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Here's the deal. I can be "opinionated". If you like what you see, please come back from time to time. If you don't like what you see, you can come back too.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

A special anniversary weekend

There are anniversaries we celebrate.  Weddings and other life milestones, sports victories and record-breaking performances, debuts….things like that.  There are anniversaries we commemorate every year.  Deaths, tragedies like 9-11….the list goes on.
Then there are the anniversaries we would like to forget.  And here in Western New York, two of the biggest are this weekend.
Yesterday was the 21st  anniversary of Super Bowl XXV.  And today is the 35th anniversary of the Blizzard of 77.
Two events.
Four words: Wide Right.  The Blizzard.
A disaster of biblical proportions.  And a snowstorm.
Okay, that’s a bit much.
But the fact is, in the entire history of Western New York, how many events had such a significant and long-term (even permanent) impact on the region, on the people….and on our psyche?
Even when the British burned Buffalo to the ground in the War of 1812, we managed to recover.  Although parts of the city look like they’re still under construction from back then.
The only other event I can come up with which matches these two is the assassination of President McKinley in 1901.  A lot of people still believe that was the moment Buffalo began its decline.
But let’s go back to the Blizzard & the Bowl, since those are the anniversaries being marked this weekend.
The Blizzard just may be the most eventful event we’ve ever had.  Both in terms of how it impacted us, and how it impacted our perception around the country.  Even around the world.
We don’t get nearly as much snow as other cities.  Like Syracuse.  And we all know that for the most part, when we do get clobbered, most of the time the area that gets it is the snowbelt south of the city.  And ski country.  You know, where they build ski resorts because they get a lot of snow?
Other cities have had snowstorms that were just as bad.  Even worse.  Snowstorms that have killed many more people, or have been much more destructive.
Ever hear of the Donner Party?  No matter how bad it gets here, we’ve never had to eat our neighbor. 
But when we talk to people in other parts of the country, and they find out we’re from Buffalo, what’s the first thing they say?  “How do you handle all that snow?”  “How can you live there in the winter?”
That’s all because of the Blizzard.
It’s not officially winter in the United States until there’s a snowstorm in Western New York, and the Weather Channel and all those other networks can do live shots from here (never in Buffalo, of course…always in the Southtowns or the Southern Tier) and their reporters are seen being buffeted by blustery winds in near white-out conditions.  Then everyone can say “Look at Buffalo….you know, that’s where they had the biggest blizzard ever”.
The Blizzard also changed us.  It gave us a chip on our shoulder the size of Lake Erie.  We know it snows here.  We know there are times it isn’t handled very well.  Like when all those people got stuck on the Thruway a few years ago.  Or when everyone who worked downtown either got stuck at work or spent 10 hours trying to get home when we had the Thanksgiving week storm in 2000.  (ever since then, my emergency kit goes into my car in October and stays there until May)
But the Blizzard was a once in a lifetime event.  The perfect storm of storms.  And it was 1977.  The technology, the equipment, and the knowledge are all better today.  (although the local weather guys would probably still get the forecast wrong)
If the same type of storm happened again tomorrow, it wouldn’t be nearly as devastating and the impact wouldn’t last nearly as long.  The roads would be cleared sooner.  We’d be back at work and the kids would be back at school.  We wouldn’t be stuck in our homes as long.  Plus we’d have cable.  We’d be able to see all those Weather Channel live shots.

As for the Super Bowl, let’s face it.  We all know, deep in our heart of hearts, if Scott Norwood had made that field goal we would have gone on to win at least one more Super Bowl.  Look, if one or two plays had been different during the game it wouldn’t have even come down to the kick.  If Jeff Hostetler didn’t hang on to the ball when he was sacked in the end zone (and I still don’t know how Bruce Smith didn’t manage to get a touchdown instead of a safety) or if Mark Ingram could only manage to break 5 tackles instead of the entire defense on that third and 13 play or one of a bunch of other plays had been different it could have been Marv being drenched with Gatorade at the end of the game.
It was that moment when being a Bills fan began to change.  Optimism gone, hopes dashed, we know that somehow some way we’re going to get hosed.
Never mind winning another Super Bowl.  We all know, deep in our heart of hearts, if Scott Norwood makes that kick, life in Western New York is different
Those cosmic forces that have lined up against us ever since then would have targeted some other city.
“No Goal” would have been ruled no goal.
Bass Pro would be here.
We’d have a new Peace Bridge.  And a convention center.  And a children’s hospital.  And everything else that we were supposed to get but never got.
Think I’m kidding?  Think it was just a missed field goal that cost us a game?  A very, very, very big game?
Look at what happened just a few months ago.  The Bills decided to honor Scott Norwood.  And that day, the team played its worst game of the season.  Followed by several other worst games of the season.  The day they honored Norwood is the day they began the seven-game losing streak that turned their season from exciting to embarrassing.
Yep, cosmic forces.  Wide Right lives on.
So if you’re celebrating a happy anniversary this weekend, I’m happy for you.  Because I’m just thinking about how different things might be around here.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

A sad ending at Happy Valley

Today when I heard that Joe Paterno had died, it made me sad.  Much sadder than I thought I would be.
Not because I knew him.  I never even met the man.  I didn’t go to Penn State.  I was never even a big Nittany Lion fan.
But I always admired Joe Paterno.  At least, until a few months ago.  And that’s why I’m so sad.
Even sadder than I was back in November, when I wrote that Penn State was right to fire Paterno for what he did (and more important, didn’t do) about the child sex allegations against his longtime assistant Jerry Sandusky.  I was sad then, when I wrote that Paterno’s legacy would be so tarnished by this terrible story.  I was sad then, when I wrote that when he died, the words “sex scandal” would join “winningest coach” in the first line of his obituary.
Who would have thought it would happen so soon.
But that’s exactly what happened today.  Which is why I’m so sad.
When the story first broke, I was angry at Paterno.  How many children could he have saved from physical assault and emotional scarring?  How many lives could he have changed?  Including his own.
Today, as the stories about Paterno flooded the airwaves and the internet, and tributes poured in from his former players and coaches, along with former competitors and just plain fans, I thought about the victims and their families, and what they must be thinking today.
What will Paterno’s legacy turn out to be?  He was truly a great coach.  He was admired.  He was respected.  He was beloved.   There is genuine heartfelt grief over his death.
Will his role in the scandal end up overshadowing all the good he did for all those years?  Or will it just be one very bad chapter in a very good life? 
And how will his death affect the criminal case?  Would Paterno have faced criminal charges if he had lived?  What role would he have played in Sandusky’s trial?  Assuming there is one.
What about the civil case?  We know Penn State will end up paying millions and millions of dollars.  Would Paterno have been sued as well?
This story is tragic.  It would be awful if Paterno’s death somehow hurt the victims one last time.  And on the day when so many people are mourning the loss of a great coach and a good man, I feel very sad that his death isn’t the only reason I feel so sad.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

MLK had a dream. Newt is a nightmare.

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything about a Republican presidential debate.  Since then, I’ve been amused (Rick Perry’s oops)….I’ve been amazed (Mitt Romney isn’t always a robot)…and I’ve been appalled (many times).
But I haven’t felt compelled to write anything.  Until now.  Until Newt.  Until South Carolina and an audience of racists.  On Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
A white candidate versus a black moderator.  The candidate being cheered.  The moderator being booed.  My stomach being turned.
Let’s set the stage.  It started innocently enough.  Juan Williams questioning Newt Gingrich about his controversial comments that poor kids in low-income neighborhoods work as janitors in schools.  When Williams asked if Newt could see how that was insulting, especially to African Americans, Newt said no.  The crowd cheered.  Williams asked if Newt intended to belittle the poor and racial minorities.  The crowd booed.  Newt dug into his greatest hits, and replayed his “Barack Obama is the food stamp president” attack.  The crowd cheered again.  Louder.  Longer.  A standing ovation.  It was a redneck red meat moment for the ages.
So think about it.  A white, largely conservative audience in the deep south cheered racism and child labor on the day we honor the greatest civil rights leader of our time.
Look, I understand Newt’s strategy.  His poll numbers are down, he has no chance of winning the Republican nomination, and he certainly has no chance of being Mitt Romney’s running mate.  So he doesn’t have to worry about trying to appeal to moderates, or anyone who isn’t a member of the KKK.  He’s catering to the base.  The really, really, really extreme wing of the base.  And South Carolina is the perfect place to do it. 
This week’s primary is Newt’s last chance.
He’s going down swinging.
And in the end, he’ll sell more books, he’ll make more money on the lecture tour, he’ll make more money as a consultant, and he’ll continue to be a very rich man.
It’s not the first time the audience at one of these debates has gotten as much attention as the candidates.  Remember when they booed a gay soldier?  Or cheered for people dying?  But what  happened last night took things to a whole new level.  Hopefully, one that won’t be reached again….or, God forbid, topped at a future debate.  Unfortunately, I’m not that hopeful.