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This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: George Saimes

(Born September 1, 1941) -- For those making up lists of underrated Buffalo Bills, George Saimes probably deserves to be included. He wasn’t one of the most famous members of the Bills’ championship teams of the Sixties, but he was one of the best.

Saimes played defensive back and halfback for Michigan State in college, and was taken by the Rams and Bills in 1963. The Bills won the bidding war for Saimes from the established NFL team.

Buffalo needed some time to figure out where Saimes’ best position was, as he spent some time on offense and some on defense. By 1964, Saimes was a solid fit at safety.

He made six interceptions as the Bills were AFL champions. The next year, Saimes had four picks in another title-winning season. Saimes finished out the decade with Buffalo before moving to Denver for his final three years from 1970 to 1972.

The safety was an all-AFL pick five times, and was named to the league’s all-time team. That helped him get on the Bills’ Wall of Fame. Saimes later became a professional scout.

--- Budd Bailey

Post Time: Summer of Fun tackles Natalma at Woodbine

2012-08-25 13.28.56
By Gene Kershner

After a rousing win on the Travers undercard at Saratoga three weeks ago, Summer of Fun will be upping the stakes up north at Woodbine Race Track in the one mile Grade 2 $250,000 Natalma Stakes on Saturday afternoon. The Bona Venture Stables’ filly out by Include out of a Royal Anthem mare will take on 13 talented fillies in a “Win and You’re In” Breeders’ Cup Race for the Juvenile Fillies Turf.  Last year Bona Ventures Stables’ Royal Bonnie qualified for the same race, the first BC race for the partnership group owned by St. Bonaventure University Alumni.

Some of the nation’s top riders will head north for the big weekend of races at Woodbine, which will also include the Grade 2 Summer Stakes on Saturday for 2-year-old colts. On Sunday, the big Woodbine Mile card will feature Horse of the Year candidate Wise Dan, as Hall of Famer Johnny Velazquez will fly in to ride. In the Natalma alone, Summer of Fun will retain the mount of Rajiv Maragh, and New York regulars Javier Castellano (Coconut Shrimp) and Rosie Napravnik (Kitten’s Dumplings) will head to Toronto, in addition to Garret Gomez one of California's top jockeys who will ride Spring in the Air.

Summer of Fun was assigned a 10-1 morning line and drew the rail, but seems to not be gaining any respect, even though she has the second best Beyer Speed figure (76) in the field, only bested by the morning line favorite Tiz Ro (77) who will be ridden by Woodbine stalwart Luis Contreras.

I spoke with Bona Venture managing partner Dan Collins earlier in the week and he is used to being under the radar and savors the opportunity to seize the moment with Summer of Fun. “We don’t usually get any respect, but we tend to surprise. I suspect that is going to happen again on Saturday. People underestimate our quality,” said Collins.

Collins has been happy with her training off the maiden win at Saratoga. “She’s been training great. She had a nice 48 and 3 work this week. The post is difficult, but she has enough speed to get out, position and stalk the leaders. I expect her to be a couple lengths off early, move up and contend on the turn and wait for her to ignite at the top of the stretch.” Collins doesn’t feel that the cut back to a mile from 8 ½-furlongs is an issue. “Her maiden win saw her clear by two lengths at the mile marker. There is enough speed to keep everyone honest,” said the Bona Ventures Stables managing partner.

It should be a tremendous weekend of racing and the Bona grads in the Buffalo area will be rooting hard for the newest superstar in the Bona Ventures Stable in an attempt to advance the Stable to the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita for the second straight year.

On Sunday’s Woodbine Mile undercard, Bella Cavello Stables, a Buffalo-based stable, will send out Little B Rosson in the second race, a $31K sprint race for fillies and mares, three years old and up.

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

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Ken Rice

(Born September 14, 1939) -- When the battle for players between the National Football League and the American Football League first started, Ken Rice was one of the top prizes. He was one of the AFL’s first big victories.

Rice was an All-American at Auburn - twice, in 1959 and 1960. That earned him an appearance on the Ed Sullivan show. He made him the third overall pick in the AFL draft, going to the Bills, and the eighth overall pick in the NFL draft (Cardinals). Rice picked the Bills.

He was a big hit as a rookie. The 240-pound lineman was a second team all-AFL pick as a rookie and played in the All-Star game. Rice missed the 1962 season, but returned to play for the Bills in 1963.
In May of 1964, Rice was dealt to the Oakland Raiders for running back Leroy Jackson. That didn’t work out for the Bills, as Jackson never played a game in Buffalo. But Rice spent two years with the Raiders.

The offensive tackle had one more stop in his career. He landed with the Miami Dolphins and was a reserve lineman for the first two seasons in the franchise’s history until a back injury ended his career. Rice got a job in the construction business, and stayed in it for years to come.

--- Budd Bailey

Running notebook: What to do?

The race director of the Run with the Angels event had a tough call early Saturday morning.

Western New York was hit with a heavy downpour of rain -- we almost didn't recognize it at first -- and some North Buffalo streets and viaducts had been covered over with water. A race and picnic were coming up in a couple of hours. The forecast wasn't particularly good for the next few hours either. What to do?

Such decisions are why serving as a race director is such a thankless job.

Meg Richardson opted to cancel the day's activities. That's never an easy move, but it probably was the right call.

First all, she didn't have just the race to consider, as the school was throwing a big party as well. Surely the grass on the front yard was going to be a mess, and moving everything inside on that sort of notice would have been very, very difficult to impossible. So in that sense, Richardson didn't have much breathing room.

Second, while the streets were pretty clear after 9 a.m., it did rain hard around 10 o'clock. I've seen runners go through almost anything, but even the diehards probably would admit it wouldn't have been much fun.

And third, I can never blame anyone for putting safety ahead of all other considerations, including financial.

Some runners didn't hear in time and showed up anyway, while others did hear and picked up their shirts. It might be a good idea for Holy Angels to offer some sort of discount to those who preregistered this year when it comes to signing up next year. (Would mailing unclaimed shirts out, if it hasn't been done already, buy some good will? Maybe.)

By the way, I can think of very, very few races that have been cancelled on race day for any reason over the years. So chalk this one up to bad luck all the way around.

The weekend has some races that hopefully will go on as scheduled. Our friends at has the list:

* Brothers of Mercy 5K, 4520 Ransom Road in Clarence, 6:30 p.m. Friday, 759-7808. I always like running around the Tillman Road Nature Preserve.

* Dunlop 5K Run for Charity, 900 Sheridan Park in Tonawanda, 6:30 p.m. Friday, 879-8432.

* Lebro's Fall Classic, 5K, 330 Campbell Blvd. in Getzville, 10 a.m. Saturday, 689-4507. They traditionally give out some of the best premiums of the year.

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

* WNY Hispanic Veterans Memorial Monument 5K, 1 Marine Dr. in Buffalo, 10 a.m. Saturday, 207-3863.

* 8 in the Rough Trail Run, 8.7 miles, Sprague Brook Park casino in Glenwood, 10 a.m. Sunday, 574-0888. They have the right phone number, at least.

* 21st annual Shea's Run for the Arts 5K, 646 Main St. in Buffalo, 11:30 a.m. Sunday, 553-0179. If you preregister early enough, this is the best deal of the year because of the steep discount. I know people who run it for that reason, and it's surprising the idea hasn't spread.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Craig Rivet

(Born September 13, 1974) -- Some people like to play hockey, some people need to play hockey. Craig Rivet probably qualifies as the latter.

Rivet started his career with Kingston (Ont.) in junior hockey, where he scored 19 goals in one season. The defenseman probably had visions of being an offensive standout at the blue line.

It didn’t work out that way. Rivet was drafted by the Canadiens, where he became a good defensive defenseman. He reached his career high of eight goals in 2001-02. From there it was on to San Jose in a trade, and Rivet was a Shark for a little more than a season.

In 2008, he became a Sabre in a trade for draft choices. Rivet earned enough respect that he was named captain of the team at one point. The defenseman spent two-plus seasons in Buffalo, but eventually lost his job and went to Columbus on waivers. The Blue Jackets let him go in 2011.

But he wasn’t done yet. Rivet grabbed a pile of hockey sticks and drove down to Elmira. There he played a season with the Jackals of the ECHL.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Tom Baker

(Born September 12, 1954) -- Western New York has sent plenty of bowlers on to the national stage over the years. Tom Baker was as good as any of them.

The Riverside native turned up on the pro tour in 1976, and eventually became one of the nation’s top bowlers. He won his first tournament in 1980.

Baker fully arrived as a great bowler in 1981. Already the holder of two titles, Baker had a week to remember at the PBA Denver Open. He set pinfall records for 12 games, 24 games and 42 games. That helped him finish third on the money list, and allowed him to reach All-American status.

Baker won six more titles through 1986, and then went into a victory drought. He ended it with a victory in the AC-Delco Classic in 1996. Baker shocked everyone by winning the PBA World Championship at the age of 49 in 2004.

Baker dominated the Senior Tour once he turned 50. He’s in the PBA Hall of Fame, and the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Johnny Newmann

(Born September 11, 1951) -- Johnny Newmann has had one of the most interesting basketball careers imaginable. None of it, more or less, came in Buffalo.

He grew up in Memphis and signed at Mississippi. The 6-6 swing man averaged more than 40 points per game there as a sophomore, stirring up comparisons to LSU legend Pete Maravich.

Newmann didn’t stay long. He became the first pro basketball player to claim “hardship status” and signed with Memphis before his college eligibility had expired. He averaged almost 20 points per game in his first two years with the Pros of the American Basketball Association. He bounced from there to four other ABA teams when the league merged with the NBA in 1976.

Braves co-owner John Y. Brown brought Newmann in to Buffalo in the fall of 1976, as Brown wanted an ABA flavor to the team. But this signing didn’t work out, as Newmann only played four games here and was released. He went to the Lakers and Pacers before leaving the NBA in 1978.

But Newmann wasn’t finished yet, as he played and then coached overseas. His passport must have been well-stamped after coaching in such places as Cyprus, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, China, and Japan. In 2010, he was picked as the coach of Romania’s national team.

-- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Bob Lanier

(Born September 10, 1948) -- When the short list of Buffalo’s greatest basketball players is created, Bob Lanier is always on it.

Lanier grew up in Buffalo and played high school basketball at Bennett High. He was a classic case of someone who had to grow into his height, which was 6-foot-11, in order to succeed at the sport. Lanier put in the time, and did that.

According to legend, Lanier considered attending Canisius College but ended up at St. Bonaventure. There he was one of the school’s all-time greats. Lanier led the Bonnies to the NCAA tournament in 1970, and the team looked like potential champions until he hurt his knee in the regional finals.

Lanier was the first overall draft choice in the NBA in 1970, and signed with the Detroit Pistons. He played in eight All-Star games as a member of the Pistons and Bucks, who acquired him in 1980.

Lanier eventually made the Basketball Hall of Fame, and St. Bonaventure’s court in Olean is named after him. He’s remembered now for much more than his size 22 sneakers.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Ron McDole

(Born September 9, 1939) -- Ron McDole didn’t have a conventional career in pro football. It took all sorts of twists and turns. Even so, he was an excellent player for a long time.

McDole, an Ohio native, played college football at Nebraska. He was a fourth-round pick of the Cardinals in 1961 and spent a season in St. Louis. Then McDole suffered from migraine headaches that led to a variety of inconclusive tests and his eventual release. McDole then tried to play with the Houston Oilers, but had the same problem.

McDole was set to quit football when the Bills called in 1963. He turned into one of the their best defensive ends in history. McDole was a big part of the 1964 and 1965 AFL championship teams.
He stayed on the team through 1971, when he was traded to the Redskins. Buffalo coach John Rauch went public in saying McDole didn’t have much left. Owner Ralph Wilson disagreed, and the two got into an argument that led to Rauch’s dismissal.

McDole had plenty left. He stayed through 1978 and was part of some fine Washington teams. McDole holds the record for career interceptions by a defensive linemen with 12.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Jay McKee

(Born September 8, 1977) -- You couldn’t think of two more different players in terms of style than Jay McKee and Alexander Mogilny. Yet the two players will always be linked.

When the Sabres traded Mogilny to the Canucks in 1995, they received Michael Peca, Mike Wilson and a first-round draft pick. Defensive defensemen usually don’t stand out in junior hockey, but McKee was an exception. The Sabres grabbed him with the pick.

McKee saw his first significant amount of duty with the Sabres in 1996-97, helping them win a division title. He worked his way into the lineup for good the next year, and stayed there through 2006. McKee was one of the best shotblockers in the league at one point. If he had stayed healthy in the 2006 playoffs, the Sabres might have been able to get by Carolina and win a Stanley Cup.

After that season, the Blues signed McKee to a four-year, $16 million contract with the Blues. He was hurt a lot in that time, and that hurt his effectiveness. McKee spent his final season in the NHL with the Penguins.

McKee worked as an assistant for Niagara University’s hockey team after retirement, and he was a coach for the Rochester Americans last season.

--- 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.