Archive for the 'Buffalonian' Category

Series Score, 2-2 WOOOOOOOOOOOO!

I freaking love this. I love the Sabres. I love going to these games. I love being so effing nervous that I forget to breath.  I love the feeling of my body trying to relax and recover from the stress of the game during the intermission.  I love the fact that I’m still buzzed with adrenaline an hour after the game ends. I love it when Lindy is proud in the postgame interview. I love it when Nathan Gerbe is a honey badger. I love it when Mike Grier gets a scoring chance. I love it when Goose puts his head down and pumps his arms and skates as fast as he can. I love it when Tyler Myers knocks Briere over, repeatedly. I love it when Sabretooth has his little drum. I love the little “ding ding” sound that the ticket readers make as they scan the tickets. I love trying to decide which outfits are lucky. I love watching the players lean against the bench during the tv timeouts. I love that I have such a great view of Ryan Miller’s saves from my seats. I love whooping with victory on the escalators on the way out. I love my usher. I love listening to the postgame in the car on the way home (when they win, ONLY when they win). I love having a pom-pom. I love watching the out of town scoreboard. I love watching them fist-bump Sabretooth at the end of a game. I love how Niedermayer really IS better in the playoffs. I love the responsiveness of the crowd. I love how “Let’s go Buff-a-lo” twirls around the arena. I love that all around me I can hear people saying, “I can’t handle this stress,” when really, they can. I love drinking beers faster than I ordinarily would, because I’m nervous. I love watching the other half of the arena leap to their feet a split second sooner than us when the Sabres score on that end. I love how I manage to look from the ice to the clock, from the ice to the clock, a hundred times in those last 5 seconds. I love it when Ryan Miller is the hero. I love being with Buffalonians, all of us cheering for the same thing.

I love this.

6 Things

1. You may have noticed that I’ve changed my blogging philosophy this season.  After years of working under the mission statement of, “Writing everyday is a practice that is both enjoyable and healthy,” I’ve recently discovered the joys of, “Eff it.  The Sabres blow and life is too short.  Poor me another glass of boxed wine please.”  (Sidenote: Did you know that boxed wine has evolved significantly since the days of keeping Franzia in your fridge in college?  I can report that Sabres games are a LOT less annoying to watch when you stop counting your wine consumption in “bottles” and start counting it in “boxes”.)

2. I just spent about twenty minutes writing a detailed list of all the ways in which the World Junior Championship and Buffalo’s response to it are on my nerves, but I’m currently experiencing some doubt about whether I want to go full-blown crankypants about this issue.

I’ll just say this:  I have realized that if I want to have any hope of making it through this tournament with my sunny disposition intact, it is my own responsibility to stop looking at Twitter.  If I stop reading Twitter, the WJC will revert back to something I never ever think about, and then I might have the opportunity to attend some games with an open mind.  As of right now, I’m so turned off by the tone of the conversation around town that I’m resisting the urge to hate the World Juniors just on principle.

I like liking things, and I dislike being all grouchy and annoyed.  So, no Twitter it is.

World Juniors, I’ll see you on January 2nd.  I’ll try to have a better attitude about you by then.

3. I hosted Christmas this year, which was really a lot of fun, but after weeks missing games because of work or house related chores, by the time the Sabres/Calgary game came along on the 26th, I was pretty adamant that I wanted to watch it.   The original plan was to herd the whole family out to a bar, but my regular haunts were zany that night (Left Bank was closed.  CLOSED!), and so we wound up back at my house. This is how my entire family of non-Buffalonians, non-hockey fans wound up gathered around my television to watch the Calgary game.

Sadly, the game was boring and the lose-iness was palpable, but at least I got a good laugh from my family at the end when I quipped, “And that’s the sport and the team that changed my life forever! What a wonderful holiday treat that was for you!”

4. I’ll write more about this later, but it sure feels like this season is basically over for the Sabres.  Roy-Z is out for the year, and Crunchy is in some sort of “I just got engaged to a mega-hot starlet and I refuse to be cranky about anything, including the fact that my team blows” haze, and it feels like the entire organization is just waiting for Pegula to take over so they can see which lifetime-contracts will be honored and which ones will go up in smoke.

I’ve never experienced a season like this as a fan.  During the other non-playoff years the Sabres were in the playoff hunt until the last week of the season, so this dead-in-the-water sensation is something new.  What I’m learning is that the it’s perfectly possible to allow the Sabres to fade into the background of your life, and still enjoy a rich, satisfying existence.  I know!  It’s actually a very lovely life lesson.

I’m not at all in the mood to hate the Sabres these days, so, I won’t.

5. I’ve written a little in the past about how I love Sidney Crosby mostly because everyone else hates him.  (I think it’s hilarious how almost every hockey fan criticizes Sid for being boring and whining….while uniformly whining en masse about Sid.)  Sid is really cementing his place in my heart right now because not only is he infuriating his strongest detractors with his scoring streak, but he’s doing so with the ugliest mustache in the history of mustaches.  Delightful.

6. If you want an example of stellar, non-redonk coverage of the WJC, I highly suggest you keep a close eye on Andrew Kulyk over at Artvoice.  This piece about Kassian and Etem is a great read.

State of the Onion

I was originally going to write a post about the Sabres, inspired by the Bills, titled “State of the Union”.

The post was probably going to be totally lame because the plan was to talk about how my relationship with the Sabres feels different this season and blah blah blah whine whine blah blah blah shut up Katebits blah blah.  It was all planned out.

But then, I sat down to write this emo post, and when I was writing the title, I accidentally wrote “State of the Onion” instead of “State of the Union,” which made me giggle.  Then, figuring that the Blogging Gods had intervened in order to prevent me from writing a lame emo post, I realized that maybe I have the strength to forge ahead as a Buffalo sports fan after all.

So, I guess that’s the state of the union.  I’m listing towards mopey-ness, but I’m easily distracted by other, happier things.  Like funny typos about onions.

(When is Festivus, by the way?  I think we might all benefit from some organized, “airing of the grievances”.)

Onward

After a lifetime of indifference to basketball, I’ve spent the last 24 hours rather obsessed with the curious case of the Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James.  As a result of that drama, I’ve been either over-empathizing with Cleveland, or shamefully reveling in the opportunity to witness something so grim from a relatively safe distance.

I’ll probably write more about this topic in the future, but some days you just have to brush yourself off and try not to dwell on things that you don’t quite understand.  That’s how I feel about Buffalo/Cleveland and their tortured sports histories- I don’t quite understand it, I can’t claim it as my own history, and the whole thing is both alluring and horrifying.  I’m tempted to dig in and root around in these stories in an effort to find the beautiful, chewy center (I do believe that at the core of Buffalo sports fandom is something beautiful, and faith in that beauty is what attracts me to being a fan), but to get the heart of the matter will take many decades of research.  It can’t be rushed, and I’ve only just begun.

So, for today I’ll take a break from my hyper-conscious examination of “The History of Sports in the Rust Belt,” and carry-on as usual.  Trudging merrily along, willfully ignorant, a Buffalo sports fan in the making.

Cleveland

Recently my friend Dinesh made a joke about how I’m a silly little innocent who doesn’t understand true sports pain because I grew up rooting for the Twins.

He’s right.

My only other true, with-all-my-heart sports rooting interest before I came to Buffalo was the Minnesota Twins.  As a small child, I cheered like all kids do, without really worrying too much about wins and losses.  I loved the Twins either way.  Then, in 1987 when I became old enough to crave wins (I was twelve), the Twins won the World Series, and then they did it again in 1991.  During my formative years, I saw the Twins lose plenty, but I never saw them lose a playoff series, and I saw them win the World Series twice.  So, my friend Dinesh is right.  I was spoiled as a child, and I don’t intrinsically understand how it feels experience a lifetime of sports fandom without ever seeing a championship.

Dinesh is from Cleveland, so he DOES understand true sports pain.  As he says about cheering for Cleveland sports and the expectation that eventually his team will lose, “It’s always something.”

For one reason or another, I’ve become temporarily transfixed by the drama occurring around LeBron James today.  I know almost nothing about basketball, so my interest in this is coming for a position of complete ignorance.   Last night I became intrigued when the tone of the LeBron discussion in my Twitter feed became dramatic and scathing.   As the game wound down, Bruce Arthur wrote, “This isn’t just a capitulation by LeBron. It’s not just a surrender. This is a betrayal.” Whoa.  That’s some hardcore losing.

So, I’ve spent the morning reading about LeBron James and the history of Cleveland sports, and my final conclusion is, “Holy crap, poor Cleveland fans….they’re like Buffalonians.”

I don’t feel comfortable closely identifying with the history of losing in Buffalo.  That history is not my true experience and to over-identify with it seems a little disengenuous, but I have gotten increasingly aware of “it” in recent years (heh) and I deeply empathize.  My empathy is in part selfish, because it’s for my future self.  After all, if things stay the course, eventually I will have a genuine history with Buffalo’s losing ways.

I’m curious about how born-and-bred Buffalonians feel about Clevelanders.  I feel a combination of deep deep sympathy, and also a little bit of petty, “Ha ha!  You guys never win either.  LOSERS.”  I’ll admit, the idea of the Cavaliers delivering a championship to Cleveland made me jealous, and sort of cranky.  But now that it’s looking so grim for the Cavs, and LeBron is about to become a free agent on top of everything else….boy.  Poor, poor Cleveland.  They don’t deserve that.

So, Buffalo.  How does Cleveland make you feel?  Sad?  Petty?  Happy?  Would it make you happy to see them win, or would it make you feel lonelier here in Buffalo?

Are Cleveland fans our brothers in pain, or are they the competition?

The Peoria Sabres

bookfaq I’m reading Will Leitch’s “God Save the Fan” right now, and it’s often pretty funny, and it’s often really repetitive (Yes, ESPN sucks.  WE GET IT ALREADY), but one essay really jumped out at me last night.

Leitch writes about sticking with his boyhood football team the St. Louis Cardinals when they move to Arizona.  He even goes so far as to suggest that a person who doesn’t follow a team through a geographical move is not a real fan.  This idea blew my mind mostly because my instincts tell me that if the Sabres ever moved, I would devote my life to rooting against them.

Leitch’s argument:

See, here’s the thing: Being a sports fan is a year-round job.  At the end of the season, You’ve got your free agency period and then the draft and then your salary cap cut date and the next thing you know, it’s training camp.  So, when exactly was I supposed to switch loyalties?  Was there one day that I cared about Vai Sikahema, and another day when I was supposed to stop?  I read some piece of information about my Cardinals every day of the year.  I know the fifty-three-man roster.  I know the draft picks, I know the coaching staff, I know the name of the guy who plays the mascot.  It’s a full-time position, rooting for a football team….so how am I just supposed to say, “All right, yesterday I cared about these players, but now I care about these”?  If something as wishy-washy as geography guides your rooting interests, isn’t it wishy-washy to move your loyalty around just because someone realized the franchise could make more money in Boise rather than Topeka?

He loses me a bit when he argues that geography is a silly reason to choose one team over another (the reason I became a hockey fan was so that I had an excuse to cheer for Buffalo- nothing wishy-washy about it), but he does make a good case for loyalty.  Once you have your team, you have your team.  Plain and simple.

Although the Bills are the most obvious comparison (and the most likely to actually leave) I’m going to use the Sabres simply because I just don’t care enough about the Bills to make this interesting. If the Bills left town, I’d be sad for all the Buffalonians who love them, but NO WAY would I cheer for Marshawn Lynch if he were running girls over with his car in Toronto or LA instead of Buffalo.  The Bill can just forget it.

The Sabres might be a different story.  Would I suddenly STOP rooting for Goose and Crunchy just because the team moved away?  It’s difficult to imagine.  As much as I bitch about the Sabres and claim that I want them ALL TO BE TRADED, it’s hard to picture rooting against them as a group.  If Lindy and the whole gang were playing in a different city, would I still cheer for them?

I’m not bringing this up to get everyone depressed imagining a bleak future without the Sabres, I just think it’s an interesting way of thinking about the team.  It’s an interesting way to measure what it is that we’re cheering for.  I really think I’m mostly cheering for Buffalo, but I spend so much time watching these players that I do have attachments to them.  I am cheering for the players too.  In the absence of an NHL team in Buffalo I might find myself cheering for the Peoria Sabres just out of habit.

I really don’t know!

Please don’t get yourself depressed by thinking about this too hard, and please don’t spend any time trying to figure out what kind of terrible situation would have to evolve in order for the Sabres to leave.  This is just a simple exercise.  If the current Sabres were plopped down in Peoria, Illinois tonight, would you still be a fan tomorrow? I think it’s interesting and kind of fun to ponder.

After a lot of thought, I voted for “I’d probably keep cheering for the Sabres,” but honestly, I might devote my life to hating them.  It’s a really tough call.

Lindy and Buffalo

“We think, and many people think, that the town needs to win a major sports championship, to correct the inferiority complex in the psyche of the community.”

-Byron Brown, Mayor of Buffalo, NY

This quote from Byron Brown was part of the Sports illustrated article about Chris Drury a few years ago.  When I first read it, I was taking my very first baby steps towards Buffalo sports fandom.  Of everything I read in that article, this is the thing that stood out most to me, and it’s a quote that I have returned to many times since I first read it in 2007.  At the time, I thought it was preposterous, even scandalous, that our mayor would say such a thing.  The idea that we MUST have a championship to correct the inferiority complex in the psyche of the community seemed downright unsightly, and certainly inappropriate for a mayor to admit out loud.

In the two years since then, I’ve come to read this quote quite differently.  It no longer seems embarrassing, or preposterous, or scandalous.

Now, it just seems honest.

________

I’m pretty shocked at the degree of passion I feel over the FIRE LINDY RUFF issue.  It’s not that I passionately want Lindy to be fired, it’s more that I feel as if a lightbulb has flickered on above my head, and suddenly I’m all, “Duh.  Lindy Ruff should be fired.”  The trouble is, very few other people have had this revelation, and for the most part, I find myself ranting alone.

I assure you, it has not gone unnoticed that very few of you are rushing to agree with me in the comment threads.  I know you hate this topic, I know the majority of you don’t agree with me, and I know I am risking alienating a lot of my readers by continuing to harp on this issue….but I can’t stop myself.  I feel strongly about this, and the more I think about it, the more strongly I feel.  Just bear with me for one more post.

I don’t want to argue that Lindy is a bad coach.  I don’t think he’s a bad coach.  All I’m arguing is that he’s getting bad results, and that I think the Sabres should consider firing Lindy.  I’m not even sure I think they HAVE to fire him, but I am sure that it should be on the table as a perfectly reasonable option.  Firing the coach should be on the menu of things we hear about when people discuss the Sabres on the radio and in the newspaper.  That’s all.

But that’s NOT all, because Buffalo has an incredibly strong love for Lindy Ruff.  This fanbase loves Lindy more than we love any one player.  We love Lindy.  He’s important to us, and he’s important to this community.  I’m not discounting that love in the slightest.  I love Lindy too.

On one hand, this attachment to Lindy is incredibly moving.  It’s loyalty, it’s gratitude, it’s respect, and in an interesting way, I think it’s a tribute to how we as a community want to be viewed.  We love Lindy, and we want him to represent us.  I think that’s beautiful.  I can think of very few people I’d rather have representing Buffalo than Lindy Ruff.

But on the other hand, I also think our attachment to Lindy Ruff is a symptom of a deeply rooted problem.  It’s a city-wide inability to let go of some romantic notion of how we want Buffalo to be, and meanwhile, we’re neglecting a whole host of other serious problems.  It’s as if the entire city is enchanted by some mirage, and because of that glimmering illusion, we won’t settle for anything less.  It’s a symptom of whatever it is in our makeup that makes it so difficult to build a much needed new bridge, or a fishing mega-store, or to downsize the government to match the actual size of the population.

I think there is something going on here that runs much deeper than sports.

Whether or not you agree with me that it’s time for a new coach, I think it’s very hard to dispute that this is a conversation that could have started a year and a half ago.  If we had been thinking critically, we would have started this conversation a year and a half ago.  The fact that the entirety of the sports media has been virtually silent about this speaks volumes.  In my opinion, we’re not just reluctant to have this conversation, we’re downright scared of it.

I think Buffalo needs to take a hard look in the mirror and we need to prioritize winning.  And not just in hockey.

I’m not talking about prioritizing winning in some make-believe, warm and fuzzy, Lindy-holding-the-Cup-over-his-head-in-HSBC way.   It’s time to prioritize winning in the forget-the-romantic-ideals, make-the-hard-choices, and get-the-job-done….WINNING way.

I know that this is just hockey.  I know that we fans have no control over any of it, and I know that some of you will think I’m seriously stretching the parameters of a sports blog by writing this post, but I guess I just had to say it.  From the beginning of my romance with the Sabres, above all else, I’ve been drawn to how this town is shaped and effected by its relationship to sports.  I think there are direct sociological lines that can be drawn between how we approach sports, and how we approach the future of our city.

In no way am I suggesting that we should “demand more” from the Sabres- that’s foolishness- but until this week, it was nearly taboo to criticize Lindy Ruff in this town.  Until this week, I had never heard Lindy criticized in the paper or on the radio, ever.  That means something.  We should notice that, and we should think about what that says about our willingness to change and evolve in Buffalo.

Whether or not you agree that Lindy Ruff should have a job for life, this conversation is worth having.  It’s good for us.  It’s good to discuss change and seriously examine our options, and it’s good to question the status quo.  It’s healthy.

And in that way, this conversation is about much, much more than hockey.

_______

Let’s Go Buff-a-lo!


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In accordance with the Fair Use Copyright Law, The Willful Caboose uses logos and registered trademarks of the National Hockey League to convey my criticism and inform the public of the Sabres' suckitude/badassitude (whatever the case may be). Photos on The Willful Caboose are used without permission, but do not interfere with said owner's profit. If you own a specific image on this site and want it removed, please e-mail me (willfulcaboose [at] gmail [dot] com) and I will be more than happy willing to oblige. (Special thanks to The Pensblog for their help with this disclaimer.)

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