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This Day in Buffalo Sports History: Big-name addition

     January 17, 1969 -- The Bills made some headlines when they hired a coach for the 1969 season.

     After all, only five NFL coaches had ever guided a team to the Super Bowl at that point, and now the Bills had one of them.

     John Rauch had coached the Oakland Raiders to the AFL championship in 1968, only to lose to the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl II. A year later, Rauch apparently felt a need to get away from Raiders' owner Al Davis. So Rauch resigned from his job on the West Coast and sign a four-year contract to come to Buffalo.

     Rauch, if nothing else, had smart people surrounding him in Oakland; two of his assistants were John Madden and Bill Walsh. He could have used them in Buffalo, as his Bills struggled despite the addition of O.J. Simpson in 1969.

      Rauch's only other head coaching position came in Toronto in the Canadian Football League. He left in 1974. Rauch died in 2008.

--- Budd Bailey

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: Adding some Punch

     January 16, 1970 -- When the Knox brothers were awarded an NHL expansion franchise for Buffalo in December 1969, Seymour Knox was told by a number of people to go hire a veteran hockey man to run that aspect of the operation. Luckily for him, one was available right up the QEW.

      Punch Imlach had won four Stanley Cups during his time in Toronto, but he was fired after a playoff loss in 1969. He joined the Sabres on this date as general manager and coach. Imlach had been expected to be involved in the other expansion franchise in Vancouver, but his group's bid for it fell short.

     Shortly after his hiring, Imlach put up a big sign in his office: "Beat Toronto." Those Sabres learned to beat the Maple Leafs and the rest of the NHL in the next few years.  Imlach put together a good hockey team in almost record time, helping the Sabres reach the Stanley Cup Finals as general manager in Year Five.

     His legacy was a bit tarnished by his return to Toronto after leaving Buffalo in 1978. But no one should forget that he was a key figure in making hockey a success in Buffalo. And Toronto fans have never forgotten who was behind the bench on the night in 1967 that the Maple Leafs last won a Stanley Cup.

--- Budd Bailey

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: A chiller of a game

     January 15, 1994 -- Bills' fans probably are still thawing out from this game at Rich Stadium. Buffalo defeated the Raiders (of Los Angeles) in what is still the coldest game in team history -- 0 degrees. The wind chill was minus-32.

     The Bills were set to play in their fifth AFC Championship game in six years, an impressive achievement.

     "We're 13-4, and a lot of people never felt that we would be there," running back Kenneth Davis said. "We had to believe in ourselves, and that was a big factor today."

     The Bills trailed twice in the game before Jim Kelly led a dynamic comeback. The winning points came on a 22-yard touchdown pass to Bill Brooks early in the fourth quarter.

     "We have a lot of experience in the playoffs, but most of all, we have a lot of character," Davis said. "And character is what's carried us more than anything."

     Next up - the Kansas City Chiefs, for a chance at yet another Super Bowl.

--- Budd Bailey

Post Time: Evening Attire draws five at the Big A

By Gene Kershner

Saturday's Evening Attire Stakes sends five horses onto the winterized inner track at Aqueduct for a purse of $65,000.  The five starters will run 1 1/8 miles in a race named after the old warrior, Evening Attire.  The race was renamed the Evening Attire from the Aqueduct Handicap in 2009, upon the retirement of the gray gelding.
Evening Attire (above) was a fixture on the NYRA circuit and son of 1991 Horse of the Year Black Tie Affair.  His biggest win was the 2002 Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) and he won seven stakes over a career in which he earned more than $2.9 million.  He won a graded stakes race at each of the three NYRA circuit tracks (Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga).
Evening Attire holds the track record at 1 1/2 miles at Philadelphia Park, when as a 10-year-old he bested his foes by 8“ lengths, while breaking a 16-year-old record.  He was the epitome of a closer, often behind the pace, and charging late.
The race has been won by some great horses including former Kentucky Derby winner Cannonade, in addition to Evening Attire, Kelso and Damascus. Let's take a look at this year's challengers and try to figure out who's going to grab the winning laurels (trainer, jockey, morning line odds):
1 -- More Than a Reason (Persaud, Castro, 10-1): Winner of the Grade III Queens County two back at 19-1, the More Than Ready 6-year-old won't sneak up on anyone in this race.  He ran 19 times in 2010 and he's right back at it in 2011.  A closer who can handle the distance, he could be running late to grab a piece.
2 -- Heart Butte (Pletcher, Cohen, 5-2): This 4-year-old son of Empire Maker is perfect in two races at the distance and steps up in class for his first listed stake race. He's lightly raced compared to his elder competition with only eight career starts.  I think his morning line odds are generous and won't bet him at that price facing tougher competition for the first time.  Will wait and see on this one even with the seven pound weight break.
3 -- Alma D'Oro (Pletcher, Jara, 3-1): The Medaglia D'Oro 5-year-old ran a super race in his last, winning a non-graded stake by four lengths and pulling away going a mile.  The pedigree says the distance is just right and he's won 3 of 7 at the 1 1/8 distance.  Jockey Fernando Jara is having a disappointing meet, but Pletcher wins these races at such solid percentages he's tough to ignore.  Second off the layoff, we'll be pushing the win button on this one.
4 -- Goombada Guska (Volk, Valdivia, 5-1): With a dam with the name Goombada Byda Sea, how can you not like this horse?  He ran most of his races this summer by the sea, at Monmouth Park, and picks up a new rider for the Evening Attire in Jose Valdivia.  He ran a decent race in his debut on the inner track in the $60K Cosmic Bob Stakes in December in a four-horse field.  Interesting.
5 -- Arson Squad (Dutrow, Dominguez, 8-5): The 8-year old veteran raced eight times in 2010 at six tracks.  A road warrior makes his second career start at the Big A after being upset as the favorite in the Queen's County by the rail horse, More Than a Reason.  The morning line favorite is the class of the field based on experience, and will enjoy the red-hot Eclipse finalist Ramon Dominguez in the irons.  His workouts say he's fit and is hard to dismiss with Dominguez aboard.

Post Time Selections:

1 - Alma D'Oro
2 - Arson Squad
3 - Goombada Guska

     Gene Kershner is a Buffalo-based turf writer, handicapper and member of the Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance who blogs at and tweets @EquiSpace.

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: Always on the job

     January 14, 1972 -- It seemed like something of a minor trade at the time, but it worked out very well for the Buffalo Sabres. In addition, it's one of the best anecdotes about the early history of the Sabres.

     Punch Imlach was in his second season of running the Sabres in 1971-72. He had served as general manager and coach since the franchise was formed, but his heart problems acted up in the second season and it was off to the hospital to get some treatment and rest.

     However, the phone in the hospital still worked. So Imlach send a second-round draft choice in the 1972 draft to the New York Rangers for Jim Lorentz. This was a deal that paid off for years to come.

     Lorentz had won a Stanley Cup in Boston in 1970 as a fourth-line in 1970, but he never got to be a regular until arriving in Buffalo. Then, he became a regular, scoring more than 20 goals four times as a Sabre.

     Lorentz was finished as a player in 1978, but he wasn't done contributing. He worked on the Sabres' broadcasts for many of the next 30 years. Jim even wrote some articles for the team's program.

--- Budd Bailey

Running notebook: One-two-three

I'm a little late with this, but I just heard about an interesting finish for a race in Michigan with a local connection.

The race was the Michigan State Police Fall Color 5K in Northville, Mich., in September. The overall men's winner was Dan Smaczniak of Orchard Park, who ran the distance in 19 minutes, 2 seconds. Dan is a fine local runner. Second across the finish line was Laura Smith of Rochester, Mich. -- also known as Dan's sister. Laura was a good runner at Frontier. She won the women's title in 19:27.9 And the third-place finisher was Dan Smaczniak of Hamburg, who finished in 20:04. That Dan is the father of Dan and Laura.

In other words, one family swept the podium. Pretty impressive.

We're back in the running business this week, although snowshoes might be a good choice for footwear:

* Snowball Run, 5K, 4110 Bailey Ave. in Eggersville, Saturday at 10 a.m., 440-7507. This race was pushed back from late last year and is in a new location.

* Flurrious Forecast 2 Mile Run, Delaware Park, Sunday at 9 a.m., 332-3501. The first person across the finish line doesn't win here. Competitors have to predict their times; closest one wins. Yes, no watches or other devices are allowed.

--- Budd Bailey

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: Bankrupt

     January 13, 2003 -- The Buffalo Sabres hit bottom on this date - at least financially.

     They declared bankruptcy under the weight of a large financial burden, caused by the collapse of the Rigas family's cable television empire.

      The Sabres, who owed Adelphia Communications $130 million, formally filed protection. It had $67.6 million in assets and $238 million in debts.

      "Without further financing, the club could soon default on its obligations to make payment of players' and other necessary employees' compensation," lawyers for the Sabres wrote in their bankruptcy petition.

     It was difficult to know what might happen at that point. Could the Sabres move? Could they default on salary payments and lose players (see Jim "Catfish" Hunter and the Oakland A's in the 1970's.)?

     As it turned out, the answer turned out much happier than could be expected. The NHL ran the team for a while, a new owner was eventually found, and Buffalo became a great hockey town again.

--- Budd Bailey

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: Goin' back

   January 12, 1992 -- It's tough to get back to the Super Bowl for a second straight year, particularly after losing the first one. The Bills proved on this day that they were more than tough enough.

   They defeated the Denver Broncos, 10-7, in Rich Stadium to punch a ticket to the NFL championship. The Bills had vowed to try to make a return to the Super Bowl after losing to the New York Giants in the final moments.

   "Last year's Super Bowl lingered in our minds -- four, five, six months -- and I didn't like that," quarterback Jim Kelly said. "We have the chance to go back, and there's not many teams that get a second opportunity. We have our second opportunity. "Now, it's a matter of us going out and capitalizing on it."

   It was supposed to be a great offensive show between Kelly and Denver quarterback John Elway. Instead, we saw plenty of defense. Carlton Bailey returned an interception 11 yards for a touchdown, and - mixed with three missed field goals by the Broncos - the Broncos' hopes were toast.

   The Bills moved on to play Washington, a story that has a sadder outcome for Buffalo.

--- Budd Bailey

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: Putting in the time

   January 11, 1972 - The Buffalo Braves did some rewriting of their record book over the course of a few days in 1972.

   Earlier that week, the Braves set a team record for consecutive losses that lasted until the franchise's departure. Here Elmore Smith played 53 minutes to set a Braves record in a game against the Cincinnati Royals.

   No Brave ever played more in a game, and the team needed everyone one of those minutes to end a 12-game losing streak.

   Smith might be the most underrated player in Braves history. He played well right away as a rookie, but when knee problems sidelined him the following season it gave Bob McAdoo a chance to play center. McAdoo grabbed the position and never looked back.

   "The Big E" was traded to the Lakers for Jim McMillian, who teamed with several new faces such as Ernie DiGregorio to give the Braves a new look. Smith's knees never allowed him to fulfill his potential.

   Check out the story of that 1971-72 season here.

 --- Budd Bailey

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: Fort Knox

   January 10, 1978 -- It was a surprise then, and it is still a surprise today. Ralph Wilson reached out and hired a big-name coach on this day.

   Chuck Knox had won five straight NFC West titles as coach of the Los Angeles Rams, but he hadn't gotten the team to a Super Bowl. That record wasn't good for owner Carroll Rosenbloom.

   So Knox jumped before he was fired, signing a $1.2 million, six-year deal with the Bills. Buffalo's football fans reacted with glee, having gone through some of the worst years in the history of the franchise in the late 1970's.

    Knox needed only a couple of years to rebuild the Bills. By 1980, Buffalo jumped out to a 5-0 start and make the playoffs. The Bills were back in the postseason under Knox again in 1981.

   However, Buffalo couldn't reach the postseason in 1982, a year remembered for labor troubles. After the season, Knox jumped to the Seattle Seahawks and was replaced by Kay Stephenson.

   Knox won plenty of games throughout this career, but never did reach the promised land of the Super Bowl.

--- Budd Bailey

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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.