Skip to primary navigation Skip to main content

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

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Swede Youngstrom

     (Born May 24, 1897) -- Pro football historian Jeffrey Miller has called Adolph "Swede" Youngstrom Buffalo's first football superstar. Let's find out why.

     Youngstrom grew up in Waltham, Mass., and wasn't permitted by his family to play high school football until his senior year. He turned out to be pretty good, and went on to enroll at Dartmouth College starting in 1914. In his senior year in 1919, he blocked nine punts, including three in one game against Colgate. That made him a Walter Camp All-American.

     Youngstrom opened up a candy store in Hanover, N.H., when representatives of a pro football team from Buffalo dropped by with a sweet offer to play for the 1920 season. Youngstrom, a 6-foot-1, 187-pound player, signed the deal.

     He helped Buffalo win plenty of games during the next several years. He blocked nine more punts in 1920 alone. The All-Americans, as the team was called, came close to a title but couldn't claim it.

      Youngstrom moved on in 1925, and played a couple of more years elsewhere. He's one of the greatest guards of that era in NFL history. The lack of a championship ring in Buffalo might be what kept him out of the Hall of Fame in Canton.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Mahdi Abdul-Rahman

     (Born April 15, 1942) -- Mahdi Abdul-Rahman, or Walt Hazzard, might have spent the least important time of his basketball career in Buffalo.

     Hazzard came out of Philadelphia to play with UCLA. He became part of John Wooden's first two championship teams in 1964 and 1965, and the Bruins started on their unmatched dynasty. Hazzard and Gail Goodrich were one of the greatest backcourts in NCAA history.

     Hazzard moved on to the pros as a first-round draft choice of the Los Angeles Lakers. He eventually bounced to the Seattle SuperSonics and Atlanta Hawks. In 1971, it became pretty obvious that having Hazzard and Pete Maravich was one point guard too many for the Hawks. It was also obvious which one was the bigger gate attraction, and which one should be traded.

     The Braves dealt Don May and Herm Gilliam to the Hawks for Hazzard and Jerry Chambers, who played only 26 games here before leaving for the American Basketball Association. While in training camp Hazzard announced that he had changed his name to Abdul-Rahman. As a Brave, he averaged 15.8 points per game in 1971-72.

    However, Abdul-Rahman's career turned sour from there. He was waived by the Braves after a poor start to the 1972-73 season and was out of basketball less than two years later.

     In 1984, Abdul-Rahman -- who returned to the name of Hazzard professionally because he thought his Muslim name cost him job opportunities -- became the head basketball coach at UCLA. He lasted four years, making one NCAA tournament. Hazzard died in 2012.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Whitey Martin

     (Born April 11, 1939) -- You could have gotten long odds that Ronald "Whitey" Martin would have ever made the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame. The odds were almost as long that he'd ever play a second of college basketball.

     Martin was 5-foot-5 when he was cut from the varsity basketball team at Timon High. But he grew five inches in the next year, and new coach Mel Palano liked him enough to make him his starting point guard as a senior.

     Then Martin arrived at St. Bonaventure, and had grown to 6-2. He became the Bonnies' sixth man as a sophomore, and then started as a junior and a senior. Martin was part of a Bona era that saw the team go 65-12 over three seasons. No St. Bonaventure team has ever done better over three years.

     Tom Stith led the way on those teams, averaging around 30 points per game as a junior and senior. But Martin averaged around 12 points per game at the same time, and was a fine defensive player as well.

     Martin was taken by the Knicks in the second round of the 1961 NBA draft, as his college coach, Eddie Donovan, landed in New York that year. Martin played in the NBA for a year before moving on to semipro ball.

     Martin is retired and lives in North Boston. 

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Fred Smerlas

     (Born April 8, 1957) -- Sometimes it's important for a player to come in and not just perform on the field, but change the culture of the team. Fred Smerlas did that once upon a time with the Buffalo Bills.

     The Bills were not a good team in 1978. They were 5-11 under Chuck Knox, then in his first year in Buffalo. Knox knew he needed more talent on the roster. The team's first pick in 1979, Tom Cousineau, fled to the Canadian Football League, but Knox did well with Smerlas of Boston College as the fourth pick in the second round. Later in that round, Buffalo grabbed Jim Haslett.

     Not only were Smerlas and Haslett young and good, but they were personable and funny. The media flocked to them. Buffalo's team had a personality makeover in no time.

     Smerlas moved into the starting lineup in 1980 and didn't miss a start for the Bills for the rest of the decade. Buffalo had some good seasons and bad ones during that time, but Smerlas was a constant. He made five Pro Bowls along the way.

     The run ended in 1990, when Smerlas moved to San Francisco. Then it was on to New England for two more seasons. He only made one start when he wasn't in a Buffalo uniform.

     Smerlas stayed in the Boston area after retirement, and has considered a run for Congress a couple of times in the past decade.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Glenn "Pop" Warner

     (Born April 5, 1871) -- The name of Pop Warner has become closely associated with the game of football. His connection to Western New York isn't as well known, even around here.

     Warner was born in Springville and played football for Cornell from 1892 to 1894. He picked up the nickname "Pop" because he was older than most of his contemporaries.

     Warner was hired to coach at the University of Georgia in 1895, and he was also hired at Iowa State that year to do the same job. Somehow he made the logistics work. Warner returned to Cornell a couple of times, and then worked at Carlyle in Pennsylvania where he coached all-time great Jim Thorpe.

     From there it was on to Pittsburgh, where Warner did some of his best work. He won three national championships for the Panthers, with titles coming in 1915, 1916 and 1918. Warner had a record of 60-12-4. then it was on to Stanford, where he won a fourth national title, and to Temple.

     Football would have a different look without Warner. For example, he invented the screen pass, and pioneered the use of shoulder and thigh pads.

     Meanwhile, a youth football program was set up to honor him well after retirement. There are now more than 300,000 children involved in Pop Warner football. He's even been on a stamp.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Erik Rasmussen

   (Born March 28, 1977) -- The Buffalo Sabres haven't had that many draft choices in the top ten picks over the years. That's the price they've paid for being generally in the upper half of the standings.

   The 1996 draft was an exception. Buffalo had the seventh choice after missing the playoffs the preceding season, and used its pick to select Erik Rasmussen. The forward had scored 48 points in 40 games for the University of Minnesota. He was big and tough with a scoring touch … who could ask for much more?

   Rasmussen spent one more year at Minnesota before signing with the Sabres. He arrived in Buffalo for part of the 1997-98 season, when he played 21 games.

   Rasmussen's first playoff goal might have been the highlight of his career. He got a game-winner in the Conference finals against the Maple Leafs, scoring in Game Five.

   The center/left wing stayed in Buffalo through 2002, with a career high of 31 points in 2000-01. Then he was traded to Los Angeles for Adam Mair. Rasmussen landed in New Jersey for three years before finishing his career overseas.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Pat Hughes

     (Born March 25, 1955) -- It's not often that an NHL team gets to acquire a player with a Stanley Cup ring collection. The Buffalo Sabres did that when they added Pat Hughes in 1985.

     Hughes was an Alberta native who was drafted in the third round in 1975 by the Canadiens. He had two years in the minors in which he scored exactly 68 points in each year, and that earned him a promotion to Montreal in 1978. There he helped the Canadiens win the Cup in 1978-79.

     When Ken Dryden retired in the summer of 1979, the Canadiens swapped a package that included Hughes to Pittsburgh for goalie Denis Heron. The forward spent almost two years as a Penguin before going to Edmonton at the trading deadline in March, 1981. Hughes stayed with the Oilers through 1985, and won Cups in 1984 and 1985.

     The Sabres added Hughes in a three-cornered trade with Pittsburgh and Edmonton involving Randy Cunneyworth and Mike Moller. Sadly for Buffalo, championships stopped following Hughes around at that point. He had four goals and nine assists in a Sabres' uniform in 1985-86.

     Hughes played one more season in the NHL (St. Louis and Hartford) before retiring. He reportedly now serves as a policeman at Ann Arbor, Mich.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Jim May

   (Born March 22, 1953): If you don't have a goaltender, it's difficult to prevent the other team from scoring in soccer. Maybe that's why when the Buffalo Stallions got ready to start their operations in
1979, they made Jim May the first person on their roster.

   May is one of the best soccer players ever produced in Western New York. He went to college at Cobleskill and Brockport, and eventually made Brockport's Hall of Fame. That led the Rochester Lancers of the North American Soccer League to sign him. He even got to face shots from the legendary Pele there.

   From there it was on to Cleveland in the indoor game, and he jumped to the Stallions. He spent the next six seasons with the team. The team hoped he'd sell the sport to the masses of Western New York, and he did that.

   May retired and moved into private business, but he couldn't resist it when indoor soccer called again in 1992. He joined the Buffalo Blizzard of the NPSL as the team's vice president and general manager in 1992.

   May stayed in that job through 1999, and even filled in as an interim coach at times.

   The goalie remains involved in the game through ownership of SportsPlex in North Tonawanda, and is in the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame.

--- Budd Bailey

« Older Entries Newer Entries »

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.