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This Day in Buffalo Sports History: Better for a season

   December 23, 1966 -- Remember Mike Garrett, the elusive halfback from Southern California who went on to a fine pro career with the Kansas City Chiefs? Bobby Burnett of the Buffalo Bills was better than Garrett in their rookie season of 1966.

   Burnett, himself a halfback, was honored as the rookie of the year in the American Football League on this day. Burnett ran for 766 yards and four touchdowns, and he also caught 34 passes. Burnett was selected for the AFL All-Star team.

   Wray Carlton added 696 yards rushing as a fullback, so the Bills had a good 1-2 combination at running back that season.

   Sadly, Burnett was more like a comet than a star. He suffered a knee injury a year later. The Arkansas product ran for only 96 yards in 1967, and finished his career with five carries for Denver in 1969.

   As for Garrett, he played on an AFL champion as a rookie, as his Chiefs' team went on to lose to the Packers in the first Super Bowl. Garrett later won a championship ring when the Chiefs won Super Bowl IV in Jan. 1970.

-- Budd Bailey

Bandits notebook: Roster games

A few of the veterans who played for the Buffalo Bandits in 2011 aren't going to have a happy holiday season. That's because they are out of work.

The Bandits figured to make some changes, what with the Boston Blazers' folding and the input of the usual bunch of rookies. There had been plenty of speculation about who would be involved during the course of training camp.

The biggest surprise among the departures is Brett Bucktooth. He played in the All-Star Game last winter, although to be fair his selection was a bit of a surprise. Bucktooth's play has been a little up and down over the past few years, although you'd think he might get at least a look from some other team that needs a transition player. Jeremy Thompson, the team's top draft pick this fall, may get some of Bucktooth's playing time.

Brenden Thenhaus had some good moments, but probably got squeezed out by numbers. Luke Wiles and Kevin Buchanan should supply extra offense this season. Jay Thorimbert was the team's second faceoff man behind Brandon Francis last season; Thompson might get a look at that role too.

Travis Irving was the other "name" cut. I would suspect that he would be offered a job on the practice squad.

It would be a little out of character for the Bandits to look at players who were released from other teams, but that doesn't mean it can't happen.

--- Budd Bailey

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: Happy days are still here

   December 22, 1996 -- If you've been paying attention during this century, playoff appearances by the Buffalo Bills are worth celebration. Therefore, the celebration was on when the Bills wrapped up a postseason spot here.

   The Bills defeated the Kansas City Chiefs, 20-9, in Rich Stadium before 68,571. That meant the Bills would start the postseason at home the following week.

  "It is kind of a new beginning," wide receiver Steve Tasker said to The News' Vic Carucci of the Bills' eighth playoff appearance in the last nine seasons. "Now, we get a chance to wipe the slate clean. We're 10-6, and up until this week, we looked like we were stumbling into the playoffs . . . if we got in."

   This one was all field goals in the first three quarters, as the Chiefs took a 9-6 lead. Then Buffalo responded with touchdown passes from Jim Kelly to Tony Cline and Quinn Early. Kelly was great that day, going 20 for 29 for 279 yards. Not bad for a guy who came down with the flu the night before the game.

   "Jim was hurting pretty bad," said Tasker, who caught four passes for a game-high 87 yards. "I walked down the tunnel with him before the game today, and he looked like the air had been let out of him."

--- Budd Bailey

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: Biggest win ever

     December 21, 1975 -- Look down the list of final scores in the Sabres' 1975-76 season -- heck, review the franchise's history, if you are so inclined -- and the score from this particular day certainly stands out.

     After all, you don't see a team score 14 goals every day. But that's the number the Sabres had when a game with the Washington Capitals was over. It was the most one-sided game in team history.

     The game was somewhat close for 21 minutes. Gil Perreault and Fred Stanfield gave the Sabres had a 2-0 lead after a period, but Tony White got one for the Caps in the first minute of the second period. That seemed to anger the Sabres, who scored four goals in the second period to go up, 6-2, after 40 minutes.

     Then the "fun" began. The Sabres scored eight goals in the third period. Buffalo set an NHL record with 40 points distributed among its players. It scored five goals in 4 minutes, 57 seconds. Rick Martin finished with four goals and Stanfield had his only hat trick as a Sabre.

     In case you are curious, Ron Low stopped 26 of 36 shots for Washington. Bernie Wolfe replaced him with 12 minutes to go, and allowed four goals on 14 shots. The shots on goal in the third period were 22-3.

--- Budd Bailey

Links updates on Katz and Covelli

A pair of Buffalo-area golfers are doing well on the links this week in the Sunshine State.

Williamsville's Jake Katz, who is living in Florida while pursuing a pro career, made his first cut Tuesday on the developmental National Golf Association Pro Golf Tour. Katz shot 2-under-par 70 in the second round at Orange County National's Crooked Cat course. Located outside Orlando, the course is a monster at 7,493 yards.

Katz is tied for 23rd at 1-under 143 through two rounds of the three-round event.

Buffalo's Chris Covelli, who provided Katz with some of his best competition this summer during Buffalo District Golf Association events, is participating in the inaugural South Beach International Amateur.

The field features five of the top 50 in the Scratch Players World Amateur Ranking, including reigning U.S. Amateur champion Kelly Kraft of Texas (No. 5 in the world).

Covelli equated himself quite well, shooting a 1-under 69 in the first round atthe par-70 Normandy Shores Golf Club. That has him in a tie for sixth place. Olivier Rozner of France leads after carding a 5-under 65, while Kraft is tied for second after opening with a 66.

Covelli tees off at 8 a.m. Wednesday in the second round, which will be played on the par-71 Miami Beach Golf Club.

Four other locals -- Orchard Park's Jonathan Clark (75), Elma's Billy Hanes (78), Amherst's Jacob Kreuz (83) and Williamsville's Bill Gaffney (93) -- are also in the field.

---Jay Skurski

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: Not as planned

     December 20, 1999 -- This has to rank as one of the oddest departures from the Buffalo sports scene in the area's history.

     The Buffalo Blizzard parted ways with Rudy Pikuzinski, perhaps the most well-known player in team history. He was the Blizzard's all-time leading scorer, and scored the team's first-ever goal.

     Coach George Fernandez cut him without warning shortly after the start of the season.

     "Philosophically speaking, we had differences, and I have to do what is best for the team," Fernandez said in a prepared statement. "My goal from here on out is to take this team in another direction. This is just one step in that direction."

     Just to add some drama, it was later revealed that Fernandez had told the 40-year-old Pikuzinski, "I think you're the cancer of this team."

     That was Pikuzinski's final act as a player; he later was picked for the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame.

--- Budd Bailey

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: Not even close

     December 19, 1948 -- The Buffalo Bills had the chance to play for a championship on this date. The other Buffalo Bills, that is.

     Western New York's entry in the All-America Football Conference won the East with a mediocre 7-7 record. Then the Bills beat the Baltimore Colts in the first round of the playoffs. The reward for all that was a date with the Cleveland Browns, the most powerful team in the AAFC with a 14-0 record.

     It was no contest. The Browns handed the Bills a 49-7 thrashing. Marion Motley ran 14 times for 133 yards and three touchdowns, showing why he was one of the greatest running backs of his time.

     The last score of the game came on a 39-yard interception return for a touchdown by the Browns' Lou Saban. He would become more familiar with Buffalo later in life. The Bills' only touchdown came on Jim Still's 10-yard pass to Al Baldwin.

     The Bills and the AAFC had one more year left. Then came the merger between the two leagues, and this time Buffalo was left out in the cold.

--- Budd Bailey

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: On and on

     December 18, 2010 -- Regular season games in college basketball are rarely memorable, but this one was the exception to the rule ... especially in Olean.

     The Bonnies took on Ohio University at the Reilly Center, and the two teams weren't content to play 40 minutes. Or 45, or 50. They needed four overtimes and 60 minutes before Bona took a 112-107 victory.

      Bona center Andrew Nicholson led the way with a career-high 44 points to go with 12 rebounds as he played all 60 minutes. Those at the game say he wasn't even the best player on the court. That distinction went ot D.J. Cooper of the Bobcats, who had 43 points, 13 assists, eight rebounds and eight assists. Has there ever been a better game by an opposing player in Olean?

     As could be imagined, both sides went home thinking they could have won the game on numerous occasions before it finally ended.

     "We had them and sometimes they had us," St. Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt said. "Somehow we found a way and showed some mental toughness."

--- Budd Bailey

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: Bring your parka

     December 17, 2000 -- This was not a day for the faint of heart among Buffalo Bills' fans.

     It was an historically bad day at Rich Stadium. We're talking snow, 45 mph winds and a minus-1 degree wind chill. It was called one of the worst weather days in Bills' history.

     Naturally, Buffalo went into overtime in its game with the New England Patriots. The Bills didn't even send the 15,000 of the original 47,230 who were left at the end home happy. Adam Vinatieri kicked the winning field goal with 19 seconds left to give the Pats a 13-10 win.

     "I've played in some cold games, some snowy games, some windy games, but this was a combination of all three," Bills safety Henry Jones said. "We had sleet and snow coming down sideways today. It was just a brutal day."

     It was the Bills' fourth straight loss, the first time since 1985 the team had done that. Rob Johnson didn't see the end of the game either. The quarterback suffered a concussion and left early. Doug Flutie finished up.

     This was the last home game of the Wade Phillips era, and the last loss. Buffalo won in Seattle a week later to finish the season 8-8 and out of the playoffs.

--- Budd Bailey

Post Time: Who’s Hot, Who’s Not?

By Gene Kershner

With the 2011 racing year winding down, let’s take a few minutes to see what’s been going on around the racing world since Drosselmeyer crossed the wire in the Breeders’ Cup Classic early last month.

Who’s Hot?

-- Rapid Redux.  The horse claimed for $6,250 by owner Robert Cole won his 21st straight race on Tuesday at Laurel Park, 19 coming during 2011, tying the all-time North American record set by Citation, the 1948 Triple Crown champion.

-- Rick Dutrow. His horses are 19 for 44 at the current Aqueduct meeting, winning at an astounding 43 percent rate. He is currently appealing a 10-year suspension for drug violations in New York State. He has three solid horses ready to enter the handicap ranks at Gulfstream in Trickmeister, Boys at Tosconova and Redeemed, two of which will run this weekend.

-- Ramon Dominguez. On back to back days this week he won four races, including eight of nine consecutive races. He leads all New York jockeys with 312 victories through Thursday and is looking to win consecutive Eclipse Awards as the nation’s top jockey for the first time ever.

-- Joel Rosario and Rafael Bejarano. On the left coast, these two top jockeys are waging a battle for the top spot on the Hollywood Park jockey leader board. Through Wednesday, Rosario leads Bejarano by three wins, 31-28.

-- Union Rags. He currently sits atop the Wynn’s Vegas Sports Book as the lowest price horse for next year’s Kentucky Derby. BC Juvenile winner Hansen is listed at 16-1.

Who’s Not?

-- Stan Verrett. Who? The horse racing world exploded on Wednesday after Rapid Redux made SportCenter’s top 10 list. Unfortunately, at the end of the segment, Verritt made an off-handed remark when discussing the possibility it was Rapid Redux’s last race: “so you know, if it’s a horse’s last race, that means only one of two things: Either it’s going to retire to stud or, well, you know…” Not cool.

-- Sam Hurd. Whoops, forgot this is a horse racing blog.

-- Gary Contessa. Typically a star trainer at Aqueduct and king of the claiming game, he’s struggled during the current meeting, winning only six of 65 starts through Wednesday.

-- New Jersey Governor Christie.  Earlier this week, in a surprise move, he called the NJ Horsemen’s Association “completely untrustworthy” and threatened that racing at Monmouth Park could cease if a new deal to lease the track in Oceanport isn’t completed within a week. It’s not pretty in New Jersey these days.

Good luck this weekend at the windows!

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

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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.