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This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Mario Clark

   (Born March 29, 1954) -- Mario Clark's time as a member of the Buffalo Bills fell into neat compartments … one good, one not-so-good.

   The cornerback from Oregon was taken in the first round (18th pick) by the Bills in 1976. Clark hadn't been in the East and was surprised to discover that Buffalo was a long way from New York City.

   It didn't take him long to take a spot in the starting lineup. He even made the NFL's all-rookie team in 1976. The problem was that Buffalo, a playoff contender for the preceding three years, fell apart.

   Clark, then, was a good player for some bad teams in the late 1970's. Luckily for him, Chuck Knox arrived in 1978 and slowly turned the team's fortunes around. By 1980, the Bills won the AFC East and Clark was a reason why.

   Buffalo made the playoffs in 1981, but Knox left after the 1982 season. Clark stayed with the Bills for one more season under Kay Stephenson. Then he was traded to San Francisco for a fourth-round pick.

   Clark finished his Buffalo career with 25 interceptions, including seven in 1977, and never missed a game here.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Terry Pegula

     (Born March 27, 1951) -- Was it that long ago that virtually no sports fan in Western New York had ever heard of Terry Pegula? It didn't take him long to change that.

     Pegula used to be just another businessman who liked hockey. He founded a company called East Resources in 1993, which was in the energy business.

     But along the way, Pegula had season tickets to the Sabres. He made the trip up to Buffalo whenever he could to catch a game. Then, his proverbial ship came in -- he sold the business to Royal Dutch Shell for a reported $4.7 billion.

     Pegula made a donation to construct an ice rink at Penn State. He also sent word to Sabres' owner Tom Golisano that he'd be interested in buying the team if it became available. Golisano made that move, and the deal was completed in Feb. 2011.

  Pegula took off all financial restraints on the team, and approved some big acquisitions the following summer. In addition, the new boss bought the Rochester Americans to serve as a minor-league affiliate and rebuilt part of the team's facilities in its home arena.

     We'll have to see how everything works out with the team, but Pegula needed no time at all to become one of the most popular owners in Buffalo sports history.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Michael Peca

    (Born March 26, 1974) -- Michael Peca and the Buffalo Sabres seemed like the perfect marriage ... for a while. It just didn't last.

     Peca was drafted by the Vancouver Canucks in the second round in 1992. He spent most of the following season in junior hockey but arrived in the pros for good in the 1993-94 campaign. Peca came to Buffalo with Mike Wilson and a first-round draft pick (Jay McKee) for Alexander Mogilny.

     Peca spent the next five seasons with the Sabres. He turned into an outstanding defensive center here, mixing determination, skill and grit. What's more, he could score as well. Peca had 27 goals in the 1998-99 season, which ended with the Sabres in the Stanley Cup finals.

     But there was another legacy involving Peca -- contract problems. He missed part of the 1997-98 season because of a financial dispute. Then in 2000-01, the center sat out the entire season. Agent Don Meehan reportedly urged Peca to take the Sabres' last offer in order to make sure he played, but Peca was determined to get what he considered his market value.

     The stalemate ended when Peca was traded to the Islanders for Tim Connolly and Taylor Pyatt. He won his second Frank Selke Trophy as the league's best defensive forward in 2002 (the other was in 1997). Peca later played with the Oilers, Maple Leafs and Blue Jackets.

     Now retired, Peca serves as the general manager of the Buffalo Junior Sabres.

--- Budd Bailey

The fall's top sports books

     It's been a busy couple of months in the book department, with several interesting titles released. Here are capsule reviews of the ones I've read; just click on the title to go to my book web site for a more detailed review:
    
     * West by West, by Jerry West and Jonathan Coleman. Five stars. The former NBA great opens up his life here, and it's not a pretty picture. West has battled demons throughout his life, due in part to physical abuse by his father and the death in combat in Korea by a beloved older brother. Not the typical memoir, but it's a fascinating human story.
    
     * The Mets, by Anthony McCarron and Anthony Martino. Three stars. New York's National League baseball team has finished 50 years of play. Here's a coffee-table look at the five decades that will be mostly of interest to Mets' fans, naturally.
    
     * The Best American Sports Writing 2011, edited by Jane Leavy. Four stars. Leavy selected some articles that aren't a particularly great fit in a sports anthology, and that weakens this year's package somewhat. However, there are many choices that are more than well worth your time and money, especially near the end. I buy this every year for good reason.
    
     * Between the Lies, by Marv Levy. Four stars. I read about a novel every five years, but couldn't resist this one. It will be fun for Bills' fans to figure out who Levy's fictional characters are in real life, although some are more difficult than others (a quarterback named Kelly James, for example). There's nothing too deep here, but it's still enjoyable.
    
     * Hockey Prospectus 2011-12, edited by Timo Seppa. Three stars. This still isn't as good as its sister publication, the Baseball Prospectus. Still, this is showing signs of progress in its second year of publication. If you like stats mixed with sports, this might interest you.
    
     * Fenway 1912, by Glenn Stout. Four stars. Stout did some intensive and interesting research on the origins of Fenway Park, which has its 100th birthday next spring. Some familiarity with the place probably helps, but this is still an interesting story.
    
     * The Last Icon, by Steven Travers. Two stars. This covers the basic points of Tom Seaver's still career. Even so, this is filled with such hero worship for the major league pitching great that it was difficult to finish. I haven't read a more annoying sports book in quite a while.
    
     * A Moment in Time, by Ralph Branca. Three stars. Branca is mostly known for one pitch, to a guy named Bobby Thomson in the 1951 National League playoff. That's unfair, but it's reality. The good news is, the revelations about sign stealing by the New York Giants that year have cleared Branca's name. It's easy to root for Branca, particularly after reading this quick autobiography.

--- Budd Bailey

Spring reading: Baseball book reviews

There are always plenty of baseball books released during the time around the start of the major league season, and this year is no exception. Here are snapshot reviews of the ones I've read so far; click on the title to jump to my website for a longer take on each one:

The Extra 2% -- Jonah Keri -- My favorite book of the year to date. This is the story of what went wrong in the early days of the Tampa Bay Rays, and then what went right. It's a great look at how the business of baseball is run in this day and age.

The House That Ruth Built -- Robert Weinstraub -- It's a detailed look at the 1923 season, focusing mostly on Yankees' slugger Babe Ruth and Giants' manager John McGraw. I particularly liked the review of the opening of the now-old Yankee Stadium.

162-0 -- A Mets Perfect Season -- Howie Karpin -- This has descriptions of 162 wins in Mets' history without a great deal of perspective. It seemed rather dry, even for Mets' fans.

Baseball Prospectus 2011 -- Edited by Steven Goldman -- There's no better source of information on players of all types through the game. This year's edition featured a few more typos than usual, and the team summaries seem to drop in quality a slight bit from previous editions. This is still worth your time if you are a big, big baseball fan.

Solid Fool's Gold -- Bill James -- This is a collection of articles by the noted baseball writer, taken from his website for the most part. There's not too much topical here, so some won't find this helpful. But ... James has such an interesting approach that it's never boring to see what he's thinking about a variety of subjects (in other words, he doesn't stick to baseball).

Baseball Miscellany -- Matt Silverman -- The author tries to answer a variety of questions about the game. You might learn a little here, although it seems more targeted for those who are just learning about the sport.

The Greatest Game Ever Pitched -- Jim Kaplan -- The longtime Sports Illustrated writer takes on a classic pitchers' duel between Buffalo native Warren Spahn and Juan Marichal, throwing in short biographies of both men along the way. It's a relatively quick read, and Kaplan is happy to bounce from subject to subject associated with that particular game.

Remembering Fenway Park -- Harvey Frommer -- A sprawling look at the Red Sox and their time in Fenway Park, about the only remaining baseball cathedral we have left. It's almost a history of the team without mentioning road games, which is a little odd, but the pictures are great -- particularly of the old days -- so it's a good looking book.

--- Budd Bailey

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: A big loss

     February 21, 1974 -- This certainly ranks as one of the saddest days in Buffalo sports history. Buffalo fans woke up to the news that Sabres' defenseman Tim Horton had died at the age of 44.

     Horton had been a big part of the Sabres' surprising playoff run in 1972-73, and he came back to play another season in 1973-74. In fact, as part of the deal general manager Punch Imlach agreed to buy Horton a fancy, fast car.

     Horton had performed well the night before in Maple Leaf Gardens, as he was named one of the game's stars despite leaving early because of injury. Horton was speeding back toward Buffalo at more than 100 mph, and missed a turn in St. Catharines. He ran into a concrete culvert and died.

     An autopsy released in 2005 reported that Horton's blood alcohol test was twice the legal limit. Public relations director Paul Wieland was called that night, and he and coach Joe Crozier went to Ontario to identify the body.

     The team members were crushed. Jim Schoenfeld, a second-year defenseman, practically looked at Horton as a father figure, and the rest of the team looked up to the eventual Hall of Famer.

     Horton's name is best known now, at least by the public at large, for a chain of coffee/doughnut shops in Canada and border areas like Buffalo. He had helped start it in 1966. But Horton will always be remembered here for his brief career as a Sabre.

--- Budd Bailey

Book report: Hockey Holidays

I've read some of the new hockey books that are out just in time for the holiday shopping season. The most interesting comment about hockey, though, came in a book on, of all things, politics.

Former Canadians goalie Ken Dryden has written a book on the situation in Canada. He's a Member of Parliament and once ran for the head of the Liberal Party.

At one point in "Becoming Canada," Dryden refers to his time with the Canadiens, and how the entire organization was dedicated to the concept of winning before anything else. The front office assembled the best possible players, and the coaching staff put the players in position to win. If the players didn't win, it was essentially their fault -- no excuses.

How many sports teams can say the same?

Here's a short review on some other titles. You can click on the title to get a full review on a Web site I keep on such matters:

The Final Call -- by Kerry Fraser -- This is rather routine staff, as are most books by officials. Fraser comes off as a solid professional, though.

The Making of Slap Shot -- by Jonathon Jackson -- If you think "Slap Shot" is one of the funniest movies ever made -- and most hockey fans do -- then you'll love this thoroughly researched book on how the movie was put together.

I Am Not Making This Up -- by Al Strachan -- The veteran Canadian hockey journalist tells some stories about his career.  There is a little bit of "things were better in the good old days," but has some insight and laughs.

The Greatest Game -- by Todd Denault -- This is all about the Canadiens-Red Army game of 1975 in Montreal, considered the best game every played by some. This makes a pretty good case for that claim.

--- Budd Bailey

Post Time: Racing's hero takes center stage

By Gene Kershner

Saturday’s eight championship races at the Breeders’ Cup are full of potential historic outcomes. Zenyatta can run her record to 20-0, win her second straight Classic and gather her third straight Breeders’ Cup race.

Goldikova can win an unprecedented three straight Mile victories. California Flag can win back to back Turf Sprints. Workforce, if he doesn’t scratch, can become the first winner of both the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe and Breeders’ Cup Turf races in the same year.

So the stage is set for a tremendous day under the twin spires at Churchill Downs. The Zenyatta phenomenon has taken Louisville by storm and continues to be the main story emanating out of the center of the racing universe this weekend. Unlike last year’s Filly Friday, which we discussed in Friday’s post, favorites fared much better last year on the Saturday card. Five of the eight 2009 championship races were won by the favorites. Don’t despair if you’re a long shot player, though, as the other three races were all won by bombs greater than 20-1 on the tote board.

Let’s take a look at some of the big races Saturday.

BC Juvenile

An East Coast-West Coast scenario has emerged between the top contenders here.  The East Coast horses, the favorite Uncle Mo (7-5) and second choice Boys at Tosconova (5-2), take on West Coast speedsters JP’s Gusto (10-1) and Jaycito (8-1).  I’m siding with Biggie over Tupac here and even going to throw Uncle Mo’s stable mate Stay Thirsty (8-1) into the mix.

Boys of Tosconova had a solid effort over the Churchill dirt in April in the Kentucky Juvenile Stakes and a convincing win at Saratoga over Stay Thirsty in the Hopeful makes him my top choice to garner Juvenile honors on Saturday. The very talented Uncle Mo should be out on the lead for trainer Todd Pletcher and should have no problem hitting the board. I’ll go with the “other Pletcher” colt, Stay Thirsty, to round out the trifecta with the West Coast horses off the board. 

1. Boys at Tosconova, 2. Uncle Mo, 3. Stay Thirsty.

BC Mile

Can you say chalk fest?  This one is a two-horse race between two-time champ and Irish-bred Goldikova (6-5) and 2009 U.S. Older Horse of the Year Gio Ponti (4-1). I was privileged to see Goldikova win her second straight BC Mile with a powerful closing move at Santa Anita last year and she seems primed to defend her title. Sidney’s Candy (10-1), who ran his eyeballs out in his turf debut, should set a hot enough pace for both of the two favorites to close into. For a potential long shot, I can see Proviso (12-1), winner of her last four, at least hitting the board and grabbing the show. 

1. Goldikova (IRE); 2. Gio Ponti 3. Proviso (GB)

BC Turf

My sources tell me that Workforce, winner of this year’s Arc in Paris, most likely will scratch out of the race. The Arc post time favorite, Behkabad (Fr), who finished fourth, is my selection to bring home Turf honors. For starters he has won three Group level races in Europe at the distance. The chart notes for the Arc say he was boxed in most of the way and never really was able to run his race. He may have conserved some run for this one, so look for him to stalk the pace and come away with the victory.

 My second choice is Dangerous Midge (12-1), who puts blinkers on for the first time as well as Lasix medication. Jockey Frankie Dettori will be looking to do his famous victory dismount should he pull off the upset. Will this be the horse that gets it done for him? The best chance for an American victory sits with the 5-year-old, Winchester, the classy winner of two Grade I races at Belmont Park this year. 

1. Behkabad (Fr), 2. Dangerous Midge, 3. Winchester.

BC Classic

The crescendo will be building all day for the appearance of the mighty Zenyatta. Featured on “60 Minutes,” in “O Magazine” and every ESPN commercial for the Breeders’ Cup all week long, she currently is the face of horse racing. She’ll perform her prancing and pawing routine during the post parade and will win over the hearts of more than a few racing fans across the country.

Her critics have carped about her soft campaign (only running against female company principally in Southern California) all year long, but her handlers have been only pointing at one big race the entire year.  There is no doubt that she will be last in the early going and will be charging down the lane at the front runners as the horses approach the wire.

Seeking to win her 20th straight victory and claim the $3 million first prize, she has several worthy challengers. The horse that I believe has the most opportune chance to unseat the queen is Lookin at Lucky. The Southern California-based colt has really filled out after a tremendous 3-year-old campaign, winning the Preakness Stakes, Haskell Invitational and Indiana Derby en route to his date with the big Z.  He is in terrific condition and will look to reverse his fortunes on the Churchill oval after a disastrous trip during the Kentucky Derby. After being bounced around from his rail position, he closed incredibly to finish a valiant sixth in the slop and bounced right back two weeks later to win the Preakness.

“He looks good; so far, so good,” said Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert. “He’ll run his race. We’re all going to find out how tough we are; it’s a great race, really good top horses in there. I think he’s up to it. He’s still a young horse so I don’t know how he fits in right now going a mile-and-a-quarter. He’s tough, though, 2-year-old champion and going to be 3-year-old champion. He keeps going and going.”

I also like Quality Road, whose bloom came off his rose after losing to Blame in the Whitney, his only loss of 2010.  If the track is super fast he will be the one to catch, but I have a funny feeling the track will be playing to Zenyatta’s strengths and not Quality Road’s come Saturday.  I’m going with  Lookin at Lucky to pull the upset.

1. Lookin at Lucky, 2. Zenyatta, 3. Quality Road.

Gene Kershner is a Buffalo-based turf writer, handicapper and member of the Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance who blogs at equispace.blogspot.com. He handicaps the race of the week on Friday at the Sports, Ink blog at www.buffalonews.com

 

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: Snowed out

    August 15, 2001 -- It was a sad day for Western New York's indoor soccer fans. The Buffalo Blizzard gave up in its quest to survive and thrive.

   The Blizzard essentially was created to have events in a proposed new arena in downtown Buffalo, a building that eventually became HSBC Arena. The Blizzard never did catch on during its time in Western New York, a fate that wasn't untypical among indoor soccer teams across the country. The sport was in the midst of a reorganization plan when the Blizzard management decided to simply throw in the towel.

   Blizzard owner John Bellanti wasn't around to personally announce the obituary, but he did issue a statement through Darcee' Edrozo, the team's director of media and public relations.

   "After evaluating and taking a look at his personal and business life . . . he made the decision with great sadness," Edrozo said.  

   Bellanti said he lost well over a million dollars on the team over the years. Bellanti had been in control for five years, but the team had been around since 1992. However, indoor soccer actually dated back to 1979, when the Buffalo Stallions were born. The Major Indoor Soccer League is still open for business, and it plans to go from five to six teams for the 2010-11 season.

--- Budd Bailey

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: The American Bowl

   July 28, 1991 -- Preseason games usually aren't remembered in the National Football League for a long period of time. This one might be one of the few exceptions.

   The Buffalo Bills defeated the Philadelphia Eagles, 17-13, in a game played in ... Wembley Stadium in London. It was the first time the Bills had ever crossed the pond to play an exhibition game.

   The idea was part of an NFL promotion to expand the game. The overseas contests started in 1986, but the Bills didn't take their turn until 1991.

   At leats the fans in London had an exciting game. Wide receiver Al Edwards caught a 15-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter to give the Bills the winning points. However, the game wasn't won until defensive back Brian Taylor knocked down a pass on the Bills' 13-yard line with 1:02 left. A crowd of 50,474 watched Buffalo play its first game since a Super Bowl loss to the Giants.

    "It was a pretty well-played game for a preseason game, especially the first one, which is a good sign," said Frank Reich, who started at quarterback for the Bills in place of injured Jim Kelly. "Usually, we struggle in the preseason and there are a lot of mistakes. But I think everybody was really alert and did a great job."

   The Bills played three other American Bowls -- two in Toronto, and one in Berlin. The NFL discontinued the series in 2005, but Buffalo currently plays some preseason and regular-season games in Toronto.

--- 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.

@WDX2BB | bbailey@buffnews.com

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