Buffalo’s professional sports teams weren’t even playing last weekend, but there was a victory, anyway. It belonged to the fans.
An agreement between the National Hockey League and the NHL Players Association has salvaged a rump season of play, while the Buffalo Bills, in a move that was at least creative, hired a new head coach from the college ranks. For Buffalo sports fans, it was a weekend of joy and hope.
The agreement to restore a shortened NHL season came as a relief not just to players and owners, but to hockey fans everywhere, including the tens of thousands in Western New York.
But no one, we suspect, is more grateful than the business owners and employees whose income is tied to game-night action. Restaurants and bars, in particular, will be able to replenish at least some of the revenues that the 113-day lockout cost them.
The agreement covers 10 years, which will provide a bulwark against yet another lost season for beleaguered hockey fans. It is expected to be ratified by players and owners and could lead to play beginning as soon as Jan. 19.
More intriguing, if less certain in its outcome, was the Buffalo Bills’ hiring of Syracuse University head coach Doug Marrone to lead the Bills back to respectability. The decision was the first major one made by Russ Brandon, newly minted boss of the Bills, and while it was unexpected, it has been generally well received.
Marrone remade the SU team into a contender, winning two bowl games in his four years at the helm. He previously worked with the New York Jets and the New Orleans Saints, where he was offensive coordinator.
It was a risky move by Brandon, but not without some sense to it. Marrone has NFL experience, after all, and he turned around the fortunes of a well-loved college team. And it’s better – potentially – than the old game of hiring a failed coach fired by some other team.
It’s been a rough year for sports fans in Western New York, a region that could stand up to any other for its devotion to its teams. Whatever hard feelings may linger from the NHL dispute are all but certain to vanish the moment the first puck drops.
Bills fans, meanwhile, have some reason to hope that they have seen the last of the pathetic play of the last several years. It’s been a lot to ask of fans who saw their team reach the Super Bowl four consecutive years. Whether Marrone can bring the team back to glory is an open question; whether fans will be expecting it is not.