If you’re in town for the NCAA Tournament, don’t worry, we understand that there are better places to visit at this time of year. Buffalo probably wasn’t atop many wish lists with warm-weather cities like Orlando, San Antonio, San Diego and Raleigh also playing host this weekend.
We have our own version of March Madness. In March, we start going mad from being cooped up in the house. It has been a long and difficult winter, even by our humbling standards. The tournament will provide a much-needed reprieve, an escape after 10-degree temperatures felt like a heat wave between two blizzards.
Please, I’m begging you, don’t get the wrong idea. People think we live in some frozen tundra like Antarctica or, worse, Syracuse. If you lived in the Northeast over the previous two years, Buffalo was a place to warm up. Temperatures this week are expected to be in the high 30s or low 40s, which means we’ll be sunbathing.
Just so you know, the only thing more tiresome than our winters is outsiders reminding us about our winters, as if we’re oblivious to our own climate. Trust me, we know about the weather. We’re also well aware that the Bills lost four straight Super Bowls nearly 20 years ago and that no Buffalo team has won a title in a major team sport.
Here’s a little advice: Don’t go there.
Now that we have that out of the way, there’s more you should learn about Buffalo over the next few days. I normally wouldn’t hold a geography lesson, but Marshawn Lynch made it necessary. Buffalo is located in Western New York, off Lake Erie. It’s not a New York City suburb, around the corner from Times Square.
Grover Cleveland served as mayor here. William McKinley was assassinated here. Millard Fillmore lived and died here after helping start the University at Buffalo. Buffalo was the first city in the United States to have electric street lights. They say the modern shoe was invented in Buffalo, but the modern boot makes more sense.
We like to think it’s a terrific place for reasons you can’t see. It’s a cold-weather city with a warm heart year-round. It’s a passionate sports town, a people town, a humble town with a tough soul that knows how to battle through anything. We’ve been beat up and knocked around in more ways than you could imagine, but we keep coming back.
Western New Yorkers embrace anyone willing to spread the good word about Western New York. The region has a way of growing on people. Many who thought they would be here for a few years have stayed for a lifetime. Everything you need is a 20-minute drive away. Housing is cheap. Schools are good. But nothing is better than the people, who are unpretentious and, for the most part, genuine.
Buffalo can be touchy about certain subjects, however. I’ll save you the aggravation, and perhaps a few teeth, by going over a few rules. One Buffalonian criticizing the city or its sports teams to another Buffalonian is strongly encouraged. An outsider doing the same is completely unacceptable. I can punch my brother. You cannot.
The following two words should never be spoken by someone living outside the 7-1-6: wide right. Don’t whisper them. Don’t even text them. If you feel an irresistible urge to say them, be sure to include a comma, as in, “Kim Kardashian’s rear end looks really wide, right?”
Quick detour: If you take a ride to Toronto, which is about 90 minutes away, there are two more words that should not be spoken in public: Rob Ford. If you’re not familiar with Rob Ford, Google “drunk mayor smokes crack” for more information. OK, that’s not really necessary. I just gave you the information.
Buffalo is a football and hockey town, but it will wrap its communal arms around any big event. The NCAA Tournament, the Frozen Four and the Ice Bowl were belt-high fastballs for Buffalo. The place goes wild when the Bills win a home playoff game. At least it did when they beat a Dolphins team coached by ... Don Shula ... in 1995.
People often forget that Buffalo had an NBA team until the Braves left town in 1978, back when Randy Smith had an XXL afro and XS shorts. The Braves became the San Diego Clippers before moving to Los Angeles. The Braves made the playoffs for three straight years; the Clippers have won two playoff series in 36 seasons since leaving Buffalo.
The Big Four is a catchy term we use to describe local Division I teams Canisius, Niagara, the University at Buffalo and St. Bonaventure. Canisius – FYI, it’s pronounced Can-EE-shus – had a major following back in the day. Niagara produced Calvin Murphy. Bob Lanier led St. Bona to the Final Four. None made the NCAAs this year.
OK, so calling them “big” is misleading. They’re not big in a Duke-North Carolina way so much as a Duquesne-Robert Morris way. Speaking of Duke …
Christian Laettner is the best college player to come out of Buffalo. He led Duke to back-to-back NCAA titles in the early 1990s, which helped dull the pain from the Bills losing four straight Super Bowls. I can say that. You cannot. Laettner hasn’t lived here for years, but teammate Bobby Hurley lives here now. He coaches Buffalo.
Michigan coach John Beilein started his career at a local high school, continued at Erie Community College and included a stop at Canisius. See that look in his eye, which says he’s a nice guy but don’t mess with him? That facial expression is common in Buffalo.
The games this week will be played in First Niagara Center, home to the Buffalo Sabres. The Sabres are a minor-league team that plays in the National Hockey League. That might not make sense to outsiders, but it’s 100 percent accurate. Check the NHL standings.
You may be surprised by all the construction downtown. So are we. We’re more familiar with destruction than construction. The project adjacent to First Niagara Center is a state-of-the-art rink and hotel owned by Sabres owner Terry Pegula. Apparently, money can build a hockey facility, but it cannot build a hockey team.
We don’t get everything right, but we’re experts on two things: food and beer. Buffalo is known for wings, but visitors also have come to the right place during Lent. There are numerous dive bars – I mean, neighborhood establishments – around town that serve giant haddock filets, french fries and cole slaw for $12 or less.
While you’re here, grab a beef on weck. That’s a roast beef sandwich on kimmelweck roll, a local delicacy.
If you’re looking for a beer, there are plenty of options. You should know that the bartenders will stop you at four ... well, make that 3:45. Bars close at 4 a.m., but certain bartenders have a tendency of – ahem – losing track of time, especially when patrons are spending money or have room on their credit cards.
No, I didn’t forget the wings.
Avoid calling them chicken wings or Buffalo wings when ordering. Jessica Simpson once asked if buffaloes had wings. It’s an instant giveaway that you’re A) from out of town or B) a complete ditz. In Buffalo, they’re just wings.
The Anchor Bar is famous for inventing wings, but it’s not necessarily famous in Buffalo. Nothing against the place, but I’ve lived here for more than 40 years and have yet to meet anyone who goes there with regularity. If you’re looking to meet other tourists, it’s located at 1047 Main St.
If you have time between games, take a drive to one of the Duff’s locations, Mammoser’s Tavern in Hamburg, Nine-Eleven Tavern in South Buffalo or the Bar Bill in East Aurora. If you can’t make it this weekend, be sure to return to Buffalo over the summer. Trust me, you can’t beat the weather.