Closing down 2013

To the readers,

Hours away from a remarkable and trying year coming to a close, I’ll hope you permit me the use of this space for equal parts explanation, forecasting and recollection.

First off, I’m grateful for you. Sounds cliche and perhaps even sanctimonious, but what I mean is that your feedback and time giving crap about what I have to say is genuinely humbling and fun. If only I could remember to log in more often to weigh in on some great conversations.

Successfully got a kid to age 3.

Successfully got a kid to age 3.

The calendar turned to 2013 with my family in Mississippi, about the embark on my only time residing outside of Western New York in my life. True, I’ve traveled a lot, fortunate enough even to spend months in a van playing punk rock around the country, but January through May found me doing a special sort of carpetbagging in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

I took away plenty. For one, I’ve never minded the cold but being away from it for a winter was not the worst thing in the world, but missing parts of the Buffalo mentality was brutal. We really do a tough, vital group of hard-nosed folks in Western New York and — if you can wade through the defensive, inferiority-driven shell — we’ve made a fine city from the scraps of the city’s selfish elite. One thing I did take away from Louisiana, who’s seen major championships from LSU and New Orleans in recent years, is that their sports fans are a lot less miserable. We could use one, Bills and Sabres. Step your game up.

Speaking of those teams: man. This should’ve been a banner year for Buffalo sports and instead gave the sort of campaigns that make people wonder if curses are real. Thanks to a bogus AFC, the Buffalo Bills would likely be in the playoffs with a rookie quarterback — regardless of how you feel about him — if his knee could hold together or one of his backups could stay healthy long enough to keep Jeff Tuel out of the lineup (No offense to Tuel, but there’s a reason undrafted rookies rarely start at quarterback). The special teams were a crime scene but otherwise both units should’ve been good enough to make the playoffs.

Meanwhile, UB should be staring at multiple postseason berths after a decent season under Jeff Quinn in football where they beat everyone worse than them and lost to everyone better. Whether the men’s hoops team will deliver with an NCAA tournament bid is still up for debate but I’ll just cross my fingers that the new AD, Danny White, who’s been very successful at getting folks to open their wallets, made the right short- and long-term move in firing Reggie Witherspoon to put in Bobby Hurley. Long-term, Buffalo can work as a hoops destination but I worry the lessons of a rookie head coach could cost a team lead by a future NBA player the sort of eye-popping win total that makes a committee raise its eyebrows even if you don’t win a conference tournament. When Javon McCrea was a freshman, I was counting not if but how many times UB would go dancing over his four years. Now he’s a senior and time’s ticking. Canisius looks great, though.

I’m not worried about the Sabres. Sure, I’d like to see Terry Pegula hire a general manager who’s never been a part of the organization just to relieve my worries about building with members of glory days that weren’t so glorious, but overall he’s the sort of American sports owner who will get his team a title during his time. It’s a hobby for him and he’s willing to make the bottom line lower on his list of priorities than winning, while also finding new revenue streams in the Harborcenter building and academy. Not bad. It’s knowing you’re pointed in the right direction, something I’m seeing with my beloved downtrodden Chicago Cubs as well (Keep going, Theo Epstein).

My career has a level of uncertainty I couldn’t have imagined years ago when I planted roots at WGR as a part-timer and planned on working my way up to host or reporter for 20, 30, 40 years while fashioning a career in writing books on Buffalo, sports and Buffalo sports. In the four years since I’ve left WGR, I’ve now hosted my own show, run a multi-sport facility and even worked construction. Now fortunate to be stringing for the Associated Press, invited into the Professional Hockey Writers Association and working for NBC Sports soccer team, I have to marvel at the twists and turns of working in the Downsized States of America. I’m not going to tell you I wouldn’t change a thing, but I relish whatever wisdom I’ve been able to cull from life in writing.

 

And we met Big Papi

And we met Big Papi (courtesy: Facebook.com/FCBuffalo)

I also continue to co-own and operate a soccer team that made its first playoff run in 2013 and is having the sorts of conversations that lead me to believe that:

1) It wasn’t an aberration

and

2) Larger goals are attainable, both short-term and long-term, on-the-field and off.

Finally…

A few years ago, I remember asking my father how often he thought about his deceased parents and he told me that a day didn’t go by when he didn’t recall them. I’ve been blessed and fortunate enough to have precious few people close to me die coming into this year, but I was walloped by the August passing of the only grandparent I knew, Rita Smith. She was and is incredibly special to me, a silver-tongued woman who cared for her family, beverages and hockey. I’ve been gutted driving by the Hospice where she passed, walking through the First Niagara Center plaza that bears her plaque and just plain old watching hockey. Here’s to all those who’ve lost people this year. Let’s mourn and celebrate them by treating people well and doing our best. I love you Gram.

Mostly, I’m grateful for being alive. For having the love of a wife and son, and the handfuls of friends who live through your worst and still want to share high-fives and quality discussion.

If it all ended today, the only times I’d regret are the moments I wasn’t kind to people. Justified or not, the world could do with a lot more “Pay It Forwards” and a bunch less “Pay Me Nows.”

Here’s to 2014, for our city, for our families, for ourselves and for our world.

Thanks for hanging out,

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Nick

nick@fcbuffalo.org

 

23 Responses to Closing down 2013

  1. ST says:

    Aww shucks, Nick, you had us at…

    “Hours away…” :)

    Still, much thanks for providing this oasis in an online landscape increasingly barren of serious, and seriously funny, discourse. In our lamentable 140-character world, I always enjoy visiting here to read, and to write.

    Although your sometimes blind optimism can be disconcerting (I hope to have healthy and respectful debates in the future) you are still a very fine ambassador for our mutually beloved WNY.

    Just keep in mind: Always looking to only the bright side of things too often allows the dark side to spread, unlit. It is sometimes our duty to shine a spotlight into those darkest corners, lest we remain truly unenlightened.

    Congratulations on your successes, and best wishes for all your future endeavors.

    P.S. Don’t be a stranger. Miss Phoenix and I cordially invite you to visit “our” blog more often. ;)

  2. Leelee Phoenix says:

    We miss you, Nicholas. You come across as a genuine good dude, which are sorely lacking in the media. I don’t know you remain happy in such a cold, miserable, soul crushing business.

    The Bills would not have made the playoffs with a healthy 16-week Manuel. They needed to win 3 more AFC games. KC, probably. CLE, maybe. Thad played quite well against CIN. And it’s presumptuous to say Manuel wins @MIA considering how garbage he’s been on the road. I don’t see another result where Manuel is a difference.

    I like what the Sabres are doing, except for the not tanking part. I’ve grown to really like Ted Nolan. I don’t agree with what he says a lot, and he may be poor with x and o’s, but I’d play my heart out for that guy. In hockey, I think that’s the coach to have, since I think “system” stuff is bollocks for the most part.

    If it all ended for me, I wouldn’t care either. There’s not much left I want to do at the age of 30. Except for like living on an oceanic island. Especially tempting with how this week has been. That’s probably a bad thing. Oh, well.

    • ST says:

      Well, until Nick drops by for another visit, I guess that you and I will just have to keep the home fires burning, kiddo.

      I agree with your rebuttal to Mendola’s assessment of Manuel’s absence. Another case where Nick allows his optimism to cloud his better judgment. The Bills quarterbacking was just as good, or better, with Thad Lewis than it was with EJ. A point I trumpeted on the intertubes as soon as the season ended. Funny how, after I goaded people to go back and actually WATCH the tapes of Thad’s games, many quickly reached the same conclusion. Nevertheless…

      The Bills were 6-10 because they deserved to be. Now, unless there is some huge surprise coming in the draft or
      free agency, given their 2014 schedule and given their franchise (ahem) QB as the starter, they will be a 6 or 7
      win team next season. I have ZERO optimism for the immediate future under this regime.

      Personally, I have always liked Ted Nolan. I was disappointed when he was forced out, and replaced with Lindy. Though I never held it against Ruff, whom I also liked. I wouldn’t mind seeing Teddy stay, but I don’t like the rumors out there that Pegula and LaLa are strongly “urging” the new GM (Murray?) to retain him. No preconditions should be placed upon that position. I want the new GM to want Nolan of his own free will. Likewise, Ryan Miller (But, Go USA!) or any other player.

      “There’s not much left I want to do at the age of 30.”

      Stop it. It’s nonsensical talk, and a lie. Personally, most of the *best* moments in my life have happened past my first thirty years. And so it shall be with you. And, given the fact that true Winter has finally returned to WNY this year (bring it on!) I assume that you were at least recently granted a day off of work. (If your present position is unchanged from that which you previously related)

      If so, I only hope that free time was spent dreaming about Vanuatu, or any other island of your choice. Just as long as it was spent *dreaming* about your inevitably brighter future.

      P.S. Thirty is the new Twenty. :)

    • Nick says:

      Thanks. : ) (I wish this looked better, but it’s better than typing “smile”).

      Good points on the Manuel 3-win phenomenon… and also on Lewis. There will never be a perfect season but I wonder how it would look will all-EJ and never-hurt Gilmore. Also, I would put that maybe against CLE as a yes, even given his road form. The Browns lost their QB early, too, after all. They were tied after 3 quarters and Tuel was 8/20. He looked like Losman without the gifted arm.

      • Nick says:

        how about this? With Lewis against Cleveland and KC, do they win?

        • Leelee Phoenix says:

          I’d say the same chances as I said for EJ. And if they kept Tarvaris over Tuel, he’d probably be the same as them too. That came across racist… those 3 are better than Vince Young and James Harris!

          • ST says:

            I feel the same, basically. The Bills’ record would have been basically the same, regardless of which QB played. But these kinds of hypotheticals are always futile to ponder. Every game is different. I mean, Tuel really wasn’t horrible against KC. But he did make one soul-crushing mistake with that goal-line pass. Would Thad have NOT made that pass? Would EJ not have? Would Joe Namath not have?

            Who knows? It was one bad pass. And a bit unlucky, too. Now, maybe the Cleveland game would have been different with Thad, since Tuel was plain awful. But, Thad may have thrown two picks and fumbled, and looked even worse. It’s always impossible to rewrite history, and no less so when exchanging one character in the drama for another.

            Would the Sabres still have lost the Stanley Cup to Dallas if Bobby Hull had never met Brett’s mother?

  3. Leelee Phoenix says:

    EJ and Thad were basically the same guy. Stats, eye test, even similar limitation of only reading to half the field. That’s been discussed plenty by now, though.

    I’m perplexed by the many people who think the Bills improved significantly in 2013. They were not an unlucky 6-10, they had close games go both ways. Statistically, they’re very similar to the Jauron teams. Poor offense, no QB, above-average defense (although in a completely different and more entertaining way).

    Marrone lost me even more with his retaining of Crossman. ST coaches barely matter and shift around the league based on connections, I know. But, when you’re going on about ACCOUNTABILITY and catch phrases 24/7, you can’t do this.

    It all comes down to EJ improving. If he does to the mythical “line” which is around Dalton/Cutler, they’re in playoff contention. I put those odds around 5%.

    I know nothing about Tim Murray, but I like that LaLa went out of the organization. That assuages some fear that Pegula wasn’t going full out nostalgia.

    I got 2.5 days off work. Now to enjoy the thaw. :)

  4. ST says:

    EJ and Thad *are* the same guy, basically. Which says everything about EJ that people who cover their ears don’t want to hear. Although, I still think Thad throws a better ball. But I have a soft spot for the kid, as you know.

    The Bills were as I thought they’d be. Six wins (I said 5) and better on Defense (but still not enough for my liking) but worse on Offense (mainly due to the OC and QB) with bad Special Teams. The fact that Danny Crossman is still here, and Isaac Hilliard is not, further erodes Marrone’s credibility. What, receiving was the problem? The guys in that room were not happy to see him go – for they all liked Ike. (Hilliard, not Eisenhower) :)

    It was a “difference in philosophy” with Marrone that sent Ike packing. Yeah, like, get my guys a better QB and a more creative scheme! But that isn’t going to happen. And so, I see more dark than light ahead at OBD.

    The opposite is true with Sabres. I’m actually encouraged. Patrick is very well-respected. (I’m old enough to remember The Miracle) And Murray seems talented. Although, as I thought, the “interim” tag will soon be removed from Teddy’s position. He’s got the job. Which doesn’t bolster the case for Murray’s autonomy. But, okay fine. The Sabres could do much worse than Ted Nolan. The big question is: Miller. My take…

    Thank you, Ryan. You were a good goalie for us. Good luck to you with your next team. But, the minute your plane lands back in the USA from Sochi (where hopefully you play great again) you are being traded. We have no need for a long-term contract with a good (not great) player almost past his prime. We need young scorers, not aging goaltending.

    But I know the new Brass doesn’t agree with my view, so we shall see. Otherwise, I like the guys leading this organization. Patty, Patrick, Murray and Ted give me hope. As long as they are wise enough to keep Pegula away from any podium, as they did yesterday. Just write the checks, Terry (and Kim).

    So, 2.5 days wages for no work? Typical government slacker. ;)

    • Leelee Phoenix says:

      Miller absolutely should be traded. He’s not close to worth the probably $7-8M long-term he’ll demand. His remaining prime will only further ruin draft position. And it may be silly to question, but… he gets paid, no more Olympics, how well is he going to play? I’d unquestionably rather hope Enroth/~$1M goalies can get the job done than 2011-12 Miller.

      But, Miller needs to be traded NOW. Trading him after Sochi isn’t happening. You know what’s going to happen in little Buffalo if Miller has a decent game and gets national/worldwide attention with our current owner.

      • ST says:

        Yes, Miller SHOULD be traded, yesterday. But I just don’t see it happening before Sochi. And if he plays well there (which I hope) then his stock will never be higher. But it’s a gamble. You’re right, some fans, and Pegula, would then lust for him even harder. But hopefully the new guys (and Miller too) would tell Terry to go take a cold shower, and move on.

        Business is business.

        If things have really changed under this new management, it should be all about business, and nothing personal.

    • Nick says:

      Yeesh. I’ve gotta find the button that emails me when there have been comments. I’m a tech idiot in plenty of ways.

      The cool thing about new brass (on both sides, if you count Whaley as new-in-charge) is the lack f predictability.

      Unprofessionally, I like to refer to Ted Nolan as “Uncle Teddy.” Huge cheerleader, which isn’t a bad thing. Feels like maybe he’s the coach for 1.5 years and then promoted after next year.

      • ST says:

        Well, I don’t know how “cool” it is to have an unpredictable management. But I catch the drift. It is refreshing. At least, for me, with the Sabres. As for the Bills, I’ve made it perfectly clear that I dislike almost everything about the new leadership. The one minor exception being…

        Whaley.

        The jury is still out on him, with me. I have liked most of the pro personnel moves he’s made: Carpenter, Lewis, Lawson, Hughes…

        But, how much REAL input did he have in the Marrone and Manuel acquisitions? The less, the better, for me. We all know Buddy just HAD to get his “franchise” QB before he left, so I’m hoping that was mostly on him. And I know for a fact that Russ “Wonder Boy Super Genius” Brandon had a lot to with bringing Marrone here.

        I’d like to know how Doug W. really REALLY felt about those moves. I suppose we will find out soon enough, by what he does, or does not do, as GM in the next few years.

        Right now, I don’t love Whaley. But nor do I hate him…yet.

        • Leelee Phoenix says:

          I have the feeling Whaley doesn’t see eye-to-eye with the staff. Right off the bat at the season end thing… Marrone says EJ is his starter, his guy. Whaley says he’s open to drafting anyone and improving where he sees fit, including QB.

          My concern is that Whaley really doesn’t come across as a good communicator. We have a coach that communicates poorly, looks like the GM is the same way. And he was knocked for this even in the Pittsburgh days.

          So, even if Whaley has strong beliefs, etc… will he speak up? Ralph doesn’t want you to, that may be why he was hired.

  5. ST says:

    Yeah, I also noticed at that year-end presser that Doug and Doug rarely referenced each other. And Russ sat between them. Maybe nothing, but, all year I also noted that when Marrone talked about the organization, he almost always mentioned Russ Brandon first, if he even said Doug Whaley’s name at all.

    This all gives me hope. Hope that, maybe Whaley is not head over heels for Marrone (and maybe Manuel). Of course, it may also put him in a dicey situation, with Russ at least. (Honestly, at this point, I think Mr. Wilson’s involvement is quite minimal.) But, I’m going to keep my eye on Whaley as we move forward. As for my ears…

    Screeeech. You are correct: Whaley is torturous to listen to. His bad communication skills were evident when he first arrived, and I just marked it as nervousness. But there’s been little improvement. It’s not a deal-breaker, but it doesn’t help to inspire confidence. Whaley seems to be a genuine football guy, with a good eye for talent, so I’m willing to cut him some slack, for now. Anyway…

    Actions speak louder than words. :)

    Side note: It’s Aussie Open time again! It’s my favorite tourney (based on TV coverage only) since it meshes well with my night-owl lifestyle: Live tennis in the quiet peacefulness of the dead of night is blissful.

    P.S. Except, your girl Kvitty just got bounced by an unknown Thai player. :(

    • Leelee Phoenix says:

      I’m fine with Whaley also, for now. He had a good overall draft and free agency in his first year.

      My interest in tennis has crashed in the past year, or so. Women’s tennis is brutal to watch, and Serena’s domination of the pathetic girls is so tired. Men’s game has turned into athletic marathons with who can run down the most balls and last forever. Since any fool can slap winners everywhere on the court with current racket technology. Even old Leelee can hit a backhand now with no trouble. Tennis today isn’t what I loved in the 90s and early 00s, when players had strengths and weaknesses and there was actual strategy.

      • ST says:

        Well, imagine my dilemma. I grew up, and first learned to play, in the wooden racket era. So the game today is like watching robots from outer space. I do really miss the artistry of the old days. But, still…

        I haven’t let it completely dampen my love of the sport. Times change. Technology advances. And the most gifted players can still hold my interest.

        As for even *older* Scotty, I still cannot hit a truly great backhand, regardless of the racket. Though, since switching to a two-hander, it has improved, a bit. So it’s come to that. Sigh.

        Maybe thirty is not feeling so “old” anymore, kiddo? ;)

  6. Leelee Phoenix says:

    I believe I said about 3 months ago that I was serious about promoting Pettine because it would suck losing him while our obviously HC obviously bumbles about being obvious. Yeah.

    • ST says:

      Ugh.

      The Pettine hire was the ONLY move the Bills made last year that I felt good about. The D still wasn’t as good as I would have liked, but it was better, with a chance to get much better still. And now, if the buzz is correct, he’s off to the Browns. Where, natch, he will lead them to the playoffs next year. Meanwhile…

      We get to keep Marrone. Yay!

      We all know that the promotion you suggested would never happen with Russ in charge. There is NO way that the Wonder Boy would admit his mistake in hiring Marrone, and thus dump him for Pettine. So, we will just have to suffer the Marrone/Manuel era until the bitter end. As other teams get better, we will remain stagnant.

      Obviously.

      But…Behold, as we witness the Golden Age of Polish Tennis! ;)

      We’ve got the Stanimal (yes, he’s Swiss, but I’m claiming him as a Pole by heritage) and Aga (a true Pole) both in the Semi’s Down Under! I hope your interest in tennis was slightly renewed this week, for it has been a fun tourney to watch. The robots have found themselves being bested by *real* humans with skill and creativity.

      :)

      • Leelee Phoenix says:

        I don’t know if Pettine will be a good HC, but it sucks losing the only asset on the coaching staff. When the homer boards would rather have Pettine over Marrone on the team, that really tells you something. The only positive is that when the Bills likely miss the playoffs again and the defense likely regresses, Marrone’s seat must get toasty. We may get out of this in 2 years.

        I still haven’t watched much tennis. But, the women’s draw definitely has been shocking. I’m fine with LeeNa winning.

        Poles have been rising in tennis, and not just because of Marta Domachowska. Sabina Lisicki, a Mendola favorite, is really a Pole. Aga, Jerzy. Good for them.

        I’ve always wondered why Poles decided to settle in the US areas they have. Buffalo, Milwaukee, Chicago, New Britain… they purposely chose the worst climates.

  7. ST says:

    Pettine may fail or succeed. But I sure would have loved to see his HC bona fides tested in Buffalo and not Cleveland. Especially since it leaves us stuck with Marrone. But, I do agree (and hope) that he may not survive another losing season. Only problem there: It will be Russ Brandon, errr, I mean, Doug Whaley, choosing our next Head Coach, again.

    Well, so much for exciting tennis, huh? Aga followed up her big victory with a complete no-show defeat against the Mighty Munchkin tonight. Nothing against Cibulkova, whose tenacity I admire, but Radwanska was so lifeless and disappointing that it was painful to watch.

    I’d love to see Li Na (LeeNa – I see what you did there) win it now. :)

    “I’ve always wondered why Poles decided to settle in the US areas they have.”

    Well, truth is, it’s because we were considered less skilled but more burly and stronger (and more expendable) compared to other immigrant groups (such as, say, expert Italian craftsmen) and thus more suited to Rust Belt manual labor jobs: Coal Mines, Steel Mills, Abattoirs, etc. If we wanted to feed our families, and send some money back to relatives in the Mother Land, well we had to go to where the jobs “chose” us.

    As for these weather conditions: Well, for a people whose Nation had been annexed, partitioned, or conquered by nearly every European neighbor for almost 1000 years, and yet still managed to maintain its cultural identity and pride, what’s a few harsh winters to endure?

    But, to be clear, my proud heritage does *not* prevent me from enjoying a good Polish Joke now and again. For I do despise our modern “political correctness” run amok. If we can celebrate our differences, then we can also make good clean fun of them as well.

    P.S. So, two pollocks walk into a bar… ;)

  8. ST says:

    Welp.

    I didn’t think the Bills could surprise me again. But they did it. They just hired a coach whom I personally dislike even more than Doug Marrone.

    Jim Schwartz is a tool. Period. He’s an arrogant, bullying, fake tough-guy. He’s the worst kind of 15 year-old punk teen-ager whose immature antics you hate to have to endure with eyes rolling. He relishes “dirty” players and tactics.

    Now, none of this means that he can’t be a good defensive coach here. Yes, his run defenses were usually quite good. But, against the pass, his teams often got shredded. And he’s not very aggressive, schematically. As I see it, everything will depend on how he meshes with the big guns on our D: Kyle, Mario, Dareus, etc.

    It might work. But it might be a disaster.

    I know this: I love the Bills. And I can’t control that love. It’s irrational. But, I also really want to *like* the Bills. And right now, with Marrone, Hackett, and Schwartz as the top 3 coaches…

    I’m finding it very hard to like this team. :(