Starr Gazing

Dr. Dan Starr
Retired Director of Athletics and Professor Emeritus of American History at Canisius College.


My “Free-For-All” Observations and Musings with Zuke

I met up with Zuke a week ago and we talked about old times and new things. He referenced my After 50 columns and said that opinion columns usually focus on one central theme or topic. “True,” I said, and noted that one often misses a few items worthy of note. That is why the popular Bob Curran in the Buffalo News would do an occasional “catch-up” or “free-for-all” column. With that in mind, I offer some musings; some related to previous columns and some not.

Zuke tossed out a few thoughts. He suggested discussing Andrew Luck. I observed that he is a great athlete, a product of Stanford, and must be pretty smart. He made the right move retiring. The fans who booed him are bush leaguers. Speaking of quarterbacks, Sports Illustrated (SI) rated our Josh Allen quite low. That’s okay, since he has nowhere to go but up, and he will. On the other hand, SI may have given the rejuvenated Cleveland Browns the kiss of death by almost crowning them as the next Patriots on the pro-football issue cover.

Old basketball warrior that he was, Zuke brought up the Big 4 college basketball series in the News. I said that those same issues, more or less, are rehashed every 15-20 years. There is no way that you are going to see Big 4 or Little 3 double-headers returning to the downtown arena (shades of 1950)! There’s too much money and greed involved today.

The News series failed to recognize that Buffalo is NOT a huge city. In 1950, we were about 14th in size in the U; now we are about 60th with two pro teams; no comparable city has that. Big-time college teams that draw huge crowds are located in traditional college towns. There are always exceptions. Look at SI’s top 25 football teams. All but two are in towns or urban areas without any pro teams. It’s the same with basketball. Zuke pointed to Siena. I agreed that they draw well. Albany is almost as large as Buffalo and has no pro teams. Even the semi-pro River Rats (don’t you love that name?) left Albany a few years ago. Syracuse University is located in one of the best places for big-time college basketball and football in the entire U.S. Syracuse is almost as large as Buffalo but has no pro teams. The Orange draw from all over New York State- a gold mine. UB suffers by comparison. Creighton in Omaha is another well-placed college team, as is Gonzaga.

We turned to baseball. How about them Orioles? Only about 43 games out of first place! Ah, Zuke noted that once upon a time Baltimore had a very good team. The Os had great personnel either playing for them or supporting them: Cal Ripken, the Robinsons, Mike Noga and George Constantine, and Jim Palmer. At spring training in Fort Lauderdale, Mary and Paul Synor served as Orioles promoters. Meanwhile, the Yankees continue to win. The Yanks are almost as predictable as the New England Patriots. Coach Belichick should be careful so he doesn’t miss out on Social Security; same for ol’ man Brady.

Zuke said he heard that Garwood Warner was leading some locals in support of alcoholic beverages at college athletic events. He says it is a hot issue. My response was, “So what.” Personally, as much as I have been known to down a few, I just don’t care whether booze is available when it comes to athletic events.

On the other hand, I don’t like drunks sitting nearby spilling beer and being obnoxious. I recalled a funny instance 30 years ago at a Bills game. Cos and I were sitting in front of two relatives, Teddy and Tom. Both arrived well-fortified; they brought along additional ammo (mainly Simon Pure) into Rich Stadium. By the fourth quarter, they were well hammered. I told Cos that they were headed to the southern tier to do some deer hunting after the game. Cos replied that the deer would not have to worry.

Zuke learned that NY was now going to allow mead at bingo games. “What’s mead?” I asked. Zuke pleaded ignorance but figured it had some alcoholic content and could give a lift to those gals trying to make a few bucks marking up game boards while enduring smoke-filled church halls.

Next came fantasy football. It has captured considerable attention from the 15-55 year old males. Between fantasy football and cell phones, that age cohort has little time left to even eat a meal or enjoy vaping. At this point Kevin Godzich, well-informed bartender, interrupted with “What do you guys think about vaping?” Tom Harkens, on his well-placed barstool, said it reminded him of his early years smoking cigarettes. Back in the 1950s, it seemed like everyone smoked cigarettes. Indeed, Canisius High School, with its special smoking room for seniors, was the envy of us outliers. Wow. At my high school, we smokers had to stand outside Charlie’s drugstore on the corner of West and Porter. One of our smoking gang was assigned as the lookout for a spying Oblate ready to send us to JUG.

Yes, many of us started smoking at an early age. A six year old could purchase cigarettes for his dad for 15 cents a pack at the corner drugstore. Rather than part with a few nickels for a pack of Camels or Luckies, a few us tried an alternative. Herbie, a neighborhood pal, from a very strict Seventh Day Adventist family (e.g., no eating bologna or drinking cola), suggested corn silk and toilet paper. We saved corn silk from the corn on the cob then headed to the men’s room at the corner ESSO gas station and used the toilet tissue to wrap around the corn silk. We lit up the “cigs” and puffed away. It was hot and “lousy.” Our effort to join adulthood was short-lived.

Then came the Surgeon General’s report in 1964 detailing the dangers of smoking. Cigarette use declined slowly in the 1960s and then rapidly in the 1970s. Today, it seems odd to see someone smoke a cigarette, unless you are hanging around the entrance to a Walmart.

On the other hand, vaping has become a big danger. Warnings about the dangers of vaping are accelerating. Naturally, the young are the most vulnerable. Only geezer guitar players seem to hook on to vaping. We acknowledged our ignorance about vaping.

Recent newsmakers were discussed. Zuke asked if I heard that Jackie Jocko passed away. I had, and I told him about the wonderful stories on Jocko written by his good friend, the very talented Mary Kunz. I knew Jocko but not nearly as well as some 5,000 other Buffalonians. I first saw him on his return from Aruba in the Caribbean; he was performing at the famous Cloisters restaurant on Delaware. He always put on an entertaining show. Friends of mine, other athletic directors from out of town, relished a visit to the Cloister for an exquisite meal and to listen to Jocko. Not only was Jocko a tremendous performer but he was a great ambassador for our fair city.

We concluded our afternoon rendezvous by talking about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. We agreed that UB did a splendid job in bringing Justice Ginsburg to campus to honor her. Meanwhile, we had stopped at Hayes Fish market/restaurant, now in Harris Hill. Hayes Fish has been around for over a century. We chatted with the owner, Bob Jaus. Before Bob became a fish monger, he was a solid college basketball player. Now his athletic endeavors take place on the golf course, with the likes of Rich Walsh, Chuck Pelitera, and Stick Brady. Well, that’s life! Aging, indeed, is a fact of life.


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