The writer Bill Vaughn once wrote “An optimist stays up until midnight to see the new year in. A pessimist stays up to make sure the old year leaves.” Was it an overall good year for Buffalo sports lovers? Or one they should try very hard to forget? It all depends upon whether you’re a rose-colored-glasses-wearing soul or a glass-half-empty type. There were enough highs and lows to satisfy both personality types and everyone in between.
One common thread among Buffalo’s professional sports teams is that 2013 was a year of change. Shifts in front office staff, veteran coaches leaving (by choice or being shown the door) and player personnel revisions reshaped the look of teams as we formerly knew them.
That “alpha dog” of all Buffalo sports teams – the Buffalo Bills – led the charge toward developing a new way of doing business. Chan Gailey’s position as head coach ended after the Bills once again failed to make the playoffs for the 13th year in a row. Responses were mixed when current coach Doug Marrone was tapped to guide the team. Sentimentalists seemed to welcome the New York-born former Syracuse alum and Orangemen head coach. His resume – filled with many positive developments in the Syracuse program and having once been dubbed an American Football Coaches Association Coach of the Year – didn’t hurt his case. Marrone brought in new offensive and defensive coordinators. Team owner Ralph Wilson Jr. handed over the reins of the franchise to Russ Brandon, and Doug Whaley came on as the new general manager.
Changes on the field were just as numerous, starting with selecting quarterback EJ Manuel in the first round of the 2013 draft. Other promising rookies joining the Bills ranks were linebacker Kiko Alonso, as well as wide receivers Robert Woods and former U.S. track and field Olympian Marquise Goodwin. Sadly, in spite of all these positive developments, the Bills players will once again be watching the playoffs from their home television sets. Those looking for a silver lining to the Bills season can at least point to the team’s late season 19-0 shutout of the Miami Dolphins.
Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula made it clear that 2013 would be a year in which business as usual (in this case, losing seasons) would no longer be tolerated. The team made headlines and drew applause from most fans when they axed longtime coach Lindy Ruff last February after he failed to put enough games in the win column and to meet playoff expectations once again. Ruff’s replacement, Ron Rolston, had a short tenure with the team, being let go in early fall. To the delight of many Sabres faithful, veteran general manager Darcy Regier was given the heave-ho after another dismal start. Farewells also were said to team captain Jason Pominville and high-scorer Thomas Vanek, sending the strong signal that the Sabres hoped to move in a new direction. Proving that everything old can be new again, the Sabres welcomed back fan favorites Pat LaFontaine – now serving in the role as president of team operations – and Ted Nolan as interim head coach. Hopes are high that the Sabres can once again reclaim their title of “the hardest working team in hockey” and be bolstered by the likelihood of a top draft pick.
After the Buffalo Bisons let their affiliation with the New York Mets expire, the team began their 2013 season in their new role as Toronto Blue Jays’ triple-A farm team. The team announced a new logo and new look to their uniforms to further highlight the spirit of change. Much like how Buffalo’s football and hockey teams draw a Canadian audience, baseball fans from the other side of the border now had a reason to come to Buffalo for a game. Poutine – the Canadian delicacy of gravy and cheese curds served over french fries, was even added to the concession menu to further welcome our neighbors to the north. The end of 2013 finds the Bisons organization looking to hire a new manager after Marty Brown recently stepped down in a surprise offseason move.
2013 also marked a year of changes at the college level, particularly with regard to our local hoops teams. New basketball coaches took the helm at Canisius, the University at Buffalo and Niagara University. Jim Baron took on the leadership position at Canisius, replacing fired Tom Parrotta. UB axed longtime coach Reggie Witherspoon after 14 years with the Bulls’ program. Hopes are high that Witherspoon’s replacement – Duke alum Bobby Hurley – can make the Bulls tournament-bound. Joe Mihalich, who had led Niagara University’s Purple Eagles for a decade and a half, left NU to assume the head job at Hofstra.
The winds of change blew strong in 2013, altering the climate of much of Buffalo’s sports community. Heck, Buffalo’s nothing if not a city that embraces change. Look no further than our weather. With these changes in local sports comes much hope for the future.
Wesley Watson is a junior at Lancaster High School.