Buffalo Rising? Are the Bills and Sabres Finally On the Path to Success?
Since 1969—the year the of the NFL-AFL merger—the Buffalo Bills and the Buffalo Sabres, who were founded in 1970, have combined for 80 total season without a championship. Outside of the four consecutive Super Bowl appearances in the early 1990s and the Stanley Cup Final runs in 1975 and 1999, both franchises have been ensconced in mediocrity and failure.
That's six seasons, out of 80, where the proud Buffalo franchises have reached the championship, and every single attempt fell short.
But now there appears to be a light at the end of the tunnel. It may be a long tunnel, but the end may just be coming into focus. Both teams have made very important decisions in the past few weeks that could alter the course of these much-maligned franchises, and Buffalo fans may finally have a reason to celebrate.
First up is the Buffalo Sabres. Owner Tom Golisano gave the city one of its biggest gifts in 2003 by buying up the franchise and keeping them from folding or moving away after the team fell into bankruptcy after the Knox/Adelphia debacle. But Golisano never seemed to be about winning. He loves Buffalo, no question about it, but the almighty dollar always seemed to be his endgame.
But now we are moving on. Golisano finalized the sale of the Sabres this month to a new owner, billionaire Terry Pegula. Pegula, a Pennsylvania native who has ties to Western New York, looks to be everything that Golisano wasn't in an owner.
That is not to say Pegula hates Buffalo—quite the opposite—but he looks willing to make the deals and spend the money needed to build the Stanley Cup-caliber team that Buffalo has lacked for years. Fans clamor every year for GM Darcy Regier to make that deadline trade that would put the Sabres over the top, or sign that big name free agent to ensure the playoffs for the next season, but it never happened.
Since 2007, when the team's two biggest stars—Daniel Briere and Chris Drury—were allowed to walk away in free agency, fans have been dying for someone in charge who will make the best interests of the team more important than the salary cap.
Terry Pegula certainly seems to be that man, and even if he keeps Regier around, you can be certain that Pegula will be much more forceful in demanding his GM make the needed trades and sign the necessary players than his predecessor was.
The Sabres will start to be a major player in the NHL very soon—at the trade deadline, in free agency and most importantly, in the playoffs. Maybe not this season, but certainly in the years to come. However, nobody could argue that the Sabres aren't currently better off than the Bills right now, but even they are starting to make changes.
The Bills haven't made the playoffs in 11 years—you may remember their last trip, something about a Miracle in the Music City—but this season Chan Gailey made strides with an under-manned team and gave the fans some hope for the future.
There may be some questions about 70-year-old GM Buddy Nix and his ability to run the team, but since 2002 there is one thing about which there was no question: the Buffalo Bills had the worst jerseys in the NFL. The hideous, Arena Football League-esque jerseys have only emboldened the idea around the NFL the the Bills are not to be respected. But that's finally about to change.
The team announced this week that they will be changing their jerseys for the upcoming season, a decision that was met with near unanimous praise. Fans and players alike are very excited about the change, from Hall of Fame RB Thurman Thomas to current starter Fred Jackson, who said on his twitter, "I can honestly say this. In the 5 years Ive been in Buff there hasn't been a guy (including myself) that liked the current Unis!!"
Even hard-nosed commentator Jim Rome praised the move on his radio show, going as far as to say that the new jerseys alone will give the Bills one more win next season, because if you look good, you feel good and you play good.
If the Bills can find a franchise-changing player at the No. 3 spot in the draft this April, and build on the successes of last season, then they can get on the path toward winning again sooner rather than later.
A championship, whether it be a Super Bowl or a Stanley Cup, may not be right around the corner, but it may be down the block. And it looks like Buffalo's major franchises may be getting on the right path after all of this time. So hold your head (and beer) high, Buffalo—respect and winning are on the way.
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