For the better part of the new millennium, Buffalo sports fans blamed the 17 year playoff drought on the ‘Flutie Curse’. Bills fans know all too well what happened after head coach Wade Phillips was allegedly forced by Ralph Wilson to make a quarterback change and start Rob Johnson against the Tennessee Titans in 1999. The result was the ‘Music City Miracle’ and a subsequent 17-year playoff drought.
Thankfully, those days are behind us. The Bills have made the playoffs two out of the last three years and their future hasn’t looked this bright since that grand faux pas. Despite the departure/retirement of Vontae Davis, Buffalo is becoming an attractive destination for NFL players.
Then there’s the Sabres, who have seemingly picked up the pieces of the ‘Flutie curse’ and are now working toward creating their own competing chapter in the tragic lore of Buffalo sports.
I’ll spare you the story about how the Sabres have come to fall upon the darkest of times in franchise history. Chances are if you’re reading this, you already know and don’t need another reminder.
So when I was deep in conversation about the ‘State of the Sabres’ with dear friend Dennis recently, we came to a horrible realization that maybe the curses on Buffalo sports aren’t all gone. Maybe the Sabres have their own curse.
The old phrase, “misery loves company” couldn’t be more true when describing a nearly a 20-year friendship that bloomed from the mutual despair from being Buffalo ex-pats (still hate that term) who remain lifelong fans of the Bills and Sabres. And by lifelong, between the two of us, we’ve watched a combined 240 seasons of ultimate futility.
May we rest in peace at some point by achieving at least one championship between two of the most frustrating franchises in professional sports. We used to joke about not living long enough to see a championship happen for the city of Buffalo. Now we don’t laugh as hard about it as we used to.
Dennis had a brain fart in the middle of watching yet another frustrating loss by the Sabres the other day and recalled a story about a goalie who ‘Vontae Davised’ the Sabres a few weeks after ‘The Blizzard’ in 1977. I only remembered the story after Dennis dug out this gem of an article from the Toronto Star about a goalie named Al Smith.
If you’re going to make a statement and a grand exit, no one did it better than Al Smith. After being suddenly benched by Punch Imlach for a young Don Edwards at the last moment, Al decided enough was enough.
He had the trainer open the gate and before the first face off could happen, Al Smith gracefully hopped on the ice, skated a circle while waving to owner Seymour Knox … skated off, went to locker room and announced that he retired.
Even then-captain Jim Schoenfeld said it was a mistake to deny Smith the chance to start the game as promised. I remember this happening because of the horrible press about Buffalo that followed Smith’s abrupt departure. Those were some dark days experienced by both franchises.
So… in the midst of this conversation with Dennis about Al Smith it occurred to me that maybe the Sabres have their own curse they need to absolve. Maybe the curse of Al Smith is what is looming over the Sabres’ franchise these days.
Unfortunately Mr. Smith passed away in 2002 at age 56 from pancreatic cancer. So any absolution would have to come in a different fashion. Maybe there should be an “Al Smith” night at Key Bank Center to mark recognition for past misdeeds on the part of Sabres’ management?
Set us free, Mr. Smith. We’re sorry Coach Imlach did you the nasty.
Editor’s babble: We might as well give it a try. Right now a tale of two teams going in two different directions. Let’s hope the Sabres can find their way out of their dynasty of despair. I’m currently taking a break from interacting much on Twitter for a bit. Feel free to contact me here in the comment section if you need/want to reach out.