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Mike Schopp's Blog

SCHOPP: Allegiances tested

Hey there, Sabres fan. I'm going back on the air in a minute. Want to come inside?

The Sabres have just lost their ninth straight road game and Bulldog and I are taking calls from fans. Greg Bauch has screened some folks so let's see what we've got here. (We'll change the names to protect the scorned.)

Here's Steve on Line 1. He's a long-time season ticket-holder and he's fed up. He wants to tell us that Lindy Ruff's message has gotten stale and that Ruff needs to be fired. He called yesterday to say the same thing. And also maybe 11 years ago.

We have Rick on Line 2. He tells Greg that he's been watching this team his "whole life" and that it's obvious that the team has no heart. He longs for the return of the "hardest-working team in hockey". (For you youngins, that's the 1995-96 Sabres -- a team that finished seventh from the bottom in points, but whatever.)

He also called this morning.

On Line 3, Tom wants to say that Darcy Regier is to blame for all of this, that Regier notoriously over-values his players and that nothing will change around here until Darcy goes. On Line 4 it just says "hold". (Greg reserves this distinction for only the finest callers. The top shelf.)

Finally Mark is on Line 5 to tell us the Sabres need to "blow things up". He's from Toronto and tells Greg that he's played a lot of hockey. Also he isn't a Sabres fan so he's not biased like the rest of us (who, coincidentally I guess, are all saying the same things as Mark).

Enough days like this and you get to a point when you just can't wait to hear Carl Camardo again.

On yesterday's show I allowed myself to step back from co-steering the ship to take a few minutes and think out loud. I haven't liked how I've expressed myself about this team for a while now, and what happens when I can't say exactly how I feel is I get frustrated. (What, you've noticed?) I said yesterday that I had something I needed to figure out. This is it: Why, if I agree that the Sabres have become so stale, predictable and stagnant am I in here arguing with so many people who feel the same way?

I have it now. There are two parts to it. First, this topic of the Sabres' woes has become boringly one-sided. Secondly, whenever fans embark on an all-out attack of their team, it's the team's side I want to take.

I've long understood that talk radio is a mechanism for complaining and arguing. Without it we're a daily 24-hour test of the Emergency Broadcast System. And I love a good argument. Listening to -- moreover, moderating -- an intelligent, lively debate is to me as much an interesting sporting event as the Super Bowl can be. But, an onslaught of fans blasting their team is useless and ugly.

Being boring -- a team, a discussion, a host -- is the worst. Rock bottom. Not in life, but in show business. And that's where we're at with the Sabres. Not only is watching them often boring, so is talking about them. We've been here with the Bills many times too. One guy wants the coach fired. The next thinks the GM needs to go. Then it's the players. Then the owner. On and on, one after another. Hardly anyone willing to offer a counterpoint, lest they sound stupid -- or worse, soft. Yawn.

It's more than that though.

This kind of situation divides fans talking about the team into two groups. One tends to sound like a bitter, merciless group that resents the wealth within sports and feels no compunction opening fire on a team they say they love. The other merely tries to avoid being caught in the brawl.

I've never liked the feel of that first group and I've never wanted to join it. These people seem to have little or no respect for the challenges coaches and players face. They sound unwaveringly negative. They seem especially unaware of the psychological realities within sports, like the importance of having confidence and the effects of feeling pressure. Thinking it will motivate you, these people will boo your ass.

However warranted doing it truly is, I don't feel good ripping into Ruff and Regier. I admire them for their hockey knowledge, their standing in their sport and in our community, and as men. It's at times like these when I want to have their backs. Maybe this means you shouldn't trust me for my objectivity, I don't know. But it's honest and sincere.

Also, and I say this strongly, if the Sabres ever actually do win with Ruff and Regier it will mean something. We'd all love a championship but many of them these days seem like cheap thrills. Coaches and players passing through town just long enough for the parade, then it's on to the next stop. These men are ours, and a win with them will be much, much richer than one without. For me anyway.

There is no predicting the future, and teams have won all different ways. With big trades and without. With experienced coaches and without. With passionately involved ownership and without. With big budgets and without. I know how you feel, that the Sabres are going nowhere and have been for a year or five or 15 or 41 and that without big changes this will be true forever. Maybe you're right but maybe you're wrong. Since no one knows I'll lean toward the side that makes me feel better.

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Topics : Sports
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Locations : Toronto
People : Carl CamardoDarcy RegierGreg BauchLindy Ruff

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