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This Day in Buffalo Sports History: Folding up the tent

   September 17, 1885 -- The youngsters reading this -- and by that, we're referring to everyone under 130 years old -- might not remember that Buffalo used to be a major-league baseball city. The ending to those glory days is a great story with an unhappy ending.

   The Buffalo Bisons had been in the National League since 1879 when they started the 1885 season. They had never finished higher than third, but the Bisons fell on hard times in that season. They were stumbling along near the bottom of the standings as the campaign came to its conclusion.

   In September, Detroit called to ask if it could purchase four players as reinforcements for the stretch drive. The Wolverines were told by Josiah Jewett, president of the Bisons, that they couldn't have them -- they had to buy the entire roster. So that's what the Detroit franchise did, paying $7,000 for the team.

   The Bisons finished the season about four weeks later. The roster was filled with amateur and local players. Buffalo lost every game but one the rest of the way; the Herd did record one tie in that span and finished 38-74 -- somehow avoiding last place in the process. The fans showed their enthusiasm by staying away; one game took in all of $3 in gate receipts.

   The National League left after the season, never to return. Buffalo has been on the outside looking in ever since.

--- Budd Bailey

Post Time: Calm before the storm

By Gene Kershner

We’ve gone from summer racing to Breeders’ Cup prep season in a matter of two weeks. The big racing this weekend takes place mostly on our side of the continent, with major races at Belmont Park and to the north at Woodbine in Toronto. Two of the major races are Saturday’s Garden City at Belmont and the Woodbine Mile in nearby Toronto.

The Grade 1 $250,000 Garden City Stakes for 3-year-old fillies going 1 1/8-mile on the turf at Belmont has enough stories to intrigue the faintest of racing fans. The prohibitive favorite, Winter Memories (8-5 morning line favorite), a four-time graded stakes winner, will be trying to make amends for a fourth place finish in the Lake Placid at Saratoga where she was the 1-5 favorite, won by Hungry Island.

Winter Memories’ rider in that race, Jose Lezcano, was severely criticized after being pinned inside by Ramon Dominguez, and with nowhere to make her late run, never was able to get into contention.  Trainer Jimmy Toner decided to change jockeys for the Garden City and enlisted top turf jockey Javier Castellano to take the mount.

Toner thinks Winter Memories will rebound from her troubled trip in the Lake Placid. “I would like for her to make amends for her last race.  I certainly don’t want to take anything away from Hungry Island, who ran a great race. I just hope she can run her race, is all,” said Toner.

To make things more interesting, Lezcano was awarded the mount on Lake Placid runner-up Kathmanblu (8-1), a terrific filly who will obviously have a motivated rider aboard. The 3-year-old Bluegrass Cat filly will be making her third Grade 1 appearance and should be a factor based on class alone.

To add even more spice to the drama, celebrity chef Bobby Flay has entered the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf champion, More Than Real (8-1), who defeated Winter Memories in the Cup last November at Churchill Downs. After a disappointing trip over the pond to Royal Ascot, where she finished 11th in the Group 1 Coronation, she returned to finish third in the Lake Placid and could be ready to roll with her second race after the journey to the UK.

The Lake Placid champion Hungry Island (3-1) has only one career loss (coming at Belmont) and carries a four-race winning streak into the Garden City and her assistant trainer thinks a bigger effort is in the wings. “I think that last race was obviously her best race. All summer long we’ve seen improvement and I think there’s more room for improvement too,” said Buzz Tenney, assistant to Hall of Fame trainer Claude “Shug” McGaughey.

Heading up the QEW, Woodbine’s Sunday card features some solid stakes racing with the Woodbine Mile and the Northern Dancer Turf Stakes on tap. By the time  the Bills will have taken care of the Raiders on Sunday afternoon, the major stakes races to the north will be ready to roll.

The $1 million Woodbine Mile, Sunday’s feature race at the Toronto race course, has 12 entries attempting to claim the $600,000 first place prize, including veteran stakes winner Court Vision and Charles LoPresti’s Turallure. The race has attracted top riders Julien Leparoux (Turallure), Garret Gomez (Right One), Pat Valenzuela (Courageous Cat) and Saratoga meet winning jock Johnny Velazquez (Forte Dei Marmi). The best jocks show up for the big dough and the Woodbine Mile is no exception.

Prior to the Woodbine Mile, the Northern Dancer Turf will feature nine horses, including stakes champions Ali Khali, Bourbon Bay and Seaside Retreat. Smokin’ Joe Talamo flies in from California to ride Bourbon Bay for trainer Neil Drysdale.

Local notables

•    We made a trek westward last Thursday to Presque Isle Downs in Erie, Pa., and for being only 90 minutes down the Thruway it’s a quality race track with all the amenities. I sat in the dining area to watch several of the races and enjoyed the view, and an awesome filly cheesesteak sandwich (nice play on words). My only complaint was the length of time it took to post results after a race, sometimes up to 10 minutes. Of course, when you have a winning ticket in your hand, you have much more patience.

•    Buffalo-based Bella Cavello Stables ran a Giacomo (2005 Kentucky Derby champion) filly at Presque Isle that evening named Giaelle, who finished  a disappointing fourth and will look to stretch out in her next start after five straight sprint races. The local owners rebounded this past Wednesday evening at the Erie oval when Little B Rosson scored at odds of 11-1 and paid $23.20 for the win in a six furlong allowance.

•    Fort Erie has moved post times back to 1:15 p.m. on Mondays and Tuesdays for the remainder of the season.

Gene Kershner is a Buffalo-based turf writer and handicapper who blogs at and tweets @EquiSpace.

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: Welcome, NFL

    September 16, 1938 -- Earlier this year, there was a note in this space about how in 1960 the first pro football game was played in War Memorial Stadium. The trick was that the name of the stadium was changed for the occasion.

   If you asked when the first NFL game was played in that facility, you might answer in 1966 -- after the formal merger between the AFL and the NFL -- or in 1970 -- when the merger between the two leagues was completed.

   In reality, the first NFL game ever played in Civic Stadium came on this date. The Philadelphia Eagles defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates (they became the Steelers two years later), 27-7. The reason the game was played in Buffalo was, we assume, because the Pirates shared Forbes Field with the baseball Pirates, who hadn't finished their season. Even though the baseball team was on the road that weekend, they no doubt didn't want their field chewed up.

    A crowd of 19,749 watched the game at Jefferson and Best in Buffalo. The Eagles were coached by future NFL commissioner Bert Bell. Jay Arnold scored three touchdowns for Philadelphia -- one on a fumble return, one on a pass reception, and one on an interception return.

   The two teams eventually finished around the bottom of the NFL's Eastern Division that year. Pittsburgh finished 2-9 while Philadelphia was 5-6.

--- Budd Bailey

Running notebook: Film review

   Ever see the movie, "The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner"? It was on Turner Classic Movies this past week, and is rated as a four-star classic. I wouldn't call it a running movie, since it's just a subplot to the bigger theme of alienated young adults in Great Britain about 50 years ago. The lead character discovers he has running ability while in jail. It's worth a rental.

   Enough film criticism. One other note off the subject of the calendar -- I noticed the hard way that my subscription to Runner's World had run out. I've mentioned before in this space how good the journalism is in that publication. However, it must be the only magazine in America that doesn't send out 12 renewal notices in the six months leading up to the expiration date. Very odd

   You might have to get out a long-sleeved shirt to run this weekend, thanks to that cold front that went through Thursday morning. Here's the busy calendar, courtesy of

   * Run for Life 5K, 4928 Seneca St. in West Seneca, 9 a.m. Saturday, 864-4571.

   * Lebro's Fall Classic 5K, 330 Campbell Blvd. in Getzville, 10 a.m. Saturday, 689-4507. This is always a nice race with plenty of activities for the kids. Besides, it's one of the few races left to hand out fleece shirts.

   * Connor's Hot Dog Stand 5K, 8934 Old Lakeshore Road in Angola-on-the-Lake, 10 a.m. Saturday, 926-2218.

   * Lighthouse Baptist 5K, 383 Wheatfield St. in North Tonawanda, 2 p.m. Saturday, 998-8057. I know there are runners who want to do as many races as possible; the 2 o'clock start is made for them.

   * 8 in the Rough Trail Run, 8 miles, Sprague Brook Park in Glenwood, 10 a.m. Sunday.

   * Shea's Run for the Arts 5K, 646 Main St. in Buffalo, 11:30 a.m. Sunday, 553-0179. This race has the habit of giving a big discount to those who register well in advance. It's has really paid off well in terms of attendance; I'm surprised more races don't copy that example.

   Coming up in Sunday's running column, I'll have a look at a new race that fills a nice on the calendar nicely.

--- Budd Bailey

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: Clobbered

   September 15, 1968 -- As bad days go for the Bills, this was a good-sized one.

   It started with a game against the Raiders in War Memorial Stadium. Oakland opened the scoring with an 86-yard punt return by George Atkinson. It was 21-0 by the end of the first quarter, and 31-0 by halftime.

   When it was 34-0 early in the fourth quarter, Bob Cappodona scored on a 7-yard run. The Bills went for two points and failed. The Raiders went back to work, as Larry Todd ran for two scores. George Wilson set an AFL record by returning five punts for 205 yards. Final score: Oakland 48, Buffalo 6. It was one of the great routs in Bills' history.

   Apparently Ralph Wilson noticed that last part. He asked for a meeting at a hotel with Collier after the game, which was Buffalo's second straight loss. Yes, Wilson had fired his coach. Harvey Johnson, the team's personnel director, was named interim coach that day.

   Collier had been the defensive coordinator of some great Bills' teams earlier in the decade. But that team had gotten old, and reinforcements never arrived. Collier paid the price.

   The coaching switch didn't help much. Johnson went 1-10-1 for the rest of the season, and the Bills finished at the bottom of the overall NFL standings.

--- Budd Bailey

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: New backfield

   September 14, 1969 -- The Buffalo Bills had a lot of work to do in 1969. After all, they were coming off a 1-12-1 season that was in the worst in the National Football League in 1968.

   They hoped their new pair of running backs would help turn things around.

   The new combination certainly had the credentials. O.J. Simpson was one of the greatest running backs in the history of college football. He won the Heisman Trophy while at Southern California in 1968, and probably should have won that same award as a junior in 1967.

   While Simpson went first overall, Buffalo took Bill Enyart in the second round of the '69 draft. Enyart was 6-foot-4, 235 pounds, and had the nickname of "Earthquake.‘ The idea was that Simpson and Enyart would play the roles of lightning and thunder, respectively.

   Both players made their NFL debuts on this day. Enyart had the first touchdown of the duo. He caught a 5-yard pass from Jack Kemp in the third quarter of the game with the Jets, which was played before a record crowd of 46,165 at War Memorial Stadium.

   Simpson finished his first game with 35 yards on 10 carries, while Enyart ran for 18 yards on nine carries. The Bills lost that game to the defending Super Bowl champions, 33-19, even though Joe Namath was only 7 of 19 for 157 yards and three interceptions.

--- Budd Bailey

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: Remembering a Bison

     September 13, 1968 -- This was a rather shocking day in the local hockey community, as the Buffalo Bisons lost one of their veterans in tragic circumstances.

     Wayne Larkin had been a professional hockey player for almost 10 years. He started with the St. Paul Saints of the International Hockey League before landing in the American Hockey League in 1960. He stayed there for eight seasons, with one interruption.

     Larkin first played with the Cleveland Barons for two seasons, landed in Springfield for one campaign, and went back to Cleveland for two more. Then he divided a year between Providence and Vancouver (Western Hockey League) before finally coming to Buffalo.

     Larkin had 18 goals and 24 assists for 42 points in 1966-67, and scored 10 goals and 22 assists for 32 points in 1967-68.

     The left winger took the ice for the first practice of training camp with the New York Rangers' organization on this day. He collapsed while on the ice, and died of heart failure.

     Larkin, a native of Winnipeg, is a member of the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame. The Buffalo Sabres originally named their team's Most Valuable Player Award "The Wayne Larkin Memorial Trophy."

--- Budd Bailey

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: A win gets away

     September 12, 2004 -- There's always hope when a new coach arrives for a professional sports franchise, especially in his first game. In Mike Mularkey's case, that hope for Bills' fans extended for virtually that entire opener.

     But those good feelings expired when the game did. The Bills somehow let one get away, losing to the Jaguars, 13-10, before 72,389 in Ralph Wilson Stadium.

     Painful? The Bills had several missed opportunities to put the game away. Then Jacksonville converted three fourth-down plays in an 80-yard march to the winning score.

     The Jags put the game away on a 7-yard touchdown pass from byron Leftwich to Ernest Wilford right at the gun.

     "I remember my high school coach telling me that once you've got them down, if you're a great team, you have to kill the mosquito with an ax," said Bills linebacker Takeo Spikes.

     The Bills rebounded to have a winning record in 2004, going 9-7. But the team went 5-11 in 2005, and Mularkey resigned after the season.

--- Budd Bailey

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: Downhill from there

   September 11, 2005 -- Sometimes first impressions can be deceptive. Take the case of J.P. Losman.

   The former first-round draft choice got his first start at quarterback on this day. He came out firing as the Bills defeated the Houston Texans at Ralph Wilson Stadium, 22-7.

   "We weren't going to sit back [and wait] to try to get him more involved in the game," Bills coach Mike Mularkey said. "I think they were expecting us to run the ball, and we were not going to hold back. We were going to bring out the offense, try to keep them off balance. A lot of that was getting him out of the pocket. .‚.‚. A lot of that is trusting that he could do it, and he did it."

   Losman connected on his first five passes as the Bills jumped out to a 3-0 lead. He finished 17 of 28 passes for 170 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. He was sacked only once. He ran for 31 yards.

   "It's an awesome feeling," Losman said. "Right now I don't even know how to handle exactly how I'm feeling or what I actually saw."

   That was Losman's only win as a starter that year. He spent five years as a Bill and never could grab ahold of the starting quarterback job.

--- Budd Bailey

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: Champions!

     September 10, 1997 -- For all the success the Buffalo Bisons had when Bob Rich bought the franchise in 1983, a league championship eluded the franchise for years. Then 1997 came along, and the Bisons finally got their title with a win over Iowa.

     Not only that, but Rich got himself a baseball.

     It was the baseball that Richie Sexson caught for the final out of the game that wrapped up the American Association title in Iowa's Sec Taylor Stadium. Torey Lovullo gave Rich the ball during the clubhouse celebration after the game, which was a 5-4 Buffalo win in 10 innings.

     "It's never easy, never," a champagne-drenched Rich said to The News' Mike Harrington after the game. "We've come so close so many times and you think of the teams in the past at a time like this. This team has great heart and [manager] Brian Graham has been a great leader. .‚.‚. It's a storybook year for us. I don't think anybody could have expected this at the start of the year."

     Buffalo looked like a sure winner an inning early, but gave up a 4-2 lead in the ninth to send the game to extra innings. Then Sean Casey turned the game around again with a solo homer.

     "I'm numb by that time," Rich said. "We've played so much good baseball in 13 years in the Association and a title had eluded us. It's almost human nature to wait for how the sky is going to fall down tonight."

--- 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.