Saturday, June 28, 2008

No love here for Boston's titletown spoils

by Tim Wendel

Put me down as another guy who’s had it up to here with Boston teams winning championship after championship. That’s saying something for a kid who grew up a Red Sox fan. That happened because when they assigned teams decades ago in the Gasport (N.Y.) Little League, my squad was the Red Sox. Gosh, we suffered as much as the big leaguers once did, going winless one season and never making the playoffs in those often interminable games hard by Route 31.

But such anguish, at least on the baseball front, was vanquished in recent years. Boston, of course, has become a beggars banquet of victory with the recent successes of the Red Sox, Patriots and Celtics. Meanwhile, Buffalo remains at the horse latitudes in terms of championships won. Adrift at sea since the Bills last won in 1965. No, I don’t count trophies by the Buffalo Bandits.

Sports Illustrated called the recent Celtics-Lakers Final the series America had been waiting for. Don’t sign me up for that rodeo, though. Sure, I appreciated Larry Bird as much as the next guy, even though I cheered for Magic Johnson the last time those two teams went around the Finals block.

You see, I’m like many Braves fans. When I see that Celtic green, I flash back to Jo Jo White, Don Nelson, Tom Heinsohn and all those other guys who broke our hearts time after time in the mid-1970s. Enough is enough.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Russert best represented Buffalo

by Tim Wendel

Those of us who root for all things Buffalo lost one of our own with the passing of Tim Russert. I watched ESPN’s tribute to Russert and seeing him hold up Buffalo jersey after Buffalo jersey once again brought a smile to my face. Here was a guy who watched games at the old Rockpile as a kid, who knew the importance of cheering for the hometown teams – no matter what.

Even though Russert lived in Washington, D.C., where I’ve called home for almost 20 years, I didn’t really know him. But since XM Radio got off the ground, I’ve gotten to know his son, Luke. I’ve been a guest on “60/20,” the sports show Luke co-hosts with James Carville, and the son is a chip off the old block. An appreciation for all the Buffalo franchises has been handed down from father to son.

Since my brother, Chris, and I started this blog and word of BUFFALO, HOME OF THE BRAVES got out, we’ve heard from people from all over the country. The thing we all share is this affinity and appreciation for Buffalo sports – the Braves, the Sabres, the Bills.

Just before the Iowa caucuses last year, longtime political columnist Roger Simon was standing in the lobby of the Des Moines Marriott hotel, waiting for a cab that was never going to arrive. As time ticked down, Tim Russert came up, put a hand on Simon’s shoulder and said, “Hey, I’ve got a car. I’ll drive you.”

In a column Simon did for Politico this week, he explained that Russert “was not a creature of Washington. He was a kid from Buffalo, and it showed. People in Buffalo treat each other like neighbors, and that’s the way Tim treated people.”

Despite the economic hardship and tough times of recent decades, Buffalo fans still treat others like neighbors. We may have lost our proudest fan this week, but his passion and zest for life remain as an example for all of us.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Complaints about refs go way back

How much can a referee influence the course of events? Of course, that’s a big question being debated these days. Any Braves fan knows that how a game is called can have a lasting impact.

In Buffalo Home of the Braves, we detail the deciding Game 6 of the 1974 playoff series between the Braves and the Boston Celtics. With time running out, the score tied, Braves star Bob McAdoo was called for fouling Boston guard Jo Jo White.

To this day, McAdoo believes that it was a cheap call. So does former team owner Paul Snyder. So does Van Miller, the Braves’ play-by-play man. (In fact, hours after that game, Miller told Bill Mazur, his friend and fellow WNY announcing legend, as much.) But what Braves coach Jack Ramsay will always remember about the way officials Darrell Garretson, Mendy Rudolph and Manny Sokol conducted themselves that evening at the Aud was that they should have put a second or two back on the game clock. Of course, this was well before the days of checking the courtside monitor.

Even with one second left, the Braves could have taken the ball at mid-court and tried for a desperation play at the buzzer. “That’s what I wanted,” Ramsay told me years later.

“Just one chance. With the way, Mac was shooting the ball.”

The Celtics went on to win the NBA championship that season. The Braves would never really get close again.