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This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Wade Phillips

     (Born June 21, 1947) -- Longtime fans of the National Football League certainly remember Bum Phillips, the head coach of the Houston Oilers. He led that team to some memorable if losing important games with the Pittsburgh Steelers' great teams of the late 1970s, and provided a lot of color along the way.

     Son Wade is not exactly a chip off the old block. He still had football genes, but his personality was much quieter.

     Phillips was a top linebacker at the University of Houston in the late 60s. He moved into college coaching from there, and worked with his father in Houston and New Orleans. Wade even replaced Bum as the head coach of the Saints on an interim basis in 1985.

     After some time as the head coach in Denver, Wade Phillips was hired as the defensive coordinator of the Bills under Marv Levy. He moved up to the head coaching spot in 1998, lasting three seasons. Phillips went 29-19 in that span, but lost his job in a rather public dispute with owner Ralph Wilson.

     Phillips later spent most of four seasons as the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys. He's now a defensive coordinator with the Houston Texans.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Dave Snuggerud

     (Born June 20, 1966) -- When Dave Snuggerud was a rookie on the Buffalo Sabres during the 1989-90 season, one member of the team's front office said that Snuggerud was more valuable to the Sabres than he would be to a minor-league team. That summed up the skill set of this smart, defensive-minded forward nicely.

     Snuggerud was a Minnesota native who played college hockey at the University of Minnesota. He skipped a year to play with the U.S. Olympic team in 1988, and then played one more season as a Golden Gopher before signing with the Sabres.

     The winger skipped the minors and landed in Buffalo in 1989. He had 14 goals and 16 assists in 80 games. That was as good his statistics ever got, as he was a part of a Sabre team that had an outstanding regular season.

     Snuggerud played another 80 games the following season, but his ice time was decreasing as the 1991-92 campaign progressed. The Sabres dealt him to San Jose for Wayne Presley, which turned out to be an excellent deal for Buffalo.

     The Sharks kept him around for a while, but traded him to Philadelphia. That's where his NHL career ended in 1993, and he went back to college to get his degree. After a year off, Snuggerud finally made it to the minors, spending one season with the Minnesota Moose before retiring. He's now a sixth-grade science teacher.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Don Colpoys

   (Born June 19, 1934) -- Don Colpoys is a "baseball lifer" in every sense of the word. Few have done more to promote the game in Western New York over the years.

   His love affair with the game extends way back to when he was an All-Catholic pick for Bishop Timon in the 1950s. He joined the St. Louis Cardinals organization, but saw his career cut short due to injury.

   So, Colpoys simply changed his focus. He played and coached in amateur baseball, serving with the Simon Pures from 1957 to 1970. Manager Colpoys went 46-0 in that first year. He also worked the AAABA Al Maroones.

   Then Colpoys landed jobs as a scout with the Phillies and as a manager with the Niagara Falls team in the New York-Penn league. He started coaching the Canisius College baseball team in 1977, where he won 325 games in a 26-year career. Colpoys also served as the general manager of the Buffalo Bisons from 1979 to 1984.

   He was paid a high tribute for his work in 2011 when he was inducted into the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Bruce Smith

     (Born June 18, 1963) -- When Bruce Smith was in high school in Norfolk, Va., it's said that he was a pretty fair basketball player. Let's see -- 6-foot-4, slowly filling out a frame that reached 265 pounds later in life, amazingly quick for his size. Who could stop him then?

     However, he made the right career choice by playing football. No one could stop him at any point of his career, as he was one of the greatest defensive ends in history.

     Smith won the Outland Trophy as the nation's best defensive lineman at Virginia Tech, and was an All-American. The Bills took him first overall in the draft in 1985.

     Buffalo had made some bad decisions in the draft in that era, but this was a good one. He had 15 sacks in 1986, his second year in the NFL. By 1989, Smith was the Bills' all-time leader in sacks. He eventually was a huge part of the Bills' teams that made four straight Super Bowls.

     Smith stayed in Buffalo through 1999, jumping to Washington as a free agent. He finished his career with 200 sacks, and was an obvious selection for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2009.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Joe Charbonneau

     (Born June 17, 1955) -- Joe Charbonneau wasn't a baseball player. He was a comet -- one which passed through Buffalo when it was dimming.

     Charbonneau was signed by the Phillies, and moved over to the Twins and Indians. Fate opened up a spot in the Cleveland lineup in 1980, and Charbonneau was ready. The outfielder hit .289 with 23 homers and 87 RBIs. He won the American League rookie of the year award, and entertained fans with stories about how he fixed a broken nose himself with a pair of pliers, or how he could drink beer with a straw through his nose.

     It was a nice story, but it turned in spring training in 1981 when Charbonneau hurt his back. He only was hitting .208 when the strike interrupted the major league season that year. The outfielder had back surgery the following winter.

     The 1982 season wasn't any better, and he ended up going back to the minors. That's how our stories gets to Buffalo. In 1983, Charbonneau was hitting .200 for the Bisons when one night he didn't run out a ground ball, got booed, and replied with an obscene gesture. Buffalo soon released him.

     Charbonneau reportedly is a hitting coach in Texas, and still signs autographs. You can see him in uniform today if you rent "The Natural" as he worked as a teammate of Roy Hobbs (Robert Redford) in the movie.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Mike Thompson

     (Born June 16, 1977) -- If Mike Thompson never does anything else for the Buffalo sporting scene, he'll always be fondly remembered for helping the Bandits win a championship.

     Thompson was in goal for the championship game in 2008, when the Bandits beat Portland. He made a big save in the final seconds to preserve Buffalo's one-goal victory.

     The goalie has not had a typical career. He was born in Akwesasme, Ont., and saw his first action in the National Lacrosse League in 2006 with Ottawa. The Bandits signed him as a free agent after that season.

     Thompson spent the 2007 season as the backup goalie to Steve Dietrich, and then worked with Ken Montour as Buffalo's two goalies for the next few seasons. Montour was eventually sidelined by concussion issues, leaving Thompson as the team's top goalie. Then in 2011, he was voted the starting goalie for the East in the NLL All-Star Game in Buffalo.

     By the way, Thompson has one of the most upbeat personalities in this city's sports history. He almost always has a smile on his face.

--- Budd Bailey

Post Time: Major changes in the Road to the Kentucky Derby

By Gene Kershner

With the 2011 Triple Crown season barely in the rear view mirror, we are already looking at significant structure changes for next year, starting with the first leg of the elusive thoroughbred racing series. Churchill Downs made an announcement on Thursday morning representing a major change in the way horses qualify for the Kentucky Derby.

The Racetrack will abandon the graded earnings criteria by instituting a weighted point system to determine which 20 horses will get into the starting gate for the Run for the Roses. The new point system will be branded as “Road to the Kentucky Derby” and will feature 36 stakes races overall , including 17 marquee events for 3-year-old thoroughbreds that comprise a 10-week run up to America’s Greatest Race on May 4, 2013, which will be known as the “Kentucky Derby Championship Series (see chart below).”

The 36 races will replace the approximately 185 graded stakes races worldwide that counted toward the Derby selection under the previous eligibility process. The 36 races will also be points-weighted based on four different segments of the Road to the Kentucky Derby.

The first segment will be 19 races that will constitute the “Kentucky Derby Prep Season.” These races will be at least a mile in length that typically ran between late September and late February. Points will be awarded in this segment to the Top 4 finishers in each race on a 10-4-2-1 scale.  One such race, the Delta Jackpot which in the past provided the winner with $600,000 of graded earnings and essentially gave a horse a gate in the Derby will only add a nominal total (10 points) to the winner who will need to add some points in the Championship Series segment of the races.  This segment also does not include any races from Saratoga, the Grade 2 Hopeful being notably absent from the Prep Season races, mainly because it is run at 7-furlongs. I’ll Have Another and Trinniberg both raced in last year’s Hopeful.

The next three segments represent the Kentucky Derby Championship Series. The first leg of the Championship Series includes eight races that are traditional prep races for the major preps typically in the February and early March timeframe and are weighted on a 50-20-10-5 scale, much higher than the Prep Season and lower than the major preps in the second leg.

The second leg of the Series is made up of seven major preps run in late March and early April, such as the Wood Memorial, the Santa Anita Derby and the Florida Derby to name a few. The second leg will be worth 100-40-20-10 and represent the most valuable races to garner points for qualification. One past prep race that was excluded from the Series was the Illinois Derby, run at Hawthorne Race Course in Chicago.

The final leg of the Championship Series represents the two “Wild Card” events, being the Lexington Stakes and the Derby Trial, offering a last chance to qualify for points weighted at 20-8-4-2.

Generally I think the changes are on the positive side with the few notable omissions above (the Hopeful, and the Illinois Derby) and the curious inclusion of the Derby Trial. The Derby Trial is run one week before the Kentucky Derby at Churchill and is hardly a race that has produced Derby runners in the recent past.

The fact that none of the 36 races are under a mile in length has all eliminated horses that would previously generate graded earnings in 2-year-old sprint races. I could see adding a few 7-furlong 2-year-old races and weighting them less (say 5-2-1-0) to keep the interest in a race from Saratoga and possibly Keeneland early in these colts’ careers. The other race that possibly would warrant a 20-8-4-2 weighting would be the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, currently in the Prep Season category.

The point system is less complicated than the graded earnings system for the average sports fan, many who did not understand the previous qualification system that had been in place since 1986. The chance to build fans along the Road appears to be much higher with this structure and will generate full fields and great betting races, especially in the Championship Series portion of the point system.

The Kentucky Oaks will also conduct a similar series for selecting its 14 participants. If a filly wants to run in the Kentucky Derby, she can, but she’ll have to earn her way into the field by accumulating points against open company within the Road to the Kentucky Derby series. Any points earned by a filly in the Derby series will be credited to her point total in the Oaks series.

The 17 races constituting the Kentucky Derby Championship Series are listed below:

KENTUCKY DERBY CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES

         
               

Race

Distance

Track

Location

1st

2nd

3rd

4th

First Leg of Series

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Risen Star

1 1/16 M

Fair Grounds

Louisiana

50

20

10

5

Fountain of Youth

1 1/16 M

Gulfstream Park

Florida

50

20

10

5

Gotham

1 1/16 M

Aqueduct

New York

50

20

10

5

Tampa Bay Derby

1 1/16 M

Tampa Bay Downs

Florida

50

20

10

5

San Felipe

1 1/16 M

Santa Anita

California

50

20

10

5

Rebel

1 1/16 M

Oaklawn Park

Arkansas

50

20

10

5

Spiral

1 1/8 M

Turfway Park

Kentucky

50

20

10

5

Sunland Derby

1 1/8 M

Sunland Park

New Mexico

50

20

10

5

Second Leg of Series

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Florida Derby

1 1/8 M

Gulfstream Park

Florida

100

40

20

10

UAE Derby

1 3/16 M

Meydan Racecourse

Dubai

100

40

20

10

Louisiana Derby

1 1/8 M

Fair Grounds

Louisiana

100

40

20

10

Wood Memorial

1 1/8 M

Aqueduct

New York

100

40

20

10

Santa Anita Derby

1 1/8 M

Santa Anita

California

100

40

20

10

Arkansas Derby

1 1/8 M

Oaklawn Park

Arkansas

100

40

20

10

Blue Grass

1 1/8 M

Keeneland

Kentucky

100

40

20

10

“Wild Card”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lexington

1 1/16 M

Keeneland

Kentucky

20

8

4

2

The Cliff’s Edge Derby Trial

1 M

Churchill Downs

Kentucky

20

8

4

2

 

 

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

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Gene Baker

   (Born June 15, 1925) -- Batavia, New York, made some significant baseball history back in 1961. People outside of the town should know about it.

   The Pittsburgh Pirates had a farm team in Batavia in that season, and needed a manager. They picked a player who was a reserve from their 1960 World Series championship roster. Baker was that player.

   Here's the catch: He was an African American. Baker's selection made him the first person of color to be a manager in Organized Baseball. One of his players on that team was a 19-year-old Steve Blass, who went on to be a Series hero for the Pirates in 1971.

   Baker was a second baseman for the Chicago Cubs and the Pirates during his career. He played in the All-Star Game in 1955. His work in Batavia earned him a promotion to the Pirates, where in 1963 he became the second African American coach in major league history. Buck O'Neil was the first.

   Later, Baker worked as a scout in the Pirates' system for many years. He died in 1999 at the age of 74.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: James Patrick

   (Born June 14, 1963) -- The hockey life of James Patrick took an unexpected turn a few years ago. Who would have guessed that he would find a home in Buffalo?

   Athletics obviously run in his family. Patrick's father played football for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the Canadian league. James preferred hockey, and landed a spot on the University of North Dakota's roster.

   He played for Canada in the Olympics in 1984, and then signed with the Rangers. He stayed there until the fall of 1993. Patrick was a solid offensive defenseman, scoring 10 or more goals seven times.

   Patrick moved on to Hartford and Calgary from there, and when he came to Buffalo in 1998 it looked like he's just be a spare defenseman here to play a year or two. The classy veteran spent six seasons as a Sabre, even playing regularly for Buffalo in the 1999 NHL finals.

   What's more, he still isn't done contributing. Patrick has been an assistant coach here since 2006.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Jeff Wright

   (Born June 13, 1963) -- The Buffalo Bills had a room full of stars when they were making four straight appearances in the Super Bowl. But those stars had plenty of people helping them. One of them was Jeff Wright.

   I'd guess that not too many players who appeared in the Super Bowl started playing college football at Coffeyville Community College in Kansas. From there it was on to Central Missouri State University, which is now known as the University of Central Missouri.

   Wright was an eighth-round draft choice of the Bills, and he spent his first season backing up veteran Fred Smerlas. Wright became a starter in 1990, and helped the Bills reach Super Bowl XXV. He finished with 11 tackles and a sack, but couldn't prevent the Giants from winning.

   A year later, Wright made a huge play in the AFC Championship Game. He tipped a pass by Denver's John Elway, which led to an interception by Carlton Bailey. The Bills linebacker scored the game's only touchdown.

   After a seven-year career, Wright moved into the real world.‘ As of last year, he was working on a cattle ranch in Tucson, Ariz.

--- Budd Bailey

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