Friday, November 4, 2016

How to Be a Devils Fan In Buffalo -- 2016-17 Edition

On Friday, November 11, the New Jersey Devils head to Western New York to take on the Buffalo Sabres.

Before You Go. Buffalo is located on the Niagara River, between Lakes Erie and Ontario. As a result, it is known for cold weather, and it faced a particularly nasty snowstorm last winter. The Buffalo News (I know, not an imaginative name for a newspaper, but it's the only daily the city has left) is predicting temperatures for next weekend to be in the mid-40s in daylight and the high 30s at night. Bring a winter jacket and gloves. With the wind Buffalo gets you might also want to bring earmuffs.

Buffalo may be considerably to the west, but it is still in the Eastern Time Zone, so you won't have to fiddle with your timepieces. But it is on a national border, and if you want to go into Canada, you'll need to bring your passport. Right now, US$1.00 = C$1.34, while C$1.00 = U.S. 75 cents.
The Peace Bridge, connecting Buffalo with Fort Erie, Ontario

Tickets. The KeyBank Center seats 19,070, making it one of the larger ones in the NHL. Despite a horrible performance last season, the Sabres averaged 18,536 fans per game, about 97 percent of capacity.

A lot of those fans came from across the river in Canada, many from Niagara Falls and Hamilton, people who, sick of the hype over the Toronto Maple Leafs and the ticket prices at the Air Canada Centre, look at the Sabres as an affordable alternative. (Sabres vs. Leafs is as big a rivalry as Sabres vs. Pittsburgh Penguins.) It should also be noted that Western New York has other storied minor-league teams, the Rochester Americans and the Syracuse Crunch. These people are used to the cold weather necessary to play outdoor hockey, and they love indoor hockey, too.

The Sabres are using what baseball teams call "dynamic pricing." Fortunately, the Devils are a "Silver" opponent, not a "Gold" one. Tickets for the lower bowl are $150 for center ice and $92 for the end zones. For the upper bowl, $78 for center ice and $63 for the end zones.

Getting There. It's 363 road miles from the Prudential Center in downtown Newark to the KeyBank Niagara Center in downtown Buffalo. Buffalo is one of those cities that's too close to fly to, but too far to get there any other way.

You would think, being so close, nonstop flights would be available. If you're lucky, you can get a nonstop round-trip flight on United Airlines for a little over $300. But getting it nonstop is the issue: You may have to change planes in an out-of-the-way city like Philadelphia or Charlotte. You might be able to get a nonstop, cheaper flight from a smaller airline; but, remember, it's like the difference between the major leagues and the minor leagues. If you do fly in, the Number 24 bus will get you from Buffalo Niagara International Airport, 11 miles northeast of downtown, in about 50 minutes.

Amtrak's Maple Leaf, its New York-to-Toronto service, leaves Penn Station at 7:15 AM, and arrives at Buffalo's Exchange Street Station at 3:14 PM, just under 8 hours later (if it's on time). Its return trip leaves Buffalo the next day at 1:05 PM and arrives at Penn Station at 9:50 PM. It's $157 round-trip. The station is at Exchange & Washington Streets, just 3 blocks north of the arena.

Greyhound runs 12 buses a day from New York's Port Authority Bus Terminal to Buffalo. Getting the 7:00 AM bus will allow you to arrive in Buffalo at 3:45 PM, giving you plenty of time to do something (possibly getting a hotel) before going to the arena. Round-trip fare is $170, but it can drop to $74 with advanced purchase. The terminal is at 181 Ellicott Street at Eagle Street, just 7 blocks north of the arena.

If you do drive, get into New Jersey to Interstate 80, and take it all the way across the State. Shortly after crossing the Delaware River and entering Pennsylvania, take I-380, following the signs for Scranton, until reaching I-81. (If you've driven to a game of the Yankees' Triple-A farm team, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees, you already know this part.) Take I-81 north into New York State. (If you’ve driven to a game of the Mets' Double-A farm team, the Binghamton Mets, you already know this part.) Continue on I-81 past Binghamton and to Syracuse, where you'll get on the New York State Thruway, which, at this point, is I-90. Continue on the Thruway west, past Rochester, to Buffalo.

With 2 rest stops -- I recommend on one side of the Delaware or the other, and another around Syracuse -- you should be able to make the trip in about 7 hours.

Once In the City. Western New York was first settled by the French, and they called the Niagara River "Beau Fleuve," meaning "good flow." The English, just as they turned the Dutch village of "Vlissingen" into the Queens neighborhood of "Flushing," turned "Beau Fleuve" into the similar-sounding "Buffalo." The original name has nothing to do with bison.

Buffalo likes to call itself the Queen City of the Great Lakes, as opposed to Cincinnati, the Queen City of the Midwest; Charlotte, the Queen City of the Southeast; and Seattle, the Queen City of the Northwest. It's also known as the Nickel City (for the buffalo-head nickels used from 1913 to 1938), the City of Good Neighbors (probably due to their international border), and, left over from their World's Fair, the 1901 Pan-American Exposition, the City of Light (but no one will ever confuse it with Paris).  

Founded in 1789, Buffalo is home to just under 260,000 people. Before "white flight," it was over twice that, around 580,000 in 1950. The metropolitan area is home to 1.2 million according to the U.S. Census Bureau. However, that doesn't count Niagara Falls and environs over the border; that pushes it to about 1.6 million. ZIP Codes for Western New York start with the digits 14. The Area Code is 716, with 585 overlaid.

Buffalo is in the State of New York, but not in the City of New York, so the sales tax is 7 percent. There's no centerpoint for addresses: They move up as you move north and east. The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority runs buses and a light rail extending from Erie Canal Harbor downtown up Main Street the University of Buffalo campus in University Heights. It's free from its Harbor terminus until it goes underground at Tupper Street, $2.00 underground.
Going In. The KeyBank Center was known as the Crossroads Arena during planning, but naming rights were bought by Marine Midland Bank, and it became the Marine Midland Arena when it opened in 1996. That bank was bought out, and the arena became the HSBC Arena in 1999, before First Niagara Financial Group bought HSBC in 2011. Although the banks were not rebranded, the arena was renamed. But KeyBank just bought out First Niagara, and has rebranded both the banks and the arena.

The official address of the arena is One Seymour H. Knox III Plaza, after the founding owner of the Sabres, who had it built. It's at the corner of Washington & Perry Streets. Parking is $13. If you drive in, you will probably be parking at the Mississippi Street lot, and entering the arena from the north side. If you take the light rail in, use Special Events Station, and walk down Main Street to the arena's west end. The rink is aligned east-to-west, and the Sabres attack twice toward the arena's east end.
In addition to the Sabres, the arena also hosts the Buffalo Bandits of the National Lacrosse League. In 2003, it hosted the NCAA's hockey equivalent of the Final Four, the Frozen Four.

On occasion, the minor-league Rochester Americans and the basketball team of St. Bonaventure University play games that have a greater ticket demand than their arenas can fulfill. It also hosted the now-defunct Buffalo Destroyers of the Arena Football League. And, as you might guess, it is Western New York's leading concert facility.

Food. Syracuse and Binghamton in New York, and Harrisburg and State College in Pennsylvania, is where the Northeast starts to turn into the Midwest. With a heavy Central and Eastern European heritage, Buffalo is big on sausages, and tailgate parties at the Bills' stadium are practically a sacrament. But it's too cold to tailgate at hockey games, so, inside, the food has to be good.

Delaware North Corporation operates the concession stands, as it does at MetLife Stadium at the Meadowlands, and at TD Garden in Boston. (It also owns the Garden and the Boston Bruins, but not the Sabres.)

The 100 Level has Outside Blue Zone Bar near Aisle 4, and South Food Court outside Aisle 16. The 300 Level has West Food Court outside Aisle 2. Among the offerings are, no surprise Buffalo wings, originally known as Buffalo-style chicken wings; and the area's other signature food, roast beef au jus on a caraway seed roll. The German word for caraway is "kummelweck," and the sandwich is known as "Beef on a weck." I know, it sounds like something a person with a speech impediment would say. But it's good, if you don't mind needing to floss afterward. Perry's ice cream, a local brand, is also sold at the arena.

Team History Displays. The Sabres' championship banners hang in the arena's northeast corner. Unusually, they are multicolored, and not just due to the changes in uniform color scheme over 45 years.

The include the Sabres' 1975 and 1999 Conference Championships; the President's Trophy for finishing with the overall best record in 2007; and Division titles in 1975, 1980, 1981, 1997, 2007 and 2010.
The Sabres have 7 retired numbers. Three of them are hung on banners together, since they were for the players of their 1970s "French Connection Line": 7, left wing Rick Martin; 11, center Gilbert Perrault; and 14, right wing Rene Robert. These banners hang in the arena's northwest corner. Alumni Plaza, on the arena's northeast corner, has a statue of them.
The other retired numbers are adjacent to theirs, on the north side, in chronological order: 2, 1970s defenseman Tim Horton; 18, 1970s right wing Danny Gare; 16, 1990s center Pat LaFontaine; and 39, 1990s goaltender Dominik Hasek. There are also banners honoring the founding owners, the brothers Seymour and Northrup Knox, with their initials, SHK and NRK, standing in for numbers.
Alexander Mogilny, who helped the Devils win the 2000 Stanley Cup, began his NHL career with the Sabres, and wore 89 to celebrate his 1989 defection from the Soviet Union. The Sabres have not given it out since he left, and at least one player, former Islander Cory Conacher, who wore 89 since he was born in 1989, switched 88 out of respect to Mogilny. (He's a member of hockey's famed Conacher family, and played at Canisius College in Buffalo.)

In the southeast corner, the arena has banners for the Bandits' 4 NLL titles (1992, 1993, 1996 and 2008), and 3 retired numbers: Thomas Gardner (34), and the brothers Darris (43) and Rich Kilgour (16).

The Sabres have a team Hall of Fame, with 42 members, quite a lot for a team that's only been around for 45 years:

* From their beginning era, 1970 to 1974, but not 1974-75: Horton, original coach and general manager George "Punch" Imlach (who'd built the Maple Leafs' 1960s Stanley Cup winners), head coach Joe Crozier.

* From their 1975 Wales Conference Champions: Perrault, Martin, Robert, the Knox brothers, part-owner Robert Swados, part-owner Fred Hunt, goaltender Roger Crozier (apparently, no relation to Joe), defenseman Jim Schoenfeld (who coached the Devils to their 1st Playoff run in 1988), defenseman Bill Hajt, defenseman Jerry Korab, center Don Luce, center and later broadcaster Jim Lorentz, left wing Craig Ramsay, trainer Frank Christie, scout Rudy Migay, public address announcer Milt Ellis, broadcasters Ted Darling and Rick Jeanneret (Darling died in 1996, Jeanneret is still at it), and the last original employee still with the team, equipment manager Robert "Rip" Simonick.

* From the 1980s (but not going back to 1975): Goalie Don Edwards, defenseman Mike Ramsey, defenseman Phil Housley, defenseman Larry Playfair, left wing Dave Andreychuk, and right wing Mike Foligno (current Devils assistant and father of Sabres player Mike Foligno and Columbus Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno). Scotty Bowman, who coached the Sabres in the early 1980s, is in the Hockey Hall of Fame, but not in the Sabres' Hall of Fame.

* From the 1990s (but not including 1999): LaFontaine, Mogilny, center Dale Hawerchuk, and executive George Strawbridge, whose aid while Seymour Knox was dying helped build the arena and keep the team in Buffalo.

* From the 1999 Eastern Conference Champions: Hasek, part-owner Robert Rich Jr., scout Mike Racicot, and team sales leader David Forman.

Also elected have been sportswriters Jack Gatecliff, Dick Johnston, Jim Kelley and Wayne Redshaw. Can you imagine a sports team in New York electing sportswriters to its hall of fame? In Boston? In Philadelphia?!? In Buffalo, the Sabres have done it.

Perreault played on the Team Canada that beat the Soviet Union in the 1972 "Summit Series," and as such is honored with that Team Canada in Canada's Walk of Fame. So is Bowman, for his overall contributions to the game. Speaking of beating the Soviets, Rob McClanahan and the aforementioned Mike Ramsey played on the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team. Horton, Perreault and Hasek were named to The Hockey News' 100 Greatest Players in 1998.

Housley, Hasek, and Teppo Numminen, the Winnipeg Jets/Phoenix Coyotes star who spent the last few years of his career with the Sabres, have been elected to the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) Hall of Fame. Knox, Bowman, Housley and LaFontaine have received the Lester Patrick Trophy, for contributions to hockey in America.

Although not in Buffalo, or even in the United States, near Buffalo, the Memorial Cup, the championship of Canadian jumior hockey, was won by the Ontario-based St. Catherine's Teepees in 1954 and 1960, and by the Niagara Falls Flyerd in 1965 and 1968.

UPDATE: Perreault, LaFontaine and Hasek were named to the NHL's 100th Anniversary 100 Greatest Players in 2017.

Stuff. The Sabres Store is located in the arena's west end. It has the usual items you'll find in a team store, possibly including hats with buffalo horns. Souvenir stands are also around the arena.

With Western New York being a small and declining market, there aren't very many books about the Sabres. The best history of the team, now well out of date and not including the 1999 Playoff run, remains Sabres: 26 Seasons in Buffalo's Memorial Auditorium, by Ross Brewitt. Don't expect to find team videos, either, probably because they haven't won the Stanley Cup, meaning there's no Cup season highlight package.

During the Game. A November 19, 2014 article on The Hockey News' website ranked the NHL teams' fan bases, and listed the Sabres' fans 18th: "Tumbled to bottom of standings, but attendance held. A sign of faithful fans." That sure sounds like Buffalo, and Western New York as a whole, to me.

Safety will not be an issue. Downtown Buffalo is relatively crime-free, and Buffalonians have next to nothing against New Jerseyans. But they are proud of their city, for all its drawbacks. Don't antagonize them, and they won't respond.

Doug Allen sings the National Anthems at Sabres games. He even named his official website The team's mascot, instead of a sword-wielding buffalo as the team's logo might suggest, is Sabretooth, a sabretoothed tiger. Before games, he rapels from the ceiling to the ice while rock music plays, and has also been known to ride a four-wheeler on the ice while followed by a spotlight. He has a T-shirt bazooka, which he uses to shoot shirts into the crowd, and plays Sabres chants on a drum. (Which our own N.J. Devil also does.) His autograph can be obtained on the mezzanine level of the arena, within his custom-built playhouse.

The main fan chant is "Let's Go, Buffalo!" The Sabres' goal song is "Song 2" by Blur -- a.k.a. "Woo Hoo!" They appear not to have a postgame victory song, but then, rooting for the visiting team, you won't want to hear it anyway.

After the Game. Buffalo, like any other city, has crime issues. But there is no rivalry between the Sabres and any of the New York Tri-State Area teams, especially the Devils. You and your car should both be safe.

I can find no reference to any bar in Buffalo where fans of New York sports teams tend to gather or are especially welcomed. But there are plenty of bars that serve both the First Niagara Center and Coca-Cola Field, the home of the city's Triple-A baseball team.

Iron Works, in a former, well, ironworks, is on Illinois Street, on the east side of the arena. There's a Tim Hortons at Main & Scott Streets, which is understandable, since Buffalo borders Canada and Horton was on the Sabres' roster when he died. This store includes a memorial to the Buffalo Memorial Auditorium.

At opposite ends of Mississippi Street, across from the main parking lot, are bars named Lagerhouse 95 and Cobblestone. Further up Main Street, you can take a left turn on Pearl Street and try Pearl Street Grill & Brewery; or a right turn on Swan Street, around the ballpark, and try Handlebar. Inside the ballpark on Washington at Seneca, Pettibone's Grille may be open.

Buffalo's most famous eating & drinking establishment is the Anchor Bar. It's a bit of a trek from the arena on foot, but the light rail gets close, at the Allen/Medical Campus station. Its proximity to the site of War Memorial Stadium made it a good stopover after Bills games. It was there during the 1964 season that the son of the couple who owned it brought some hungry friends over on a Friday night, but all his mother had left in the kitchen was chicken wings, a part of the chicken not traditionally eaten. So she boiled them, made up a spicy sauce, and glazed the wings with the sauce, and the boys couldn't get enough of them. Buffalo sauce and Buffalo wings were born.

The bar is still in the family. I visited Buffalo in 2004, and made sure to visit. I can't handle spicy food, but they make a Monte Cristo sandwich that is out of this world. 1047 Main Street at North Avenue.

If you visit Buffalo during the European soccer season, as we are now in, the leading "football pub" in town is Mes Que, named for the slogan of Spanish superclub FC Barcelona: Mes Que Un Club -- "More Than a Club." 1420 Hertel Avenue at N. Park Avenue, about 5 miles north of downtown. Bus 11. Ironically, the local Barcelona fan club doesn't meet there, instead meeting 2 blocks away, at Wellington Pub, at 1541 Hertel Avenue at Wellington Road.

Sidelights. Buffalo has a long sports history, although it's not a very good one. Here are some of the highlight locations, and some other places worth visiting in the city:

* Site of Buffalo Memorial Auditorium. Opening 75 years ago last week, on October 14, 1940, it was home to the Buffalo Bisons of the American Hockey League from 1940 to 1970, the ill-fated Buffalo Bisons of the National Basketball League (forerunners of today's Atlanta Hawks) in 1946, the NBA's Buffalo Braves (forerunners of the Los Angeles Clippers) from 1970 to 1978, and the Sabres from 1970 to 1996.
The Aud. The new arena, then known as the HSBC Arena,
was built only a block away.

Like the Boston Garden and Chicago Stadium, "The Aud" had a rink that was shorter and narrower than the usual NHL rink size, 200 by 85 feet, and was allowed to keep it after that was made a rule. (The new arena has the standard size.) It hosted the NHL All-Star Game in 1978.

It was also Western New York's longtime concert center. The Beatles never played there, but Elvis Presley sang there on April 1, 1957, April 5, 1972 and June 25, 1976. In 1973, Led Zeppelin played there for 3 hours straight, without a break. It was also a major boxing and pro wrestling facility.

It was demolished in 2009, and the site remains vacant. Main & Scott Streets, only a block away from its replacement. Erie Canal Harbor station on the light rail.

The area's only NBA team, the Buffalo Braves, left to become the San Diego Clippers. Now, the Knicks, Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat pretty much divide fandom. Oddly, the 2 closest NBA teams, the Toronto Raptors (98 miles away) and Cleveland Cavaliers (189 miles), don't factor in much; yet once you cross the border into Ontario, the Raptors are easily the plurality team (but not a majority one, not even in Toronto itself). Roughly the same proportion holds true for Rochester (NBA's Royals 1946-57, 75 miles east of downtown Buffalo), but once you get to Syracuse (NBA's Nationals 1949-63, 150 miles east), you start to get into solid Knicks territory.

The closest thing the Buffalo area has to a major league basketball team now is the Niagara River Lions, of the National Basketball League of Canada. They play at the 4,030-seat Meridian Centre, which they share with the Ontario Hockey League's Niagara IceDogs. 1 IceDogs Way, St. Catherine's, Ontario, 31 miles northwest of downtown Buffalo.

* Coca-Cola Field. Buffalo doesn't have a Major League Baseball team, and hasn't since the ill-fated Federal League of 1914-15. But it has been one of the great minor league cities, home to the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons, who play at Coca-Cola Field, built in 1988 as Pilot Field.

It was designed to seat 19,500 people, making it one of the largest stadiums ever to host regular minor-league baseball, but expandable to 40,000 by putting a 2nd deck on the mezzanine, in the hopes that Buffalo would get an expansion team or a moved team in the 1990s.
But the city was passed over for Denver and Miami in the 1991 decision to expand for 1993. The other possibilities were Tampa Bay and Washington. Another vote was held in 1995, to take effect in 1998, but Buffalo wasn't even accepted as a finalist: They chose Washington, Orlando, and the cities that were chosen as new franchises, Phoenix and Tampa Bay. Washington got the Montreal Expos in 2004 to become the Nationals in 2005.

But the Bisons have won 3 International League Pennants since moving in, in 1997, 1998 and 2004. They made the Playoffs in 12 of the park's 1st 18 seasons, although in none of the last 10. So the new ballpark has been (mostly) good to them. It now has a listed seating capacity of 17,600, making it the largest current minor-league stadium. 275 Washington Street, between Swan & Exchange Streets. Seneca station on the light rail.

Notable players who have played for the Bisons since it opened include Manny Ramirez, Tim Wakefield, Bartolo Colon, Brian Giles, Travis Hafner, Freddy Garcia, Cliff Lee, Victor Martinez, Magglio Ordonez, Ike Davis, R.A. Dickey and Jeremy Guthrie.

There will, almost certainly, never be another MLB team in Buffalo. Today, even if Niagara Falls (both sides of the border) and Hamilton, Ontario were counted, Buffalo would still have fewer people than the current smallest metro area in MLB, Milwaukee. That's why they're still on the outside looking in.

It would also be 27th in the NBA, ahead of only New Orleans, Oklahoma City and Memphis. It is 30th in the NFL, ahead of only Jacksonville and New Orleans; and 26th in the NHL, last among U.S. cities, ahead of only Ottawa, Calgary, Edmonton and Winnipeg.

The Bisons have, in the 1960s and in this current decade, been a Mets farm team. Nevertheless, the Yankees are the most popular team here, getting a majority of support (low 50s percent in pretty much all of the Buffalo area, high 50s in Rochester, 60s in Syracuse).

In spite of their comparative closeness (especially considering that radio signals can, unlike cars, easily cross Lake Ontario), the Toronto Blue Jays, at 98 miles the closest MLB team, don't make a dent in it at all: The Boston Red Sox are the 2nd-most popular team here, the Mets 3rd. (Whether that will change due to the Jays' 2015 success remains to be seen.) The next-closest team, the Pittsburgh Pirates, don't get any traction until you reach the southwestern corner of New York State; the Cleveland Indians, not that much further than the Pirates, almost nothing -- this despite the Bisons having been members of both the Tribe's and the Bucs' farm systems in the last 20 years (now, the Blue Jays').

The closest NBA team is the Toronto Blue Jays, 98 miles away; the closest U.S. based NBA team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, 189 miles. The closest MLS team is Toronto FC, 97 miles; the closest U.S.-based MLS team, the Columbus Crew, 321 miles.

* Site of War Memorial Stadium. Built in 1937 as Civic Stadium, It was renamed War Memorial Stadium in 1960, the year the Bisons and the AFL's Buffalo Bills moved in. It seated 46,500 people, making it one of the largest stadiums in minor-league baseball, but the smallest in the NFL after the 1970 merger with the NFL. It was this reason, rather than its deteriorating neighborhood, advancing age and rundown appearance that led the Bills to build a larger stadium.

The Bisons won just 1 Pennant there, in 1961, but had some eventually legendary names suit up for them there, including Hall-of-Famers Ferguson Jenkins in 1962 and Johnny Bench in 1966 and '67. Unlike the Bills, they did leave due to the collapse of the neighborhood and the stadium looking like it would collapse as well.

The Bills won the AFL Championship here in 1964 and 1965, the only 2 times they've ever gone as far as the rules allowed them to go. These were the last 2 times the AFL Champion was unable to face the NFL Champion in a World Championship Game. In 1966, with the chance to go to the 1st AFL-NFL World Championship Game, retroactively renamed Super Bowl I, the Bills lost the AFL Championship Game to the Kansas City Chiefs. Not until the 1990 season would they reach the Super Bowl.

In 1983, the movie version of Bernard Malamud's novel The Natural was filmed there. Robert Redford and director Barry Levinson, not having computer-generated imagery (CGI) to create an old-time ballpark for them, needed an old ballpark, but not one that was easily identifiable, like Fenway Park with its Green Monster left-field wall, Wrigley Field with its ivy-coveredwalls and distinctive bleachers, or Comiskey Park with its pinwheeled scoreboard.

War Memorial was available. The story takes place in 1939, when the stadium was new. But by 1983, it was so run-down that it looked like it hadn't had any maintenance since the Great Depression, and appeared much older. By this point, it was known as The Old Rockpile. Buffalo native Brock Yates, a screenwriter who created the race upon which the Cannonball Run movies were based, said that it "looks as if whatever war it was a memorial to had been fought within its confines."
It was demolished in 1988, after the Bisons left. A new high school sports complex, the Johnnie B. Wiley Recreation Center, was built on the site. 1100 Jefferson Avenue. Summer-Best station on the light rail, then 5 blocks east on Best Street.

Ironically, while Wrigley Field was available, a scene in the film that supposedly took place at Wrigley was instead filmed at Buffalo's All-High Stadium, with a matte painting giving it an upper deck. Built in 1926, it was demolished and rebuilt in 2007, seats about 5,000 people, and hosts high school football and the FC Buffalo pro soccer team. 2885 Main Street at Mercer Avenue, behind Bennett High School. LaSalle station on the light rail. It is now named after Robert B. Rich Sr., original namesake of the Bills' new stadium and founder of Buffalo-based Rich Foods, now owned by his son Robert Jr., who, as I said, is in the Sabres' Hall of Fame, and is also the owner of the Bisons baseball team. His son Robert III played Roy Hobbs' son in The Natural.

* Site of Offermann Stadium. The Bisons played in 2 separate stadiums at Ferry Street and Michigan Avenue, starting in 1889, in a wooden stadium with the name Buffalo Baseball Park. In 1924, a new Bison Stadium of concrete and steel opened on the site. In 1935, it was renamed for the team's owner, Frank J. Offermann, who had just died.
The Bisons won International League Pennants there in 1933, 1936 and 1957, before moving a few blocks away to War Memorial Stadium for the 1960 season. The future Hall-of-Famers who played for the Bisons at Buffalo Baseball Park were Jimmy Collins, Herb Pennock, Bucky Harris; at Offermann, they were Ray Schalk, Lou Boudreau and Jim Bunning.

The Buffalo pro football team, known as the All-Stars from 1915 to 1917, the Niagaras in 1918, the Prospects in 1919, the All-Americans from 1920 to 1923, the Bisons in 1924 and 1925, the Rangers in 1926, and the Bisons again from 1927 to 1929, played on the site, before the Depression did them in.

The Buffalo Performing Arts High School is now on the site. 450 Masten Avenue. Utica station on the light rail.

Another early pro football team in the area, the Tonawanda Kardex Lumbermen, named for the American Kardex company that sponsored it, played from 1913 to 1920, then entered the NFL for the 1921 season -- but played only 1 game against an NFL team, and then folded, making them the least-playing franchise in NFL history. They played against non-NFL teams that season, but their one and only NFL game was against the Rochester Jeffersons in Rochester, a 45-0 win by the home team. Which, I suppose, also makes the Lumbermen the worst team in NFL history. They played at Tonawanda High School, in Tonawanda, 9 miles north of downtown Buffalo. Bus 25 to Broad Street and Main Street, then a 25-minute walk west.

And the Rochester Jeffersons, the other Western New York team to have played in the early NFL? They were one of the 1st pro football teams ever established, in 1898. They won the New York Professional Football League title in 1916. They played at Sheehan's Field from 1898 to 1915, at Rochester's baseball park from 1916 to 1922, and at Edgerton Park in 1923 to 1925.

* Site of Olympic Park. The true glory days of Buffalo baseball? It might have been when the Buffalo Bisons was the name of a National League team, from 1879 to 1885. They played their last 2 seasons at Olympic Park, including their best season, 1884, when they went 64-47 and finished 3rd, albeit 19 1/2 games out. They had Hall-of-Famers Jim "Orator" O'Rourke (player-manager), Dan Brouthers and Jim "Pud" Galvin.
But, even then, Buffalo wasn't really big enough to support a major league team, and the Bisons went bust after the 1885 season, returning as a minor-league club in 1889. From 1886 to 1888, an all-black team named the Cuban Giants, featuring Hall-of-Fame 2nd baseman Frank Grant, played at Olympic Park. Buffalo's entry in the 1890 Players' League also played there.

Houses now stand on the site. Richmond Avenue & Summer Street, 7 blocks west of Main. Summer-Best station on the light rail.

* Site of Riverside Park. The 1st home of the Bisons wasn't much more than wooden bleachers, but it was home to Hall-of-Famers O'Rourke, Brouthers, Galvin, John Montgomery Ward, and Old Hoss himself, Charley Radbourn. As with Olympic Park, houses are now on the site. Fargo & West Avenues, Rhode Island & Vermont Streets. Number 3 or 5 bus from downtown.

* New Era Field. Opened as Rich Stadium in 1973, it was renamed Ralph Wilson Stadium for the Bills' founder-owner in 1998, and sporting-goods company New Era bought the naming rights to it, and to any replacement stadium, this year.

It's south of the city, in the suburbs, further from water than the downtown arena, but the water in question isn't the Niagara River here, it's Lake Erie, and when the wind comes blasting in, it rivals Green Bay's Lambeau Field and Cleveland's new stadium as the coldest in the NFL. The fact that it's open-air, having no protection of any kind, doesn't help.

But it is arguably the most famous building in the State of New York, outside the City of New York. It is the focal point of Western New York, as the Bills are the region's most successful and iconic sports team, despite their many failures: While they reached 4 straight Super Bowls, 1991 to 1994, they lost them all -- although, to be fair, only the 3rd was a blowout.

Originally seating 80,020, the installation of wider seats has dropped capacity to 71,870, which still makes it the largest stadium in the State. (The old Yankee Stadium, even before the renovation, only had a little over 67,000 seats. The Carrier Dome in Syracuse seats 50,000.)
It hosted the 1st-ever NHL Winter Classic on January 1, 2008, but the Sabres lost to the rival Pittsburgh Penguins, in overtime on a Sidney Crosby goal. (Just how NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman wanted it, hmmmm... ) Syracuse University played its home games there in 1979, as the demolished Archbold Stadium was replaced on the same site by the Carrier Dome. And it's hosted concerts from the beginning, including both the Rolling Stones and One Direction this year.

New owner Terry Pegula has discussed a new stadium, but there is, as yet, no official proposal. Most likely, the Bills will be playing at "The Ralph" at least through the rest of the 2010s. The official address is One Bills Drive, in Orchard Park. Abbott Road, off Southwestern Blvd. (U.S. Route 20). Number 14 bus from downtown, taking about an hour.

* UB Stadium. Opening in 1993, this stadium has hosted University of Buffalo football, and saw the Bulls reach Division I-A (now FBS) status in 1999, now a member of the Mid-American Conference. They are planning to expand it by 2020. For the moment, it seats 31,000, and isn't much to look at, but it's Buffalo's college football stadium, especially since Syracuse is 150 miles away. 102 Alumni Arena, 10 miles northeast of downtown. University station on the light rail, then transfer to Number 35 bus.
* Museums. Buffalo is a medium-sized city, but it's got a big city's history. The Buffalo History Museum is at One Museum Court. The closest thing the city has to a Metropolitan Museum of Art, the colonnaded Albright-Knox Gallery, is nearby at 1285 Elmwood Avenue. For each, take the Number 20 bus from downtown.

The Buffalo & Erie County Naval and Military Park is at One Naval Park Cove, along the Niagara River, a short walk from Erie Canal Harbor Station. The Buffalo Museum of Science, their Hayden Planetarium/Franklin Institute, is at 1020 Humboldt Parkway. Number 6 bus from downtown to Guilford Street, then walk 3 blocks north.

Buffalo's City Hall, a brown brick building on Niagara Square downtown, has statues of 2 Presidents who have called the city home: Millard Fillmore and Grover Cleveland. Despite a campaign to get one for Cleveland, the city and its environs do not have a Presidential Library.

No home of Cleveland's survives in the area (his birthplace in Bloomfield and his last home in Princeton, both in New Jersey, still stand), but the Millard Fillmore Museum, his one surviving home, is at 24 Shearer Avenue in suburban East Aurora. Number 70 bus, taking about an hour. Cleveland is buried in Princeton, but Fillmore is buried in Buffalo's Forest Lawn Cemetery. Delaware & Delavan Avenues. Delavan/Canisius station on the light rail, then walk 5 blocks west on Delavan. Or Number 25 bus from downtown.

Buffalo, specifically the Temple of Music at the Pan-American Exposition, is where President William McKinley was shot on September 6, 1901. The site of the Exposition has long since been replaced with middle-class housing. 52 Fordham Drive, in the Elmwood section of town. Number 20 bus to Elmwood & Fordham. Within a 5-minute walk of the History Museum and Albright-Knox.

McKinley died 8 days later, at the house of prominent Buffalo politician John G. Milburn, which has since been torn down and replaced with parking for Canisius High School (not Canisius University). 1168 Delaware Avenue at Cleveland Avenue. Utica station on the light rail, or Number 25 bus from downtown. While McKinley doesn't have a statue in Buffalo, he does have the McKinley Monument in the middle of Niagara Square, across from City Hall and the Fillmore and Cleveland statues.
Niagara Square, with the McKinley Monument
in front of City Hall

Notified of the President's death, Vice President Theodore Roosevelt rushed to Buffalo, and was sworn in as the nation's 26th President at the home of a friend, Ansley Wilcox. It is now the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural History Site, and is open to tours. (I took the tour in 2004, and it's well worth it.) 641 Delaware Avenue at North Avenue. Allen/Medical Campus station on the light rail -- just 3 blocks west on North from the Anchor Bar.

Joe McCarthy, who managed the Yankees from 1931 to 1946, winning 8 Pennants and 7 World Series (a record he shares with Casey Stengel), is buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery, 4000 Elmwood Avenue in Kenmore. Bus 25 to Delaware Avenue & Orchard Loop.

Across the river, Fort Erie, Ontario is the site of Old Fort Erie, a major location in the French and Indian War, the War of the American Revolution, and the War of 1812 -- all on the British side, of course.

Niagara Falls, Ontario, in addition to being the home of the Falls themselves and 2 casinos, was the site of the Battle of Lundy's Lane, a major War of 1812 event that included Laura Secord walking 20 miles to warn British troops, in effect not only making her Canada's "Paul Revere," but out-Revere-ing him -- and even topping Sybil Ludington, the 17-year-old Connecticut girl who outrode Revere and saved Danbury, Connecticut.

These locations, of course, are across the border, making them difficult to reach except by car. And remember to bring your passport and change your money. The Number 40 bus goes from downtown Buffalo to Niagara Falls, New York, taking a little under an hour. You can, however, walk across both the Peace Bridge between Buffalo and Fort Erie, and the Rainbow Bridge between NFNY and NFO -- if, as I said, you have your passport.

On the New York side, the Niagara Falls Convention Center stood at 310 4th Street from 1973 to 2002. It was a home court for Niagara University basketball from 1973 to 1981. Elvis sang there on June 24, 1974 and July 13, 1975. It was demolished, and the Seneca Niagara Casino & Hotel was built on the site.

Other places in New York State -- aside from Madison Square Garden and the Nassau Coliseum -- where Elvis sang are the Onondaga County War Memorial at 800 S. State Street in Syracuse (now the Oncenter War Memorial Arena, home of the NBA's Syracuse Nationals from 1951-63) on July 25, 26 and 27, 1976; the Rochester Community War Memorial Arena at 1 War Memorial Square (now the Blue Cross Arena, home of the NBA's Rochester Royals from 1955 to 1957) on May 25, 1977; and the Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena at 1 Stuart Street in Binghamton (now the Floyd L. Maines Veterans Memorial Arena) on May 26 and 27, 1977.

One Seneca Tower, formerly One HSBC Center and Marine Midland Center, is the tallest building in Western New York. Built in 1972, it stands 529 feet, and is at Main & Seneca, across from the ballpark. It isn't much to look at, being typical of late Sixties and early Seventies architecture.

Buffalo isn't a glamorous city, and TV shows and movies set their tend to emphasize this. The only 2 TV shows I can remember being set there are, not surprisingly, both comedies, and both on NBC: Dabney Coleman's Buffalo Bill, in 1983 and '84; and Christina Applegate's Jesse, from 1998 to 2000.

The best-known movie set in Buffalo is Buffalo '66, directed by Buffalonian Vincent Gallo and starring him as an ex-con whose mother blames his birth for the Bills losing the 1966 AFL title game and missing out on the 1st Super Bowl, and who took the fall for a crime he didn't commit after he can't pay money he lost betting on the Bills to win Super Bowl XXV. He gets out 5 years later, and is determined to kill the kicker who missed the game-winning field goal, here named "Scott Wood" instead of Scott Norwood like in real life. (Gallo is not particularly clever, not even in real life.)

Also set partly in Buffalo is You Kill Me, starring Ben Kingsley as an alcoholic hitman for the local Polish mob, who gets sent to San Francisco to dry out. The difference between troubled but glamorous San Francisco, including love interest Tea Leoni, and dreary Buffalo is stark, but intentional.


Buffalo has its problems, but it gets a bum rap. The city has a lot to offer, including 2 great sports franchises, a lot of history, and some great food. Check it out.

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