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This Day in Buffalo Sports History: Levy departs, for a while

   December 31, 1997 -- It wasn't going to be a particularly happy New Year for Buffalo Bills fans this particular year. Marv Levy, the greatest coach in Bills' history, announced his retirement.

   Levy staged an emotional, hour-long news conference that ended his 12-year tenure with the Bills.

   "My time with the Buffalo Bills ... has come to its natural conclusion," said Levy, who had won more games than any coach in team history.

   The coach had a record of 112-70 in Buffalo.The biggest item on his resume here was four straight Super Bowl appearances, which hasn't been otherwise done before or since. Many doubt if any team will be able to repeat that accomplishment.

    "Today is not a day that I was ever looking forward to happening," said owner Ralph Wilson, who was equally overcome by emotion. "This is not a press conference that I was looking forward to attending."

   Wilson reached out to Levy again in Jan. 2006, when he hired him as General Manager. Levy stayed on the job for two seasons.

 --- Budd Bailey

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: Change at the top

      December 30, 1985 -- The Buffalo Bills had been wandering in the wilderness for a few years when owner Ralph Wilson took decisive action. He replaced general manager Terry Bledsoe with Bill Polian.

     At the time, the Bills were coming off consecutive 2-14 seasons. Polian had been serving as the team's director of pro personnel, after spending time in the United States Football League and the Canadian Football League.

     As it turned out, help clearly was on the way. Polian said at his introductory news conference, "I know the NFL well, I know its players, I think I'm prepared for the job."

     Indeed he did. Polian became the architect of the Buffalo teams that reached the Super Bowl four straight times, even if the Bills never won one of them. Polian did earn that ring when he was with Indianapolis later in his career. The Bills' GM left that post in 1993.

     Polian probably will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame some day. You could argue that his best work was done right here.

--- Budd Bailey

Bandits notebook: The aftermath

It took a couple of weeks, but the National Lacrosse League has taken action concerning the bench-clearing brawl (a cliche, I know, but appropriate) between the Bandits and Toronto two weeks ago in a scrimmage in Six Nations, Ontario.

A total of 32 players were disciplined. That's a lot.

Here's the list, from the league's news release:

Game Misconducts:

Buffalo – Joe Smith*, Brett Bucktooth (2), Chris Corbeil, Jason Crosbie*, Chad Culp, Tom Montour, Holden Vyse*. 

Toronto – Tim O’Brien, Ryan Dilks*, Jeff Gilbert, Stephen Hoar, Stephan Leblanc, Rob Marshall, Brice Queener*

Game Misconduct & Fine (for leaving bench):

Buffalo – Elijah Printup*, Kyle Schmelze*, Steve Priolo, Wayne VanEvery*, Travis Irving, Ian Llord, Isiah Kicksnoway*, Brandon Francis, Jeff Powless

Toronto—Blaine Manning, Pat Saunders, Geoff McNulty*, Damon Edwards*, Kyle Ross, Glen Bryan*, Mike Hobbins

One-Game Suspensions:

Buffalo – Rusty Kruger*

Toronto-- Pat Campbell

 *denotes players not on team’s current 23-man active roster

Boil it down from a Buffalo perspective, and no one on the active roster will miss any time in the regular season.

The teams had played a rough game until everything broke loose in the third quarter. All 12 men on the floor became involved, and then a couple of players jumped off the bench and were followed by all their teammates. The referees just sent everyone home after a while, choosing not to finish the game.

If this had happened at a Sabres' preseason game, it would have started a conversation that lasted a month. We'll see if there's carryover in this case to the regular season.

-- Budd Bailey

Greater Buffalo Hall offers financial help

Not only does the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame recognize the area's greats from the past, it also has its eye on the future with its Amateur Sports Development Fund.

The ASDF was designed to offer financial assistance to amateur athletes, teams and organizations. Established in 1993, the ASDF is supported by the GBSHOF and is financed by proceeds from the annual induction dinner. Funds are awarded to those seeking financial assistance to foster the pursuit of a higher level of athletic achievement.

To download an application visit GBSHOF.com. If you know of amateur athletes, teams or organization that meet the criteria below, have them complete the Application Form and e-mail it to mbuczkowski@bisons.com. The ASDF Committee will review all applications and make recommendation for the disbursement of funds. The deadline to apply is Feb. 18, 2011.

Here are the criteria for the selection of athletes, teams and organizations.
1. The athlete, team or organization must be amateur in nature.
2. The athlete, team or organization may apply for a specific need or piece of equipment if it will serve to improve performance levels in a competitive event (example: new skis for a downhill racer who will represent Buffalo in a national competition).
3. If seeking funds for travel to an event, competition must be national or international in nature and selection to compete in the event must have been achieved via some qualifying process as opposed to subjective selection by a coach or committee.
4. Requests other than those highlighted in numbers 2 and 3 above will be given "non-priority" consideration.
5. The committee will only grant monies for purposes other than supplementing an organization's normal operating budget.
6. Awards can be granted for repeat applications provided the purpose for the request is not the same as the prior award.
7. The application must be complete and received as far as possible in advance of the date needed.

--Mary Jo Monnin

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: The league's best

      December 29, 1996 -- It was a day when Bruce Smith added another page to a resume that eventually put him in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was named the NFL's defensive player of the year.

     The announcement came only a day after the Bills had lost to the Jaguars in a wild-card game, so it cheered his spirits up a bit.

     "It means a great deal, it's fun," Smith told The News' Vic Carucci. "It makes you walk tall and stand proud."

     The Associated Press' voters gave Smith 56 of 93 votes for the honor. Kevin Greene of Carolina was second in the balloting. Smith finished with an impressive 13.5 sacks, most in the AFC.

     The defensive end had also won the award in 1990, so he joined Lawrence Taylor and Mike Singletary as two-time winners. Bills' linebacker Bryce Paup captured the honor in 1995, in part because opposing offenses had to worry about Smith.

--- Budd Bailey

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: Finished for good

     December 28, 1996 -- Call it The Last Roundup. The Bills lost a home playoff game to Jacksonville, 30-27. It turned out that it was the last time that Jim Kelly and Kent Hull would ever suit up in a Buffalo uniform, and the last time Thurman Thomas had a 1,000-yard season.

     The fans at Rich Stadium could have guessed that times were changing. Kelly left the field feeling groggy, not certain what stadium he was in as he was carted to the locker room. Thomas was reduced to standing on the sidelines because of a bad ankle. Hull, whose retirement was anticipated, was left misty-eyed in the final moments.

     The Jaguars won a thriller in which the teams traded the lead frequently. Mike Hollis provided the winning margin with a 45-yard field goal in the fourth quarter.

     Thomas finished with two touchdowns but only 50 yards rushing on 14 carries. Kelly was 21 of 32 for 239 yards. Jeff Burris had the other touchdown on a 38-yard interception return.

     A major villain that day was running back Natrone Means of the Jaguars. He ran 31 times for 175 yards and a touchdown.

     The Bills finished the season with four losses in five games, including the playoff defeat.

--- Budd Bailey

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: Moline?

   December 27, 1946 -- Someone once said that there's nothing new in the world, historically speaking. That's somewhat true when it comes to professional basketball in Buffalo. Or hadn't you heard of the Buffalo Bisons' basketball team?

   Few have, especially now. The Braves weren't the only Buffalo team to move.

   Buffalo had a franchise in the Naitonal Basketball League during the 1946-47 season. It was led by Don Otten, a 7-foot center who was cleverly nicknamed "Big Don." However, the team started slowly, going 5-8 through the first 13 games.

   Owner Ben Kerner had seen enough. He moved the team to Moline, Ill. on this day and became the Tri-Cities Blackhawks. That might not ring a bell either. Would you trade a team in Buffalo for one in Moline? In 1946?

   Tri-Cities drafted Bob Cousy and promptly traded his rights, thus insuring its demise to a certain extent. The Blackhawks later moved to Milwaukee, didn't do well there, and headed to St. Louis, where as the Hawks they actually won a championship in 1958.

   Still, St. Louis didn't warm to its NBA team either. So it was off to Atlanta. The Hawks have had some stars, but a lot of mediocre finishes since arriving in the Southeast. So, when you see the Hawks play, keep in mind that they got their start in Buffalo.

--- Budd Bailey

Running Notebook: Down the Thruway

Hope you saw the article on the "It's a Wonderful Run 5K' in Seneca Falls that was held two weeks ago. It's certainly a unique stop on the running circuit, and I enjoyed participating in it. (I'll admit, I was the guy yelling at the Building and Loan building at the end of the story. It got a laugh from the runners around me.)

Here is a link to some video of the event.

And here's a link to the website of the race itself.

The last race of the year is scheduled for Monday. It's in Irving, a winter recess run at 10:30 a.m. 12861 Route 438. Free gloves go to the first 50 arrivals. There aren't many 10:30 a.m. races on a Monday during the year.

Thanks to buffalorunners.com for the help with the schedule all year long.

And happy new year.

--- Budd Bailey

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: Happy Days

   December 26, 1964 -- It's the best day in Buffalo Bills' history by most standards ... at least until a Super Bowl title comes to town. The Bills won their first AFL championship with a 20-7 victory over the San Diego Chargers before 40,242 in War Memorial Stadium.

   The Bills spotted the Chargers a 7-0 lead, and then scored the next 20 points to wrap up the win. Jack Kemp and Wray Carlton each ran for touchdowns, while Pete Gogolak added two field goals.

   However, the game is mostly remembered for a single tackle. Keith Lincoln of the Chargers caught a swing pass in the flat, only to be clobbered by Bills' linebacker Keith Lincoln. The San Diego running back left the game with broken ribs.

   "What an explosion!" Bills cornerback Butch Byrd said. "He hit Lincoln, and I think Lincoln was shot. His whole career went down the tubes when Mike hit him."

   Exactly a year later, the Bills were even better. Buffalo knocked off San Diego, 23-0, on the West Coast to make it two in a row. Kemp threw a touchdown pass to Ernie Warlick, Byrd returned an interception for a touchdown, and Gogolak kicked three field goals.

--- Budd Bailey

NBA Scout on Harris: "People are calling...but it's a hard road"

In addition to Saturday’s story on Paul Harris, here’s what NBA Director of Scouting Ryan Blake had to say about the former Niagara Falls phenom. It's been a rocky path for Harris the past few years, but he's still clinging to pro dreams. 

Blake has seen Harris in action with the Maine Red Claws multiple times this season and thinks he has a chance. Below, the scout talks about Harris’ leadership abilities, where he needs to improve defensively, whether teams are tracking him and more.

On what stands out initially with Harris:

“He’s kind of in-between positions. When you look at the league right now, it’s a league that just has players. Whether not a team has a 6-10 power forward or a 6-2 shooting guard, they’re looking for people that know how to play, that have experience. Players that just aren’t athletes, but know how to play.

“Paul, what I like about him now, is that he’s a leader. He’s very vocal, very energetic and plays hard. Some concerns we still have on him, although he’s an energetic rebounder, he sort of has that in-between game. He doesn’t have that position and sometimes gets lost on defensive rotations. Defensively, we have to figured out where he could play.

“Now, when it comes to someone playing in the D-League and someone on the cusp of making the NBA, it’s very minimal. It takes the opinion of only one team or one scout that could give him that opportunity.”

On what Harris needs to do to make it:

“He played OK in summer league. People are calling on him. But it’s a hard road. This is not an offensive opportunity to make it into the league. You have to play on both ends of the floor. When you come in, you’re not going to come into the NBA as a scorer. You’re going to come in playing a role and, most importantly, you’re coming in as a distributor/defender. If you don’t defend or don’t know defensive rotations, you’re not going to get that opportunity.

“Defense is not just about intensity. It’s about rotations, about knowing where to be. Not saying he doesn’t have it, but he has to grasp it. Sometimes you need that defensive experience. You need to grind it into you until you finally get it. Just because he’s out of college doesn’t mean he’s not going to develop it.”

On if NBA teams are keeping a close eye on Harris:

“The D-League is the most scouted professional league in the world. Everybody’s going to have a grasp on it. He has a great coach in Austin Ainge up there and (assistant coach) Hernando (Planells) is a great developer as well. When you have two guys like that, and there are guys on that team that teams want to see. Is there interest? There’s always going to be interest because if a team isn’t scouting the D-League they’re not doing their job.”

On if he thinks Harris will get a shot:

“I don’t know. I don’t know. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and there are a lot of pretty players out there. There are a lot of beauties. What I do think is if you get him Olympic-conditioned and you play hard, that’s the best you can do.”

---Tyler Dunne

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About Sports, Ink

Budd Bailey

Budd Bailey

Budd Bailey has served in a variety of roles in Buffalo sports in the past 35 years, including reporter, talk-show host, baseball announcer, public relations staffer and author. He covers the Bandits and running for The News when not working as an editor.

@WDX2BB | bbailey@buffnews.com

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