By Michael J. Billoni

I concur with Donn Esmonde’s assessment in the March 23 News that Buffalo hit it out of the park when it hosted the NCAA Basketball Tournament. A huge thank you to the host schools, Canisius College and Niagara University, and everyone who was part of the local organizing committee.

As a member of the Buffalo & Erie County Naval & Military Park board of directors, I spent Thursday night in the Liberty Hound Restaurant, located inside our museum building, watching the game and talking with guests who loved our city. The park opened early for the out-of-town basketball fans and we opened the hangar building for live entertainment.

On Saturday night, Buffalo’s Final Four brought an excited Syracuse University-dominated crowd downtown, and fans jammed every hotel, watering hole and restaurant near the arena. They were so nice and very complimentary of our city, despite the cruel blow Mother Nature dealt us.

In our conversations with these guests, they raved about visiting Niagara Falls on Friday, and talked about our architecture, museums and restaurants. They couldn’t stop saying how nice our people had been to them. They also packed the Anchor Bar so they could say they ate at the home of the original chicken wing. Many said they had never experienced so much fun in other cities that have hosted NCAA games. I guess that’s why we are called “The City of Good Neighbors.”

With so many positives and with the multitude of talented, young entrepreneurs living downtown, I believe it’s time for some organization or local media outlet to create a contest for the 2014 version of a “We’re Talking Proud” campaign, which was the iconic theme of the 1980s around here.

Back then, the national media was having a field day creating jokes and bad stories about our city. Sponsored by the Buffalo Area Chamber of Commerce and written by local advertising executive Alden Schutte, “We’re Talking Proud” was a corny, snappy jingle behind a video of people marching through the city.

If it wasn’t for Buffalo Bills Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly and his teammates getting hot when the campaign began, the project probably would have fizzled. The Bills carried it on its back into the Super Bowl.

Today, we are a more sophisticated city and with filmmaker John Paget here (creator of “Buffalo: America’s Best Designed City”), we can have some tremendous city scenes accompanying our new Buffalo anthem. With social media, the song will be played throughout the world faster than any ad campaign created by our tourism folks.

We now live in a new Buffalo. Let’s get creative.

Michael J. Billoni of Grand Island is the public and community relations director at the Food Bank of Western New York.