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Title-less Buffalo envying for “big game” win

Let’s take a quick pop quiz.

 

How many Super Bowl rings do the Buffalo Bills have?

 

How many Stanley Cup Championships do the Buffalo Sabres have?

 

Done thinking? Right. It’s a

combined zero.

 

Why do I have to be a pessimistic fan? The day we celebrated the New Year, I attended the Winter Classic hockey game between the Sabres and the Stanley Cup runners-up, the Pittsburgh Penguins. Once again a

Buffalo franchise was displayed on the national stage, and once again that

Buffalo franchise failed to win the big game in a game viewed by millions. (a dictionary definition of this “failure” would also include October 8’s Monday Night Football game between the Bills and the

Dallas Cowboys…remember how that game ended? Thanks Nick Folk.)

 

Now the Winter Classic (or “Ice Bowl,” call it what you will) was a spectacle. It was a day I’ll remember. It was what

Buffalo fans did to embrace the cold, harsh, wintry western

New York snow…because we know the NFL playoffs aren’t in

Buffalo.

 

I attended 10 Bills games this past season (the eight regular season games plus the two preseason games), but this January 1 game was the most remarkable. Entering Ralph Wilson Stadium all I wanted to see was what the rink looked like, and the end result of the weeklong transformation from football stadium to hockey arena. It was a chance to showcase hockey to the masses. The 1999 Stanley Cup Finals did a similar thing, but the Sabres lost to Brett Hull and the Dallas Stars in that series.

Hull’s foot is still in the crease by the way.

The Bills’ four-year consecutive run to Super Bowls would be a parallel to Buffalo teams breaking down in front of millions.

 

Anyway, this game was played in a town that loved its hockey, and 70,000-plus fans proved that. It was a chance for the NHL to showcase its lovable poster child, Sidney Crosby, and show fans of all sports that hockey can compete with the other sports.

 

(P.S. Does anyone notice zero NHL games are broadcast on ESPN? NFL, NBA and MLB games are proudly shown, but no hockey. The NHL is forced to delegate itself to the Versus network, a television channel that doesn’t appear on several cable networks).

The game started with both teams walking through the tunnel in a cloud of smoke. It ended like a

Hollywood movie would. A movie scripter could not have drawn it up better. It was very cold and very snowy. It was a proud display of hockey. It was a ratings bonanza. It was perfect, except for the mid-period Zamboni trips to clear off the ice. But beside that, the atmosphere was exactly what the NHL wanted. It was bittersweet, however.

The memories will last forever for this event – “the Super Bowl of Hockey,” to some. However, it seemed all too familiar for

Buffalo fans when then-Pittsburgh winger Colby Armstrong poked the puck past

Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller a mere 21 seconds into the game. In the blink of an eye, it was 1-0 Penguins. It stayed that way until early in the second when then

Buffalo defensemen Brian Campbell beat Ty Conklin with a top-shelf shot. The teams continued to play to a 1-1 tie following three periods of 20-minute hockey and five minutes of overtime. As per the rules, onto the shootout they went.

Pittsburgh’s third shot of the shootout was taken by

Crosby. As millions watched with a mix of emotions,

Crosby deked Miller, slid the puck between his pads and gave his team the 2-1 shootout victory.

The Winter Classic Ice Bowl was a great time, and not just because of Miller’s Amp Energy “Yo Mama” commercial where Miller proved he can insult a man in Chinese. And hopefully it wasn’t a once-in-a-lifetime shot in

Buffalo, even though (as always) disappointment roamed through Ralph Wilson Stadium post-game.

Time after time,

Buffalo fans let out one big, collective sigh. Wide right, the aforementioned no goal and the

Music

City “miracle” are lasting nightmares in that city, a place that lives and dies with those two teams.

The pressure continues to build as us fans wait impatiently for the peak moment, that time when a professional championship finds its way to the city of

Buffalo.

Green Bay might be called “Titletown,” but Buffalonians want a title of their own, a title that continues to slide right by the City of

Light.

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