The tweet stung me, but once it sunk in it made perfect sense. Bill Simmons of ESPN.com called this week the worst sports week in a "long long long time". (Commas cost extra on Twitter.) A compelling NBA season is over, not that I can figure out exactly what else is supposed to be going on that isn't. Nevertheless, here's perhaps the foremost American sports columnist saying how bored he is.
Of course here in Buffalo the total opposite is true. We're not yawning, we're fawning. Acquisitions of Western Conference defensemen, not even All-Stars, have us wearing out our refresh buttons. If Brad Richards, a real star, were to sign with the Sabres this weekend the HSBC Arena might need more than a new locker room -- it may need a new roof.
Once again, the American sports scene goes one way, the Buffalo sports scene goes the other.
But it's not a time to feel sad, or to get all self-conscious. We love hockey, and this transformation the Sabres are undergoing is about much more than that. It's about a new and dedicated effort to win a heretofore elusive sports Grand Prize, by a team that earned a reputation of settling for far less.
I wrote a column last summer that the Sabres, despite sporting one of the NHL's best records in five post-lockout seasons, still were being held back. There was a level of commitment toward a Stanley Cup that the Sabres were not making. This was one of only two things I've written or said in nine years that ever got me a meeting with upper management here. It's not something you say lightly, that a team or its management doesn't really want to win. I mean, reeeeeeally want to win. I left that meeting feeling humbled, realizing my place in all this. Maybe I went too far when writing it. But on the matter of the accusation, I knew I was right.
Terry Pegula. Now this is what I was talking about.
I think we'd resigned ourselves in Buffalo to such a second-class existence as a sports town that the mere idea of a serious owner swooping in -- one not preoccupied with making profits -- was dismissed and laughed off. Turns out, the fantasy was reality. Out went "staying in the black" and Gov. Golisano, in came Ted Black and Pegulamania.
Certain locker rooms have quotes written above the door, inspirational messages that players can read as they take the battleground. If Sabres fans had a locker room, above the door it would read, "If I wanted to make money I'll go drill a gas well."
I can't quite believe that a year ago, when I was writing that the Sabres didn't reeeeeeally want to win, that I'd never heard of Pegula. It's all happened so fast. It still isn't July 1 but I have no doubt that the Sabres are making the serious effort to win that they claimed they would be. Heck, people who are far more fatalistic about their sports than I am seem likewise convinced.
The biggest thing about all this is that it's just fun. I really don't know if the Sabres are any likelier to win the Stanley Cup than they have been the last five years. They probably are, but it's hard to say. We've been watching the Flyers and Rangers and Leafs spend like this for decades and combined they have one Cup in 35 years.
But it doesn't matter now. Right now we can revel in the Sabres' sudden ascension into the cool kids' club. Gone, apparently, are the days of the self-imposed budgets, the cost-cutting trades and departures, and the ensuing rationalizations for these moves.