Reflections on 2019.
I sat down recently with old friends to discuss some highlights of 2019 that might be of particular interest to the After70 crowd. We met at The Rib (the current answer to the legendary Kenmore Tavern of the 1950s where we used to play euchre), swilling down Genesee and Simon Pure, and discussing if Buffalo would ever have another Bills football team. We lost the Bills of Ratterman and Buckets Hirsch in 1950. With me were Zuke (of course) and his occasional pal, Adrian Von Voyer, a popular raconteur; Paul Rooster, ex-water commissioner from Ilium, NY; and Warren Caruso, former Education Superintendent in Mudville.
We discussed what was going well for our WNY community and what still needed to be done. The Buffalo Bills, of course, were the number one topic. Instead of talking about the feats on the gridiron that are so well publicized, we talked about the fans both at home and beyond.
Adrian called the tailgating fans an amazingly passionate group. Paul Rooster said that the out-of-town fans were just as passionate. He noted the fan-based bars in Naples and cited the snowbird Synors as prominent vocal fans in the Venice/Sarasota area.
For one of the smallest cities in NFL, Buffalo has a surprising number of fans who vigorously support the Bills at home and away. Denny Lynch, the Bills PR man for a quarter century, cited the Bills’ website which listed a hundred Bills Backers Bars. Denny said that when he retired in 2006, there were over 10,000 Bills backers from all around the nation and even beyond. Mike Davis notes that the Public House in NYC often has hundreds of fans on hand for Buffalo contests. Kevin Godzick said that if you ventured into Bills bars in NYC, Washington, or Chicago, you would find walls plastered with posters of Jim Kelly, Bruce Smith, Mav Levy, and OJ Simpson. Soltys says even San Diego has a Bills bar, frequented by “ex-pats,” as Marv may have called them!
The discussion then turned to basketball.
At the recent Canisius vs. Bona game in the Aud’s successor downtown, about 4,000 fans were on hand to observe the honoring of the all-time Canisius Sesquicentennial team. Some 16 top players from the years since the 1950s were named. Fans voted. Bob MacKinnon, recognized as one of the greatest schoolboy athletes in Buffalo history and a key to the Griffin success in late 1940s, was not included, nor was the crowd-pleasing Cajun, Leroy Chollet.
Meanwhile in Olean, at a Bona vs. Hofstra game before 6,000 fans, the 1970 Final Four Bona team led by All-American Bob Lanier was honored. Incidentally, the Canisius vs. Bona games in the 1950-60s drew 12,000 (Aud capacity). Okay, I recognize that we had no Sabres then, and no NFL Bills.
While discussing great teams of the past, Pat Greenwald stopped by and reminded us not to forget the Women’s XC Team of 1990-91. That team coached by Joanne York and mentored by Jumbo Dan McNaughton, legendary Canisius Men’s coach, is being honored with induction into the Canisius Hall of Fame. Coach York’s team was a group of genuinely outstanding female athletes. Heather Whalen was the swiftest. Other top runners included Kerry Willie, Heidi Herzog, Sue Wood, and Mary Beth Riley. Mary Beth etched her name in NCAA history by receiving the very first “Woman of the Year” award.
Our discussion next focused on Buffalo’s “rebirth” or renaissance as it is often called. Zuke said he was delighted that the city has received such glowing publicity about Canalside and Harbor Place and the inner and outer harbor areas. Other “forum” members agreed; Von Voyer referred to stories praising Buffalo that have appeared in the NY Times, the Wall Street Journal, and monthly magazines. It’s especially nice that the city’s rebirth has been praised far beyond the city limits.
Some oversights were cited. Warren, who often circumnavigates the city in one of his vehicles, mentioned Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural gem, the Darwin Martin House. Warren thought that the national media invariably focused on Wrights’ other achievements such as Falling Water, the Guggenheim, and edifices in Chicago, Wisconsin, and Arizona. Buffalonians, especially those who have been involved with the time-consuming Darwin Martin masterpiece, are optimistic that that oversight will be corrected in the future. Locally, Wright’s accomplishments have received plenty of well-deserved accolades
Zuke being a traveler, often by necessity, also detected a “slight” to Buffalo with respect to the various Great Lakes Cruise lines that have become popular in recent years. If a senior citizen has ever taken a cruise, that person subsequently receives weekly brochures about trips from Bali to Baffin Island, from Alaska to Zambia (where the heck is Zambia?) Zuke noted that the itineraries of the various cruises on the Great Lakes include stops at Toronto, Cleveland, Chicago, Mackinac Island, and other “hot tourist spots;” however, Buffalo is missing. The ships pass through the Welland Canal, docking at Port Colborne. There, the passengers travel by bus for a day of sightseeing in Niagara Falls. They return and the cruise ship heads west down Lake Erie toward Cleveland and Detroit, bypassing Buffalo.
Warren said he could understand by passing Buffalo decades ago when the harbor was rancid and downtown was dreary. But now with a vibrant Harbor Place and Canalside, a Buffalo stop would fit nicely into a tourist itinerary. I have a vision of the ubiquitous Mike Davis on a cruise, hanging over the ships’ railing gazing way up at the towering grain elevators and then down at the fleet of colorful kayaks and sailboats. What a sight!
Local U.S. Congressman Higgins was discussed. His rating seems satisfactory on some issues, but he has a blind spot in his head about the benefits of the Skyway. “Save the Skyway” appears to have a huge number of supporters. Most feel that it will be years before the government finds the money to destroy the Skyway.
As the session terminated, someone brought up the Buffalo News. It was once a fine newspaper. Now you pay more for less.
The consensus: Things are looking up.