washington Nationals.
So what was the big deal? Nationals pitching prospect and phenom Stephen Strasburg was in town, set to make his last start in a minor league uniform before his promotion to the Bigs.
The buzz set off a firestorm of demand for tickets, for accommodations in the pressbox, for interviews, for souvenirs, for a chance to witness part of history. Despite being a day game on a workday, the game still attracted a paid attendance of almost 15,000, giving Coca Cola Field that major league feel. Media representatives from national outlets and from Washington DC were on hand to cover the event. The camera bays were full.
Strasburg did not disappoint. Fans gasped and oohed and aahed as the radar gun stats continually popped on the screen: “97MPH…100MPH…99MPH…100MPH.” The event totally lived up to its billing and hype. Strasburg pitched five shutout innings, the Chiefs cruised to a 7-1 win, and, following the game, almost 40 media members and dozens of cameras crowded into a seldom-used postgame press room in the bowels of the ballpark.
Despite Strasburg’s nearly flawless work, he said he needed to get better. “I’m still settling down, thinking about the mistakes I made and how I can improve on them,” Strasburg said. “I haven’t started looking forward to the next start yet…I’ve learned a lot and I’m excited to start learning in the big leagues.”
Epic heartbreak for the Buffalo Bandits
Everyone expected great things from Darris Kilgour’s bunch going into the 2010 season. Team star Mark Steenhuis was given a new contract, a number of young players with great promise were added to the squad, and it looked like all systems go as the season began.
It turned out to be anything but. John Tavares, the “ageless wonder,” went down to injury, his scoring touch was not replaced, and the team dug itself a 0-4 hole early on. Coach Kilgour’s frustration with his team’s lack of passion bubbled to the breaking point.
Then the team started winning, and clawing its way up the standings. Forward Billy Dee Smith boldly predicted, as the Bandits stood at 2-6 at the halfway point, “We can run the table and wind up 10-6. That’s how things go in this league sometimes.”
The Bandits ended up 8-8. A brutal late season overtime loss to the bottom dwelling Colorado Mammoth at home was especially humiliating, but the Bandits still managed to make the playoffs, and a visit to the Air Canada Centre to take on their arch rivals, the Toronto Rock.
Buffalo had taken two of three games against Toronto in the regular season, so they entered that playoff game on May 1 with a sense of brimming confidence. Early on in the game it was all Bandits. Mike Accursi was leading the charge (he ended up with six goals on the night) and the Bandits were up 6-0 in the second quarter.
But then Toronto came storming back. They made a goaltending change, they made adjustments. They recaptured the momentum. By the fourth quarter they took a 12-11 lead, added one goal late, and just like that, a dreary and depressing Buffalo Bandits season was over.
Toronto Rock owner Jamie Dawick was working the stands and concourses, celebrating and high-fiving fans as they left the building. “As far as I’m concerned, this is our Super Bowl,” said a beaming Dawick. Who could argue?
Buffalo hosts the NCAA…and some controversy from Mizzou
The 2010 NCAA sub regionals here in Buffalo will probably be best remembered for the lack of signature moments. No dramatic buzzer-beaters. Or overtimes. Syracuse came to town, the city was bedecked in Orange, and their team marched on to the Sweet 16.
So the story within the story became this: A rogue journalist named Alex Ruppenthal, writing for a publication named The Missourian, rolled out a column during the tournament titled “Ten Things You Didn’t Know About Buffalo.”
It was the same trite garbage that Buffalonians had heard many times before. One quote: “Buffalo is so used to snow that mayors from mid-Atlantic cities called Buffalo mayor Byron Brown this February looking for advice on how to clear snow. The city averages more than 100 inches of snow per year. The famous Blizzard of ’77 made snowmobiles the only method of getting around in some areas, and 11 Buffalonians died as a result of the blizzard.” Or try this one: “Buffalo does have Miss Buffalo Wing…She’s crowned each Labor Day weekend at the National Buffalo Wing Festival. Miss Buffalo Wing wins a paid trip to participate in the Miss New York pageant. Wonder if they give an award to the sauciest contestant.”
The snarky piece attracted a firestorm of protest from Buffalo Nation, so much so that executive editor Tom Warhover released this retraction: “Many readers have condemned the article, and for good reason: It takes cheap shots at the city and people of Buffalo, NY. Regardless of its intent, the article was in poor taste and came across as more mean-spirited than humorous. I apologize to readers, regardless of whether they took offense.”
And in the second round of NCAA play at HSBC Arena, the Missouri Tigers fell to West Virginia, Mizzou’s season ending in disappointment right here on Buffalo’s court. Poetic justice.
What in the Sam Hoyt is going on!
The World Juniors hockey tournament is coming to Buffalo, and the entire community, from the host Buffalo Sabres, to the Convention and Visitors Bureau, to the Peace Bridge Authority, to local hotels, restaurants and businesses, and the City of Buffalo, are in full preparation mode, set to welcome tens of thousands of visitors to what should be a memorable event and a huge economic shot in the arm for our area.
Yet that didn’t stop local Assemblyman Sam Hoyt from chiming in, with an incredibly ill-timed and misguided press release just two weeks before the tournament was set to drop the puck. In part, it read, “Because there has been no marketing of the incredible entertainment and cultural opportunities that exist in our region, those venues will not likely reap the economic benefit of the all of our guests visiting them, thus losing out on great economic benefit to their organization at a time when they desperately need money. Second, these tens of thousands of international visitors could potentially be life time ambassadors to our region helping dispel our negative image as a dying rust belt city. Instead, if we do not act quickly, they are likely to enjoy some good hockey but leave unaware of all that is great about our region. Rather than telling the world about what a wonderful place Bflo/Niagara is, they will likely simply reinforce the stereotype that we unfortunately currently live with.”
Come again, Sam?
Behind the flap lies this motivation by Hoyt: The host Sabres are owned by Tom Golisano. In 2008, Golisano and his Responsible New York PAC poured huge dollars into a campaign to unseat Hoyt, executing a campaign which was light on issues and heavy on meanspirited personal attacks. Golisano’s efforts fell short, but it all came at a huge cost to Hoyt in both campaign expenses and damage to his personal reputation.
Needless to say, Hoyt’s retort was baseless. The event should be an awesome success. But don’t expect to find Hoyt anywhere in the stands during the tournament. He’ll be busy at home, munching on his sour grapes.blog comments powered by Disqus
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