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