A Booster Shot
Times are tough in Buffalo. Many Canadians saw that first-hand when they ventured across the Peace Bridge for the world junior championships in December and January.
But they also experienced a town looking to bounce back, and one in which a little good news goes a long way.
The remarkably successful world juniors was a start. Today, meanwhile, the good news - or at least promising news - is coming in from both the Sabres and Bills.
The Sabres are on an 11-3-3 run that has seen them successfully fend off the Maple Leafs for the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff berth. The Sabres were actually behind the Leafs in the fall but are now seven points up going into tonight's game at the Air Canada Centre, with a chance to essentially finish off Ron Wilson's club for good.
The purchase of the Sabres by wealthy Terry Pegula has substantially altered the club's outlook. Money is being made available to GM Darcy Regier to spend, and there no longer seems real concern that Lindy Ruff, a free agent after this season, is going anywhere. That the Sabres have accomplished all of this without top forward Derek Roy is a testament to the way in which the team has come together in recent weeks.
Having Ryan Miller start looking like the Ryan Miller of last season again hasn't hurt, either.
Then there are the Bills, coming off a 4-12 season. Heismann Trophy winner Cam Newton, the Auburn quarterback, is in town today to meet with head coach Chan Gailey and other members of the Bills football staff. The Bills have the third pick of the upcoming NFL draft behind Carolina and Denver, and Newton is the kind of exciting athlete that could hit all the right notes in western New York.
It's hardly a sure thing. The Panthers could take him, but they have young Jimmy Clausen. Denver's making noises about taking a passer, but they may be interested in Washington's Jake Locker, plus they already have Kyle Orton, Tim Tebow and Brady Quinn.
Newton may not even be the best quarterback available, but Missouri's Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder of Florida State in the mix. Moreover, Gailey has said quarterback is not the club's greatest need, with Ryan Fitzpatrick having earned the confidence of the coaching staff last season.
But just having an exciting, high-profile prospect like Newton in town lifts the spirits of Bills fans and sets a tone of optimism and possibility. It doesn't alter the sombre likelihood that there may not be any NFL football in 2011 for Buffalo or anywhere else, but fits with an overall sense that pro sports in Buffalo may be on the upswing.
The Toronto connection with the Bills, of course, is that if there is an '11 season, the Bills will be once again playing a regular season game at the Rogers Centre after hosting Chicago next season. Local fans, then, may get a look at the Bills' top pick, whoever it turns out to be.