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This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Rick Manning

(Born September 2, 1954) -- At least by one standard, Rick Manning might be the most celebrated high school baseball player from Western New York in the modern era.

Manning came out of La Salle High School in Niagara Falls. He was taken second in the major league draft in 1972. That’s rather tough to top. Manning also picked up the largest bonus in local sports history.

The outfielder spent the rest of 1972 and all of 1973 in Class-A Reno. Then it was up to Oklahoma City for a little more than a year when he was called up to the major leagues for good.

Manning wasn’t a power hitter, but in his first two years he posted averages of  .285 and .292 and played a smooth outfield. In fact, he won the only Gold Glove of his career in 1976. Manning stayed with the Indians until 1983, when he moved to the Brewers. Manning retired at the end of the 1987 season after a 13-year career.

He wasn’t done with baseball, though. Manning started working on the Indians’ telecasts in 1990, and is still on the job. That’s longer than any announcer has worked on the Cleveland broadcasts in team history.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Turner Gill

(Born August 13, 1962) -- There are two places where you won’t hear anything bad about Turner Gill. One is in Nebraska. The other is in Buffalo.

Gill grew up in Fort Worth, Texas, and was an excellent all-around athlete. In fact he was a high draft pick out of high school by the Chicago White Sox. Owner Bill Veeck couldn’t sign Gill drew to a dispute over $5,000, and Gill headed to Nebraska to play football.

He saw a little playing time as a true freshman at quarterback in 1980, and was put into action for the second half of a 1981 game against Auburn. Gill led the Cornhuskers to victory, and Nebraska ran through the rest of the Big Eight season unbeaten. It was more of the same in the next two years, as Gill had a 28-2 record as a starter for the Huskers.

Gill went into coaching from there, first at Nebraska. He landed a job with the Green Bay Packers as director of player development, and thus it was a surprise when he was hired as the head coach at the University at Buffalo in Dec. 2005. In his third year, the Bulls won a conference championship and played in their first-ever bowl game.

Gill stayed one more year, and then left for Kansas. He spent two years there before losing his job with a 5-19 record. Gill landed at Liberty University.

--- Budd Bailey

Running notebook: Down the stretch

This isn't a bad time to check up on the News' Runner of the Year standings. We've got some new faces at the top, according to the statistics compiled by Buffalorunners.com.

The men's race is as close as it's been in years. Vasilis Kariolis is in the lead, but such runners as Jim Park and Chris Walters are right behind. And everyone in the top 10 is a couple of wins or so away from taking the lead potentially.

On the women's side, it looks as if Allison Carr is going to have trouble defending her title. Jennifer Koeppel-Acker is having a heck of a year, and certainly will be tough to catch with only five races to go.

Jeff at buffalorunners.com also does the race calendar. Here's what is coming up in the week ahead:

* Cosumel 5K, 153 Elmwood Ave. in Buffalo, 7 p.m. Friday, 913-7115.

* Dunkirk Lakefront 5K Race, Memorial Park in Dunkirk, 9 a.m. Saturday.

* MSMH River Run 5K, 145 N. 4th St. in Lewiston, 9 a.m. Saturday, 298-2249.

* Erie County Fair 5K, Fairgrounds in Hamburg, 9 a.m. Saturday, 649-3000. This year's race will start and end on the race track. Do not bet on me to win, place or show.

* Christin Padasak Memorial - Autism Awareness 5K, 393 North St. in Springville, 9:30 a.m. Saturday, 949-4072.

* Stephen's Cross-Country Run, 6K, Long Point State Park in Bemus Point, 9 a.m. Sunday, 488-0788.

And worth a mention is the 26th annual running of the Moonlight Run in Williamsville on Wednesday night. That's a lot of runs in the dusk.

One other non-race event is coming up -- the Brooks Cavalcade of Curiosities bus is coming to Fleet Feet at 2290 Delaware Ave. in Buffalo on Monday. The double-decker bus visits from 3 to 8 p.m.

-- Budd Bailey

Running notebook: No do-overs

Good news in the financial front: we won't have a re-run of the Orchard Park Half-Marathon fiasco in Niagara Falls.

The Italian Festival there collapsed at the (relatively speaking) last minute, and the 5-kilometer race went with it. That left runners who had already entered wondering if they would get their money back. One of the people involved in the festival wrote to say that refunds were on the way, in the form of returned checks since they had not been deposited. Sam Granieri reports that some runners may show up at 10 a.m. Sunday just to run the course informally.

Elsewhere ...

* We had an interesting situation pop up in the Runner of the Year standings with the Ronald McDonald race. A runner registered for the race, but couldn't make it ... so he gave his number to a friend who was also a runner -- who didn't tell anyone about it. Therefore, the replacement finished second in his age-group.

The USATF is pretty clear that you have to have your own name on the bib, so I decided to take away his points from the Runner of the Year results and move the others up a notch. However, since a runner has to enter two races to be eligible for season-ending awards, it's not likely to make much of a difference since the replacement apparently doesn't race that often. Still, I want to make a point here and discourage such actions a bit -- race directors have enough to worry about without that added into the mix.

Someone told me the story about how his wife had registered for the Turkey Trot but couldn't go at the last minute, so the guy carried her chip along at the race so he could return it. The funny thing was, the chip said she finished fourth in her age-group, a half-second ahead of her husband.

The Brooks "Cavalcade of Curiosities" is coming to Fleet Feet on August 13 from 3 to 8 p.m. It's a double-decker bus, with an "Arcade of Oddities" on the lower level. How often do you get to see the world's biggest shoe? The bus usually only comes out for marathons, so it's unusual to have it in town.

And my wife had a surprise waiting for her at the Engineering Society race on Wednesday night. She came along to take a walk on the waterfront while I ran. When we arrived, she was "recruited" to work on the water station on the course. After a quick lesson, she did fine ... as several runners they had never tasted more delicious water than the liquid she handed out. She also got the race t-shirt, which seems fair, since she probably worked hard that I did in running the four miles.

Here's the weekend schedule, courtesy of buffalorunners.com:

* Jason Raby Memorial 5K Run, Lewiston Porter Senior High School in Youngstown, 7 p.m. Friday, 754-8281.

* Coach Capuani Cross Country Kickoff Run, 5K, Frontier High School in Hamburg, 9 a.m. Saturday, 926-1720.

* Crossroads House of Circle of Life 5K, 11 Liberty St. in Batavia, 9 a.m. Saturday, 374-4741.

* Taste of Lancaster - Fire Fighters For Food 5K Run, Central Ave. in Lancaster, 9:30 a.m. Saturday, 684-4818.

* St. Christopher Summerfest 5K, 2660 Niagara Falls Blvd. in Tonawanda, 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, 216-4103.

* Ultra 12-Mile and 4-Mile Trail Runs, Holiday Valley Ski Resort in Ellicottville, 9:30 a.m. Sunday, 574-0888.


* Pennies to Heaven 5K, 767 Ridge Road in Lackawanna, 10:30 a.m. Sunday, 863-2684.

-- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: O.J. Simpson

     (Born July 9, 1947) -- You may have heard of this fellow for a variety of reasons. Since this is the sports section, let's stick to that area.

     Simpson was born with the name Orenthal James Simpson, supposedly after a French actor. He developed rickets and needed braces until the age of five. What were the odds of him becoming a running back?

     That's what happened, though, and he was a great one in high school and junior college in the Bay Area. Then it was on to Southern California for two years, where he might have been the best college running back ever. He won one Heisman Trophy, and probably should have won two.

     Simpson was an obvious choice as the top draft pick after the 1968 season, and the Bills grabbed him. It took a while for things to come together here, but Simpson was sensational once he got going. In 1973 he ran for 2,003 yards, the first NFL player to reach that number.

     Simpson added two more great years before injuries slowed him up. He was traded to San Francisco for a boatload of draft choices, but only played two mediocre seasons there. Simpson did enough, though, to be a first-year selection to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Teppo Numminen

    (Born July 3, 1968) -- For someone who was closely associated with the Winnipeg Jets and Phoenix Coyotes for a long, long time, Teppo Numminen is building up senior as a member of the Buffalo Sabres' organization.

     Numminen grew up in Finland and was taken in the second round by the Jets in 1986. He landed in North America in 1988. The defenseman and the Jets headed for Phoenix in 1996, and Numminen was picked for the NHL All-Star Game in 1999 and 2000.

     Just when it looked like the player and team would live happily ever after, Numminen was traded in 2003 to Dallas for Mike Sillinger. Then after the lockout, he signed as a free agent with the Sabres in 2006.

     Numminen was a smart, skillful defenseman during the next two years. In 2007, he was sidelined because of an operation to repair a faulty heart valve. The surgery worked, and Numminen came back for the final game of the 2007-08 season. He still wasn't done playing, getting in one last year in Buffalo before retiring.

     In the fall of 2011, Numminen returned to the Sabres' organization to work as an assistant coach under Lindy Ruff. Maybe he'll stay for 20 years in that role.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Jim Watson

     (Born June 28, 1943) -- Here's the first thing you should know about "Jumbo Jim" Watson, an original member of the Buffalo Sabres. He was 6-foot-2, 188 pounds. If Zdeno Chara had played back then, they'd need an entirely new set of adjectives to describe him.

     Watson had a long career that went through a lot of leagues and cities. He started as a professional when he played one game for the Detroit Red Wings in the 1963-64 season, dividing the rest of that season between Indianapolis and Cincinnati. He played one more game for Detroit in 1964-65, and two more in 1965-66. After a full year in San Diego in 1966-67, the defenseman finally got to be a regular with Detroit in 1967-68.

     However, that status didn't stick. He was mostly in the minors in the next two seasons before he finally wound up as a Buffalo Sabres. Watson was there on opening night in Pittsburgh when the Sabres debuted. What's more, he scored the first goal in team history. It came at 5:01 of the first period.

     Watson played 78 games in that first season. He never played more games in one city in one year in his career. The defenseman was back in 1971-72 for 66 more games.

     In the summer of 1972, he jumped to the Los Angeles Sharks of the World Hockey Association. Watson passed through a couple of more stops before finishing his career with the Quebec Nordiques in 1976.

     He finished with 231 games in the NHL, and 144 of them were in Buffalo.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Larry Playfair

     (Born June 23, 1958) -- The Sabres traditionally haven't been known for their big, tough players. Larry Playfair was a noteworthy exception.

     Buffalo was looking to add a little beef with its first round draft choice in 1978. The big defenseman out of Portland of the Western Hockey League, fit that description. He was 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds of muscle in his prime.

     Playfair arrived in Buffalo during the 1978-79 season. He stayed through the 1985-86 season, before he was traded to Los Angeles in a deal involving Doug Smith and Brian Engblom.

     But Playfair wasn't done yet. He came back here in 1988 in a deal for Bob Logan. He played through the 1989-90 season when back problems forced him to retire.

     Playfair opted to stay right here in Western New York. He always was generous with his time for community groups, and that's still the case today. It's partly why he's still one of the most popular Sabres ever.

--- 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: 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

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