I have not come to bury the Buffalo Bills. No, they have done a fine job of that themselves as usual, thank you.
Don’t get me wrong – I want to. For the kajillionth time in this still young century, the local football team is realistically out of playoff contention before Thanksgiving (but not before wall-to-wall Christmas music. Gee, thanks STAR 102.5! Go suck on a hand grenade.). Like all of you, I’m past the point of saying it’s gotten old. It just is.
Unlike many of you, I did not get to watch the latest failure live on television. For the first time in a long, long time, I had the privilege of being at work between 1pm and 4pm on Sunday, without access to a television (much the opposite of when I actually did work IN television). So this game was the first opportunity I had a very long time to experience a complete Bills game just through the magic of radio.
Strange stuff. First off, it was a road game. My memories of listening to the radio broadcasts of Bills games comes primarily from the mid-80’s, the last great era of crappy Bills football. Back then, no one was concerned about blackouts getting lifted. No way were 80,000 seats being bought, so all you had was the radio. Murph was doing color back then. I don’t remember him rooting quite so obviously for the Bills back then on the broadcast as was evident this week. Not that he reached Hawk Harrelson heights, but hard to blame a hometown guy that’s covered the team as long as John Murphy has to not come across as anything but partial to the Bills in his play-by-play call. Were he one of us schmoes in the online commentariat on gameday, I imagine his twitter feed would be as salty as the next.
I can just about guarantee you that would be true about a Rick Jeanneret Twitter account. In my times as an intern, and later a freelancer working at Sabres’ games, I’d on occasion find myself in Rick’s presence pre-or-postgame. He could mix in an F-bomb with the best of ‘em, often hilariously. What also comes across, especially when he speaks in public like he did at the luncheon this week at the Hockey Hall of Fame, is how much he wants to see the Sabres win. Again, when you’ve been involved with a team for over 40 years, it’d be a bit weird if you weren’t emotionally involved in their fortunes. So yeah, maybe he’s wearing them a bit more on his sleeves the last few years. Pretty natural too, when one senses that the end of the line is beginning to close in from the horizon.
And thinking about that made me think about Ted Darling. This may surprise some younger Sabres fans, but Buffalo used to have TWO kick-ass hockey play-by-play guys, at the same time. Again, my earliest memories of watching the Sabres are from the mid-80’s, that lost epoch between the team’s golden era in the mid/late 70’s and the Lafontaine-to-Dominator led silver age in the 90’s. Yet I happily remember Ted standing outside the Sabres’ dressing room with Mike Robitaille pre-game, both in their standard issue gold sportcoats with Sabres crests setting up that night’s matchup (usually with Mike Foligno giving one of them a poke in the back on the way to the ice.). [Side Note: Fast forward to circa 1996 in the basement of the Theater Arts Building at Buff State, where the student TV production studio was located. And located inside that studio was a coat rack. And what, pray tell, were hanging on said coat rack? I shit you not – those same sportcoats, now minus crests Perfect to wear for a fake newscast student project, or for attending the monthly Knights of Columbus meeting.] See, I got to thinking about Ted Darling because he was robbed by illness of what Rick Jeanneret is currently experiencing.
And we as Sabres fans were robbed of his voice from some of the great moments in franchise history. It was not too long after Darling had to be removed from the broadcasts that Brad May undressed Ray Bourque. Rick’s call became iconic, and surely would have been even if it were Darling in the TV booth and not John Gurtler. But I cannot be the only one to think what Ted might have done with that goal. Or later with Dominik Hasek’s brilliance.
The best part is that you can't go too far down our sports world without remembering that these guys are fans like us because they have been doing it for so long, which probably makes them more endearing.