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Forty-One Questions The Bills’ New Owner Should Ask Their Coach And General Manager

 

With all the pageantry of his first weekend as the second-ever owner of the Buffalo Bills out of the way, Terry Pegula finds himself settling into the less-glamorous reality of owning the Buffalo Bills this week.

It only makes sense that one of the first orders of business would be holding a meeting with the company’s top executives, especially the guys who run the football team itself, general manager Doug Whaley and head coach Doug Marrone. Particularly after their creation managed to look an awful lot like a Buddy Nix-Chan Gailey production during Sunday’s biannual flogging by the New England Patriots.

Pegula is historically more of a hockey guy and appears most comfortable working from a script (and we do not just say this because Kim Pegula seemed to be mouthing the words to Terry’s midfield remarks before Sunday’s 37-22 loss to New England along with her husband, evoking images of the couple running through his lines at the breakfast table). So We Want Marangi respectfully offers the following pertinent questions:

— So, you two do have some sort of plan, right?

— Did that plan involve Kyle Orton playing quarterback?

— Had you ever watched him play quarterback before?

— Kim and I have been busy running the Sabres, so I could be wrong, but doesn’t he play a lot like that guy with the beard who was the quarterback a couple of years ago?

— I keep hearing you say he gives us (use of finger quotes recommended, but not absolutely necessary with the right voice inflection) “the best chance to win.” How so?

— There were a couple of plays Sunday when Orton stood perfectly still while a Patriots player ran at him as fast as he could. Was that intentional? Like he thought the pass rusher might think the whistle had blown if he didn’t try to get away, or become transfixed by his eerie calm — which could be mistaken for obliviousness — while under duress and run right by him?

— Why didn’t you draft somebody better?

— I see. With the very first pick you made after getting hired, you say? Well, I know the rest of the team hasn’t been very good in a while, either. Why didn’t you draft somebody to give the poor kid some help?

— Ah. And where was this Watkins fellow on Sunday?

— Wait a minute. You’re saying that if the other team assigns its best player to guard our best player, we just sort of give up on getting the ball to him?

— Even Kim and I knew the Patriots like to throw to that Gronkowski character, but they still did it an awful lot, didn’t they?

— Anyway, my hockey people tell me that by losing a lot, we can get a really good player in the next draft. And they’re doing a great job at that. So at least we can get another quarterback come spring if this Orton thing doesn’t work out, right?

— What do you mean, we don’t have a first-round pick? Doesn’t everybody get one? That doesn’t sound right. Hold on while I call Bob Kraft and see why we …

— Oh. Let me make sure I’m keeping up here. So you spent your first first-round draft choice on a quarterback, then the next two on a receiver to help him out. But we’ve already ditched the quarterback for somebody that four other teams told to hit the bricks and we don’t throw to the receiver when other teams think we’re going to do that. Have I got this straight?

— But you do have a plan, you say?

— What about that other receiver, the one you got for a sixth-round draft choice? Where was he on Sunday?

— That’s right. I remember seeing something about that on the Twitter. Seems like a bit of a jerk. Didn’t you throw him off your team in college?

— But then you traded for him?

— I see he wants to be traded again already. What can we get for him?

— Well, let’s not get bogged down on one side of the ball. I keep hearing that we have a great defense. Do great defenses usually give up 37 points at home?

— Yes, Tom Brady is very good. But I noticed that after we got within a touchdown in the fourth quarter, and absolutely had to stop New England to have a chance to tie it up, Mario Williams wasn’t on the field. How much am I paying him again?

— So why wasn’t he, or that No. 55 who had sacked Brady twice, on the field for the most important series of the season?

Rotation? Isn’t that a baseball thing?

— Yes, everyone needs rest to be at their best. Even I like a nap once in a while. But in a spot like that, don’t you want our best players out there?

— It sure did seem like a running situation. But haven’t the Patriots been throwing in spots like that since Brady has been Brady?

— So you’re telling me that one of your assistants makes those decisions?

The guy who asked his players to carry him off the field in Detroit?

— Isn’t that kind of like throwing a birthday party for yourself?

— Who is this Duke Williams person?

— Is he an actual duke?

— That’s too bad. Has anyone told him that he is allowed to turn around while he’s covering a receiver?

— Are you sure he knows that he can try to catch the ball, or bat it away, or do something besides shove the receiver with both hands?

— And that when an opposing receiver runs by our cornerback, like on that last New England touchdown, he is supposed to cover that receiver, instead of sort of standing there, then half-heartedly chasing him into the end zone?

— Who do you have to check with? Schwartz? Is that the birthday-party guy?

— Back to the offense for a minute. On that play where C.J. Spiller gets the ball and runs out of bounds behind the line, is that the way it’s supposed to work?

— I didn’t think so. Why don’t you try some other things, like throwing to him down the field a little?

— I know he’s not much of a blocker — I saw him almost get Orton killed in Detroit. But Fred Jackson’s pretty good at protection. Why not use them both at the same time more, and split Spiller out or something?

— So you’re telling me we’re better off having another first-round pick on the bench and a guy you traded for in street clothes while that No. 15, who nobody drafted, plays. What’s his name again?

— Ha! Hogan’s Heroes always cracked me up. Is that still on in re-runs anywhere?

— But seriously. You’re absolutely sure you have a plan?

— Well, we’ve covered a lot of ground here. Good talk. Just one more thing before we wrap up. So did you guys buy houses around here, or are you renting?


Bills Provide Distraction From Football

Filed under: Buffalo Bills, Sports
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Photo by Tim Saracki

Photo by Tim Saracki

Normally, We Want Marangi is not the sort of sporadically published, narrowly read sports blog to go around saying, “I told you so.”

But.

The Buffalo Bills capped their best week in a couple of decades by gutting the Miami Dolphins, with the 29-10 final masking the true level of competitiveness. In the process, they produced one of the few causes for good feelings during one of the ugliest weeks in National Football League history.

Between the charges of off-field violence that supplanted ISIS beheadings as the primary source of social-media outrage and the latest grim statistics on the long-term impact of in-game collisions, the NFL has made itself pretty easy to hate lately.

“The Shield,” as the league likes to be known (and giving yourself a nickname is generally a sign of some pretty deep-seeded issues), spent the spring and summer first botching its handling of the assault charges against former Baltimore running back Ray Rice, while ignoring a couple equally revolting, though video-free, cases against Carolina’s Greg Hardy and Ray McDonald of San Francisco, then attempting to obfuscate its way out of the self-created mess.

Roger Goodell’s descent from sanctimonious crusader to bumbling ass-coverer was so complete and so swift, he became the first NFL commissioner to face widespread public and media demand for his dismissal. On a positive note, the Ginger Hammer’s arrogant ineptitude did give the independent aviation industry a boost, with small prop planes tugging “Goodell Must Go” banners over several sold-out stadiums on Sunday.

Ralph Wilson Stadium was not one of them. Which was fitting, since the newly remodeled, yet still-somehow-inadequate-according-to-Goodell structure was one of the few spots in the sport where the firestorm — given fresh fuel by the indictment on Friday of the game’s top running back, Adrian Peterson of Minnesota, on child-abuse charges — could be forgotten. At least for a few hours.

Over a span of three-and-a-half hours on Sunday, the Bills demonstrated why the sport, for all its increasingly public flaws, inspires such unnatural behavior as face-painting, boycotts of faded, otherwise-irrelevant pop stars and radio-talk-show-calling.

First, the Bills honored their late owner and stadium namesake with an emotional pre-game ceremony featuring their greatest quarterback, who was making his first large-scale public appearance since being declared cancer-free by his doctors. The ceremony inspired thunderous ovations from a crowd already giddy from last week’s news that the home team is not going anywhere for the foreseeable future.

Then, the Bills kept it loud by overwhelming the unnerved Miami Dolphins in every imaginable phase of the game.

In the first half, Buffalo’s defense delivered its most dominant performance since shutting out New England in the 2003 season opener, sacking Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill three times and dumping his receivers in the backfield twice and yielding just 13 passing yards before intermission.

Amidst the defensive carnage, free-agent pickup Anthony Dixon (who will heretofore be referred to in this space by his nickname, “Boobie”) blocked a punt to set up a Dan Carpenter field goal on the way to a 9-0 Buffalo lead after two quarters.

On their first third-quarter possession, the Dolphins kept Tannehill on his feet long enough to move into position for a field goal of its own, introducing the day’s first element of anxiety. That feeling lasted for as long as it took C.J. Spiller to sprint past the first line of Miami’s kickoff coverage team and down the sideline for a 102-yard touchdown and all the points Buffalo would need.

Miami did tense things up a bit with its subsequent touchdown drive, at least until Spiller shot through the left side of the line for a 47-yard run. Three plays later, E.J. Manuel — whose failure to put the Buffalo offense in the end zone had been the lone worrisome aspect of the first three quarters — gave Sammy Watkins a chance to demonstrate why the Bills gave up two first-round picks to get him with twisting, pylon-whacking leap into the end zone.

Up by two touchdowns, Buffalo’s defense resumed chasing Tannehill around the field. In the fourth quarter, Tannehill got sacked again, stuffed on a ill-designed fourth-down keeper and finally intercepted in the final seconds, while failing to complete any pass long enough to cause much concern.

The good feelings around here should last until at least Sunday, when San Diego arrives in town fresh off a dominant (or, as Bill Cowher said on the CBS halftime show about the Bills’ performance, ‘domilant’) win over the defending Super Bowl champion Seahawks. Even as more ugliness oozes out elsewhere, underscoring the hypocrisy of a corporate culture that bans pot smokers for months, or longer, while strenuously ignoring, or making excuses for, alleged men who beat women and children.

A few other items worth briefly noting:

— That Watkins kid is pretty good. Eight catches, 117 yards and one of the most athletic touchdown dives you will see, all while visibly hampered by the rib injury sustained, then aggravated, during the exhibition season. Watkins has already become the focal point of Buffalo’s passing game, with Manuel targeting him a team-high 11 times on 26 throws.

The Bills paid a steep price for Watkins, but WWM can not recall a game in which any two Buffalo first-round picks played as decisive a role.

— Hopefully, a 2-0 start means the networks will send less excruciating announcing teams to cover the next few games.

Tom McCarthy’s play-by-play was riddled with misidentified players (like confusing defensive tackles Kyle Williams and Stefan Charles, who really could not look less alike), incorrect down-and-distance announcements and wildly inaccurate ball spots — in one case misplacing the line of scrimmage by 34 yards.

Then there was analyst Adam Archuleta. whose analysis was limited to saying very obvious things with a tone that suggested an epiphany. When Miami could not beat the play clock early in the second quarter, Archuleta declared, “The crowd noise may have had something to do with that,” sounding very much as if the thought had never occurred to him, or anyone else, before.

The din probably had something to do with the Dolphins’ breakdowns on the offensive line and the failure by the punt team to prevent Dixon from a free shot at their punter, too, but noting such subtleties is probably a little much to ask from CBS’ last-string broadcast pairing.

— Archuleta also failed to comment on the dumbest call of the game, which is sort of what you would want from the supposed expert in the booth: Miami’s decision to run a read-zone option on fourth-and-1 early in the fourth quarter. A slow-developing run play against a defense shooting through every gap on the line is a lousy choice even if your quarterback is Colin Kaepernick or Johnny Football (assuming the Browns ever give him more than one snap a game). Tannehill may has well have taken a knee.

— Mary Wilson, Ralph’s widow, must have been thrilled with the camera lingering on her while she ate her halftime meal. Twice. Nobody looks good while they eat.

— If your biggest concern is a quarterback who, in his 11th and 12th professional starts, completed two-thirds of his passes, had a hand in three touchdowns and turned the ball over once, while outplaying counterparts in their eighth and third full seasons as starters, well, then, your football team is in pretty good shape.


Tim Bits

Filed under: Sports
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All of these sketches were done in the last week by Marquil at EmpireWire.com

 

 

 

 

 


Sabres New Mantra: “Suffering”

Sabslogo

When the Buffalo Sabres did their famed makeover of the team locker rooms and training areas two summers ago, the most noted space planning casualty was the press conference room. Gone was the spacious work area with podium space, ample seating and even a large standing area behind the camera bays for special visitors to stand and watch the proceedings. In its staid came a glorified nook, with a scattered few chairs and two folding tables in the back of the room for writers and photographers to unfurl their laptops and equipment.

So if the media clamors for a season ending press conference, then, hey. Why not? Cram as many people as possible into too small a space, turn up the hot television lights, shut the doors to cut off air flow, and let’s have at it.

Suffering.

Team President Ted Black, and his now apparent organizational equal, General Manager Darcy Regier, met with the press this past Monday to face the media and talk about the fortunes of the franchise. For the collective Buffalo community, it was not one of our prouder moments. Reporters from two media outlets in particular fired questions that were sniping, over the top personal, and prompted snarky and condescending replies from the oft composed Black.

As for Regier, his part of the discussion was to admonish the public, press and the team supporters that there would be plenty of “suffering” ahead as the team retools towards the eventual goal of bringing the Stanley Cup to Buffalo. He used the word repeatedly throughout the conference.

While few details were revealed as to the team’s plan for their head coach, keeping prized assets Ryan Miller and Thomas Vanek, or what the on ice game plan is moving forward, a great deal of discussion centered on the Sabres’ decision to raise ticket prices by 4%, an announcement that was made last Friday in conjunction with the team’s “Fan Appreciation Night”.

Suffering.

The Sabres repeatedly trump their robust season ticket base, their lengthy waiting list for season tickets, and their price structure, which remains in the lower tier of the league’s 30 NHL teams. All true.

What the team neglects to pay attention to is its own history and record when it comes to their fan base and ticket sales. It is a colorful story of ebbs and flows.

Buffalo began a sellout streak of games which began in early 1971, when the Aud capacity was still 10,429 seats. That streak continued for almost two decades even after a balcony was added to the arena. Fans would camp out on Terrace Street overnight for the opportunity to purchase scarce and precious tickets at the top of the oranges or in standing room. Being a season ticket holder back then was one of Buffalo’s ultimate status symbols. The front office had a profound sense of hubris and arrogance that there would always be a blindly faithful ticket buying public with lines out the door.

Then the Scotty Bowman period ended. Badly. The team went into a tailspin. And by the late 80s, tickets could be had in all price ranges.

The second ticket renaissance occurred in the 90s. The powerhouse Mogilny/Lafontaine offense ignited new interest in the team, which only grew larger when Ted Nolan’s “hardest working team in hockey” won the hearts of Sabres fans. Excitement over the new arena stimulated ticket sales, and by 1999, the Sabres’ last run to the finals, there were fistfights outside the arena over places in cue for playoff tickets, and the team was offering playoff tickets in exchange for season ticket commitments from customers.

It all fell apart. The popular Nolan was shown the door and got dirt kicked in his face upon his exit (by Regier, no less), then the team spiraled into scandal and bankruptcy. By 2003 the Sabres were playing in front of thousands of empty blue seats on any given night.

Enter Tom Golisano. His Managing Partner Larry Quinn slashed ticket prices, instituted a variable game pricing policy and deep discounts for season ticket holders. The team came out of the 2004-05 lockout fast, exciting, fun to watch and sales surged. While season ticket prices have creeped upwards four of the past six years, the overall pricing model remains in place to this day.

But what now? The dirty secret that nobody wants to talk about is that for the last few games this year Sabres tickets had a commodity value of near zero. People couldn’t give their tickets away.
And the ticket buying public here in Buffalo aren’t fools. They will support their team and shell out their hard earned dollars if they are given hope. Monday’s press conference, laden with anger, acrimony and snark, didn’t exactly help the cause.

Want 99% renewals, Sabres front office? Sell hope. Bring back Ted Nolan, or a guy like him. Announce defiantly that the losing is over. Now. Give your season ticket holders a new incentive that has a “wow” factor. 2.5% Sabrebucks no longer cuts it.

Unfortunately, the one huge lesson gleaned from Monday is “Suffering”. And for Sabres fans and their best customers, strip to the skivvies, grab one’s ankles, and exclaim, “Thank you sir, may I have another.”


Sabres open Sunday

pegulaIt’s Game On at First Niagara Center.

The Buffalo Sabres held a press conference this afternoon in the newly reconstituted Lexus Club, with owner Terry Pegula, President Ted Black and General Manager Darcy Regier in attendance.

Rapid fire, here are things you want to know:

-The Sabres have announced a contract extension for Regier. Terms were not disclosed, and Pegula gave Regier a hearty vote of confidence, comparing the synergy in the Sabres hockey department as adding to a painting.

-Start time tomorrow is 12:30PM, not the 12 noon time printed on the ticket.

-Doors will open at 10:15AM and the Sabres Store will open for business at 9:00AM.

-Fencing has been taken down on the Webster Block in front of the arena. The city owns the property and it is expected that there will be an attendant there and parking will be available.

-Ground will be broken approximately March 8 for the Harbor Center on the Webster Block. Land has still not changed title to the Sabres, but Black reported that all things are moving in tandem towards a successful start in March and the project remains on schedule.

-Season tickets are being printed right now. It looks like they will start hitting the mails Wednesday to the season ticket holders. Tickets for the first three games have already been printed and sent out to everyone.

Less than 10,000 tickets remain for the entire 24 game schedule, with 5 games now officially listed as sellouts. That averages to about 500 seats per game available for public purchase.

And for anyone who cares, when asked Pegula emphatically denied having any involvement is funding football coach Bill O’Brien’s contract at Penn State University. A substantial donor to Penn State, Pegula branded those stories as “blatantly false”.

First Niagara Center was buzzing with activity today; thousands of fans were in attendance to watch the team’s final practice before they hit the ice tomorrow to start the regular season. The line to the team store was almost out the door with an approximate wait time of one hour to get entry. Tomorrow will be the final day of the 50% off sale on all available merchandise. The hottest item being sought after (and apparently sold out) is the Mikhail Grigorenko jersey.

So there you have it… if you’re lucky enough to have a ticket then we will see YOU at First Niagara Center. For everyone else, the game will be nationally televised on NBC. Grab some friends and hit your favorite pub and cheer on the return of Buffalo Sabres hockey!


Engelder: Frack-Induced Earthquakes are like Hockey Skates

The Raging Chicken Press out of Kutztown, PA, has this story by a philosophy professor at Bloomsburg University named Wendy Lee. In it, she deconstructs a public listserve and email exchange she had with Terry Engelder, a Penn State geologist. You may recognize Engelder from his side-splitting role in the gas industry propaganda film “Truthland.” He also has a little business on the side with SUNY Fredonia geologist Gary Lash (who headed the now seemingly defunct SUNY Fredonia Shale Institute, along with his wife) called Appalacian Fracture Systems, Inc.

Lee writes:

In his original post to “colleagues” Professor Engelder argues that while the earthquakes in Youngstown, Ohio and elsewhere are indeed connected to the destabilizing presence of deep injection wells, that they are of too little concern to worry about whether we should revisit the decision that requires them, namely hydraulic fracturing—fracking—a gas extraction process that produces waste-water so toxic that it cannot ever be returned to the water table and hence must be permanently (or, at least until it leaks) deposited in wells drilled deep under the earth’s surface. He draws an analogy comparing the earthquakes to the temporary ice melt caused by ice skate blades sheering across ice:

Most of you understand that ice skates work because the pressure under the thin blade of steel causes a very small amount of ice to melt momentarily. We scientists call this a pressure-induced phase change from a solid (ice) to a liquid (water). It is this film of water between the steel blade and solid ice that allows the skate to glide without effort… The water along the fault zone acted just like a water film between the steel blade of a hockey skate and solid ice. The fault in question was already subject to a push from earth stress. It is just that the push was not quite enough to get the fault to slip (trigger an earthquake).

Engelder had the gall to tell Lee that she “(does) not have permission to put this material on the web.” Oops. She did.

She also does a nice job exposing the sell out of Penn State to corporate interests. Way to kick a once-proud and respected institution when it’s down!

Bringing it all back home, this is the model the State University of New York at Buffalo is copying for its Shale Resources and Society Institute.

Buffalonians have also gotta love Engelder’s hockey skate analogy. After all, the owner of the Buffalo Sabres made his billions by fracking up Pennsylvania. In return, he’s building a new $102 million hockey arena at Penn State.