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October 21, 2008

Let There be Light

Amazing what a couple of loose balloons can do. It’s also ironic a major power outage hit the Ralph on the same day the San Diego ‘Chargers’ were scheduled to visit One Bills Drive. Good ironic for the Bills-23, bad ironic for the Chargers-14. It’s also ironical that it took major power outage for yours truly to see the ‘Light’.

After an embarrassing loss in Phoenix, two weeks ago, Buffalo came out of their Bye week like a finely tuned machine. QB Trent Edwards displayed no ill effects from the concussion he sustained and again proved why he’s the leader of this team and its most integral player.

Edwards completed 19 of his first 21 passes, 25 of 30 overall, and broke Jim Kelly’s single game percentage record in only his 15th game as a starter, 10-5 overall. Edwards is the real deal, like a great chief. Give him the right recipe, a little time, and not only will he find the open man, he’ll serve him ‘pigskin a la mode’. Bon apatite.

In this very space, after their devastating loss to the Cardinals, I skewered the Buffalo coaching staff. I felt their inability to make any changes cost the Bills any shot at winning that particular game. Having your starting QB, and team leader, carted off under the impression he was ‘Batman’, made for a long, sobering afternoon.

In that particular column, I wondered aloud if the coaching staff was up to the rigors of coaching in the NFL. After all, the best coaches in the game know what’s going to happen before it happens and can change on the fly. If one thing doesn’t work, bam, on to the next and so on until they find an answer. Bill Belichick can do it, so can Mike Shanahan, Mike Holmgren, Tom Coughlin, Tony Dungy, and so on.

So I began to wonder, what do these men have in common? What can they do that so many others can’t? What separates them from all the rest?

I thought about it for a long while, but couldn’t quite grasp it. Then I looked up at the proverbial light bulb, pulled the switch and ‘Voila’, the ‘Light’ came to me. Yes, these men are all proven coaches, but the thing that separates them from the pack is not what they bring to the table, it’s who’s sitting at the table with them.

If you look back at all the great coaches, almost every one of them had an elite QB to run the show. Belichick had Brady, Shanahan had Elway, Holmgren had Favre, Coughlin had Manning and Dungy the other Manning. Yes, most coaches can draw the X’s and O’s but they need someone who can execute the plan.

To prove my point, think back to the San Francisco 49’ers in their glory years. Bill Walsh was designated a coaching genius for inventing the West Coast Offense, the short passing game. He had Joe Montana. Do you think we would be calling Bill Walsh a genius if he had someone like J.P. Losman at the helm? See my point?

Now think of the above mentioned coaches, Belichick, Shanahan, Holmgren, Coughlin and Dungy and try to remember what they’ve done without those star QB’s. An example a little closer to home would be Marv Levy without Jim Kelly. The results are respectable, but without the right QB to run the show, those resumes are fairly close to average. In fact, several were fired from their first Head Coaching job before they went on to their greatest success.

The bottom line here is, a coach can draw up the greatest plan in the world, but without the right players to implement the plan, it is doomed to ultimate failure.

Therefore, I apologize to the Bills coaching staff for my incorrect assessment of their abilities after a single loss. Especially, after their most integral player, Trent Edwards, was sent to the ‘Bat Cave’ 3 plays into the game. I have seen the ‘Light’. Stay healthy Trent.

Check out www.benspicks.com, on Saturday, for my FREE! NFL selections, 4-0 Last Week. Thanks, Ben

 

 

October 14, 2008

‘Bye’ the Way...

...I thought I would be able to enjoy the Bills Bye week by concentrating my efforts on the rest of the NFL schedule. With no Bills game to get in my way, I was sure I would extend my lucky streak. Boy was I wrong. I took a beating on Houston winning, but not covering the 3-point spread against Miami. Dallas couldn’t put Arizona away and then got kicked in the can. Lastly, New England took a pounding in San Diego. Those selections sure look pretty dumb in retrospect. Isn’t it funny how all losing wagers look so stupid after the fact? I’m glad there’s only one Bye week per season, my bankroll can’t handle any more.

...I filled my Buffalo football fix last weekend by attending my first ever UB Bulls football game. That’s amazing considering I am a graduate of the University. It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon and I was looking forward to watching the resurgent Bulls. Coach Turner Gill and the team were having a great game. Western Michigan made it a little dicey in the 4th quarter, but the Bulls caught a break on a fumble deep in Bronco territory. Buffalo punched it in for the decisive score and went ahead 28-14. There were only about five minutes left to play and my host, 10 O’clock Mike, had to leave to attend a party. We made for the parking lot with smiles plastered on our chubby little faces, content that the game was in the bag. By the time we got to the car, it was 28-21. As Mike left me off, the Broncos tied it up with 5 seconds left. The rest, as they say, is history. The Bulls turned it over in OT and Western Michigan punched it in for the win, 34-28. Later on that evening, I caught up with Mike and thanked him for leaving early. I’d rather remember the best part of the day. It just goes to show you, nothing’s a sure thing. Like Yogi Berra said, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”

...The Buffalo Sabres roared into their new season with a couple of decisive wins. On opening night, Buffalo went toe-to-toe with the mighty Canadians. Goalie Ryan Miller exercised his shootout demons and stoned the Habs in the showdown, 2-1. Then in a rare weekday afternoon affair, the Blue and Gold exacted revenge from an Islander squad that beat them back-to-back to open last season, 7-1. Next up is our old buddy, Chris Drury and the New York Rangers. Hopefully, by the time you read this we’ll be 3-0.

...New Sabres defenseman, and captain, Chris Rivet, has already proved worthy of carrying the C. Rivet backed up his teammates in a second period scrum and made a statement at the same time. The Sabres won’t be pushed around any more. Lindy Ruff has this team playing close to the vest and the new defensive strategy will pay dividends. After all, Lord Stanley wouldn’t have it any other way.

...It was good to see QB Trent Edwards and WR Roscoe Parrish back on the practice field this week. Injuries devastated the Bills last year and the key to Buffalo’s success this season will be to stay as healthy as possible. Next up are the San Diego Chargers and we’ll need all hands on deck in what should turn out to be a high scoring affair at the Ralph.

...Is it me, or are the baseball playoffs an afterthought. Say what you will about the Yankees, but the postseason is definitely more interesting when they’re involved. The only way these playoffs peak my interests is, if Manny returns to Boston with the Dodgers. Now that’s drama.

...While sitting amongst the crowd at the U B game, I scanned the audience and was a little surprised by my surroundings. There were plenty of alumni and their families, but very few students. The University is behind the 8-ball when it comes to student support. About half of the underclassmen are from out of town and commuters are treated as a necessary evil. It would be nice if the University actually cultivated some student unity. However, what do you expect from a State school? It’s was so bad when I went there, they didn’t even have a football team. No wonder why it took me 30 years to catch a game.

...Most Sabre fans would be content to see their team return to the playoffs. Not me, I think this team is primed to make a statement. I have a feeling, ‘in my gut’; Buffalo can compete for first place. Wait a second, scratch that, I had tacos for lunch.

Check out www.benspicks.com, on Saturday, for my FREE! NFL selections. Thanks, Ben

 

 

October 7, 2008

‘Plight’ of the Phoenix

Wikipedia defines the Phoenix as a sacred firebird from ancient mythology. At the end of the mythical bird’s lifecycle, the Phoenix sets itself aflame and it turns into ashes. The new, young, Phoenix arises from the ashes to live again.

In this vane, there’s a classic old movie starring Jimmy Stewart called ‘Flight of the Phoenix’. You’ve probably seen it several times. It’s your typical Hollywood fare. In it, Stewart plays a pilot whose plane goes down in the desert with about a dozen passengers on board. They end up way off course with no chance of rescue. These men, stranded in the desert, are doomed. The men try to make do, but begin to panic when they realize their plight. Instead of pulling together to solve their problem, they begin to nitpick and fight amongst themselves to make matters worse.

Obviously, Jimmy Stewart needs a way to rally the men and gets them to focus on a singular goal. They work together to painstakingly dismantle, and rebuild, ‘The Phoenix’. The whole time our hero, Stewart, is privately praying help will come so he won’t have to fly the bucket of bolts they are building. As we all know, help doesn’t arrive. Stewart and the boys strap themselves to the rebuilt wing and fly back to civilization. The End.

Now, fast forward to the Buffalo Bills humiliating, 41-17, loss to the Arizona Cardinals last week. Let’s compare what happened to the men of the Phoenix to what happened to our men ‘IN’ Phoenix.

Just like the movie, the game starts out innocently enough with Buffalo receiving the opening kick. QB Trent Edwards begins to do what he does best, hit the open man and then disaster strikes. Edwards gets blindsided by Adrian ‘No Relation to Ralph’ Wilson several plays into the game and suddenly turmoil ensues. Even though we were 3,000 miles away, you could feel the air escaping from our 4-0 bubble while our leader was, literally, down and out.

J.P. Losman replaces Trent and I assure my fellow fans all is not lost. I was sure J.P. and the defense would sack up and make this a competitive game. J.P. promptly helps botch a handoff and the Cards recover. The defense, still in shock, gets caught flatfooted by the wily veteran, Kurt Warner. The Cards score a TD.

No problem, we’ll get it back. J.P. and the offense proceed to go 3 and out and punt. The Cards take the ball at their 20 and the grey bearded Warner dinks and dunks them down the field for a 14-play 80-yard drive. 14-0 Arizona.

Knowing the aging Warner is like a human piñata, 6 TO’s the week before, I’m a little miffed our defense laid back and took it. I assure everyone its O.K., J.P. and defense will settle down and come with the heat.

On the next possession J.P. fills his end of the bargain, he rears back and flings one 50 yards in the air, running underneath the perfectly thrown ball is WR Lee Evans. Evans catches it, full stride and makes a beeline for the end zone. That was the spark I was waiting for, 14-7 Arizona and Buffalo is back in the game.

Now was the time for defensive coordinator Perry Fewell to bring the heat and force Warner, ‘The Human Piñata’, into the mistake that would turn the game around. I sat dumbfounded as the Cards again dinked and dunked down the field for a 12 play, 78-yard drive. Arizona 21-7.

To make a long story short, the Cards scored on 7 of their first 8 drives. The Bills never brought the heat even after their halftime adjustments. It was hard to watch, a slow death. The Bills would not rise from the ashes.

Now, you may ask, “What does the movie, ‘Flight of the Phoenix’, have to do with the Bills ‘Plight’ in Phoenix? One team of men emerges victorious; the other is destined for bitter defeat.”

Very good question. The answer, my friend, comes down to leadership. In the movie, our hero, Jimmy Stewart, leads his men to victory. In the football game, our leader, Trent Edwards, is knocked out and no one else is there to lead. I’m not talking about J.P. here, after all, he’s no Frank Reich, or any one particular player, I’m talking about coaching.

You see, this loss, despite Trent’s absence, is directly related to coaching. Defensive Coordinator Fewell did not make the proper adjustments to change the flow of the game. He never put our defense in a position to succeed. Ultimately, that mistake falls on Head Coach Dick Jauron. Jauron is excellent at preparing his men to do battle, he’s lacking as a field general.

I thought the problem was solved, this year, by the several come from behind victories we have been witness to. Obviously not, and that worries me. Ultimately, this is only one loss and the Bills are still 4-1. The bye week will help heal the wounds, but will it help solve the Bills coaching ‘Plight’?

Check out www.benspicks.com, on Saturday, for my FREE! NFL selections. Thanks, Ben

 

 

September 30, 2008

Ben Van Winkle

So, it’s the middle of August and I’ve hit a brick wall over that week’s column. Bills training camp and preseason are boring, nothing is happening with the Sabres yet and I can’t rag on Brett the Jett again. What’s a guy to do?

Realizing its Tuesday and my favorite bartender, Suzie Kaboozie, is working, I make a beeline for Downtown Blackrock and my regular watering hole. If Suzie can’t lube the wheels, no one can.

When I get there, it’s Happy Hour and Suzie spots me coming in. As my butt hits the stool, Suzie serves me a stiff one (drink that is).

“Ben you look perplexed?”

“I am, I need a topic for this week’s column or The Rocket will have to print another lame political ad and I can’t let that happen.”

“You’re right Ben, Democrats, Republicans, it’s all the same. But, don’t worry, by the time the night is over I’m sure the juices will be flowing. Creative juices that is.”

“Very funny Suzie, I hope you’re right, so keep’em coming.”

“No problem there Ben, I’ll keep that Dewars bottle handy.”

As the scotch flows and the evening wanes, people come and go but still no spark. After a while, I begin to get even more frustrated and decide to take a walk by the creek, Scajaquada that is, to clear my brain. Before you know it, I start to feel a little woozy, so I decide to take a seat under a big tree and contemplate my predicament. The last thing I remember was watching the sunset between the twin towers of Our Lady of Black Rock Church and wondering if the Old Girl was next on the Bishop’s hit list.

The next thing I know, I’m waking up with my head pounding and the sun shinning. “That Suzie” I said to myself, “She got me good. I spent the whole night under this damn tree and still no bright ideas”.

I slowly make it to my feet and take a leisurely walk back to the bar to find my car. When I get there, I notice the bar door is open and I begin to wonder what’s going on this early in the morning. I shrug it off and decide to go in and find an aspirin before I drive my sorry butt home.

I enter and to my amazement, Suzie is behind the bar and the place is packed. I’m still a little groggy and before I could gather my senses, Suzie has a drink in front of me.

“Ben where ya been and what’s up with that beard?”

“Beard, what beard?” I say as I look in the mirror to see myself staring back with a scraggly beard and a dumb look on my face. What the ....? I begin to think. Then I hear, “I got that one Suzie.”

I look up and making his way toward me is my old buddy Rip. “Ben where ya been? Whoa, did you lose your razor?”

I’m still a little confused and, before I can muster an answer, I look down on the bar and see a copy of the Buffalo Snooze. On the front page is a picture of Trent Edwards. “What’s up with this? We didn’t play the Rams last week.”

“Very funny Ben, where’s your column been? I’ve been checking the Rocket and your website every week looking for your take on the Bills run and all I get are these stupid Political ads. So, what do you think, 4-0, not bad?”

As Rip says this, I look at the masthead of the Snooze and read, Monday, September 29, 2008. Holy ....!

“Rip what’s up with this? It’s supposed to be August, what’s going on?”

“Ben are you all right, or is that beard sapping your brain?”

“Rip all I know is, it was August, I was here tipping a few and the next thing I know, I waking up under a tree by the creek.”

“Was Suzie bartending Ben?” I nod my head.

“Well there you go then.”

We both look at Suzie and she gives us the crook-eye and walks away.

“Believe it or not Ben; the same thing happened to me years ago except I was out for 20 years. You wanna talk about a beard?”

“Twenty years! That’s crazy.”

“Crazier than your story Ben?”

“You got a point there Rip. Wait a second; did you say the Bills are 4-0?”

“Yep, 4-0 and going to Arizona.”

“What do you mean? We beat Seattle?”

“Yep, 34-10 in the rain, I was there. I think my shirt is still drying out”

“What about Jacksonville?”

“Came from behind in the 4th quarter, 20-16, Trent was on a roll.”

“Wow, the Raiders too?”

“We had to come from behind in the 4th quarter in that one, twice. Lindell kicked a last second field goal, 24-23.”

“And St. Louis?”

“Now you’re getting the hang of it Ben. Another second half comeback, then we put them away for good, 31-14.”

“4-0 huh, we must be tied with New England for first place then?”

“Not exactly Ben, the Pats lost a game already and Tom Brady is done for the year.”

“Wow, I put the Sicilian Curse on those guys last year. It must still be working. I gotta be careful where I point that thing. By the way, who did they lose to?

“Miami”

“Miami! 1-15 Miami?” Rip nods his head. “That’s it, see ya! I’m outta here!”

“Ben, Ben where ya going?

“I’m going back to find that tree. Make sure you come by and wake me before Christmas. I don’t wanna miss the playoffs.”

Check out www.benspicks.com, on Saturday, for my FREE! NFL selections. Thanks, Ben

 

 

August 12, 2008

Brett the Jet

        For those of you to young to remember, there’s a line from a song in “West Side Story” that goes, “When you’re a Jet you’re a Jet all the way, from your first cigarette ‘til your last dying day.” No truer words written, sung, or danced to now that ‘Brett the Jet’ has landed in that septic tank known as New Yorrr, I mean New Jersey. The perfect match, the Big Apple and a nice ‘fat’ juicy worm.

A little harsh? Yes, but every time I give #4 the benefit of the doubt, he stoops to a new low. If you’ll remember last week, I predicted Favre would land in Minnesota because he supposedly wanted to win and he wanted to stick it to the Packers front office. I was W-R-O-N-G, wrong. Contrary to popular belief, Brett Favre is not all about winning, Brett Favre is not your good old-fashioned, Wrangler wearing, country boy, and Brett Favre is not the persona the public perceives. This move to NYC proves it; Brett Favre is all about the cash, mullah, dead presidents, cha-ching, sordi, scoots, pesos, coin, euros, yen, bling, and especially money. Maybe that’s why he’s always wearing green?

Speaking of green, ‘Riddle me this Batman?’, if Brett Favre were the ‘Gunslinger’ he’s made out to be, why would he ride into town with the ‘Hole in the Wall Gang’ known as the NY Jets? The Jets stink and are more like ‘The Gang that Couldn’t Shoot Straight’. The addition of Favre will only make them slightly better. The Jets have average receivers, a TE that’s holding out, a RB that stinks, and their offensive line is a question mark. Don’t forget Favre-vites, Brett is 38-years-old, fat, out of shape, has started 253 straight games, has to learn a new offense and must play in the much tougher AFC. That certainly doesn’t scream Super Bowl to me; it whispers 6-10, maybe 8-8, if Favre can stay healthy.

So ask yourself, why would the ‘Gunslinger’ ride into the Big City when he already knows there’s an ambush waiting for him? The answer is, because the ‘Gunslinger’ is not wearing a white hat my friends, he’s wearing a black hat and sporting a mask. The best part of this crime is, the victims don’t even know they’re being robbed. P.T. Barnum said, ‘There’s a sucker born every minute’, now P.T. ‘Brett and the Jets’ have 10 Million of them. The perfect crime, one jersey at a time.

Now for the kicker, Brett has not committed to the Jets for 2009. Next year the Jets move into a new stadium, along with the Giants. The Giants have already announced they will be charging their season ticket holders for a seat license. What’s a seat license? It’s a fee the team charges for the right to buy tickets. Are you kidding me? Not only that, but the fee is thousands of dollars, you have to pay it over time, like a mortgage. Now how are the lowly Jets going to be able to charge a fee like that? You got it sports fans; they are going to sell the hope that is ‘Brett the Jet’. So, next year, we’re going to have to endure the ‘Will He? Won’t He?’ scenario all over again and if you thought the hype was bad this year, wait until the Media Capital of the world goes All-Brett, All The Time. I want to puke just thinking about it. When Brett is done ‘holding up’ the Jets, then the Jets will turn around and ‘holdup’ their fans. Don’t forget about all the endorsement opportunities that will also come Brett’s way. I’m sure the ‘suckers’ in NY will gladly ‘step right up’ for the opportunity to buy a pair of Wranglers. With all the money to be made, you can bet your bottom dollar; Brett will also be a Jet next year.

Now this is the part that worries this Bills fan. In order to sell the hope that is ‘Brett the Jet’ the team has to be moderately successful. To be successful they will have to finish ahead of the Bills. To finish ahead of the Bills they are going to have to beat us once, maybe twice. That’s the part that worries me, what does the NFL have in store for the Bills, especially when they face the Jets? I don’t know about you, but I’m going to watch those 2 games like a hawk, I’ve got a bad feeling and I don’t like it. We already got the double whammy from this Favre deal. Favre makes the Jets better and Chad Pennington ends up in Miami, right in Bill Parcells lap. Those four division games just got a lot tougher and that sucks.

There you have it my friends, ‘Brett and the Jets’, the perfect couple, each using the other, to screw you, the fan. What can we do about it, not much except wait for the Karma Train? Remember the Karma Train last year; Bill Belichick got his didn’t he? Maybe this year it’s Brett’s turn. After all, 38-year-old, fat, out of shape QB’s can’t avoid injury forever. Sorry Brett, but you’re standing on the tracks. Whooo, Whoooooo! Thanks, Ben

Check out my website, www.benspicks.com and read ‘The Truth about Brett Favre’

P.S. - Just read an article at newsday.com that echo's my comments almost exactly. Check it out.

 

August 5, 2008

Tidbits

·        Buffalo Bills training camp keeps humming along at St. John Fisher College, in suburban Rochester, and still no sign of OT Jason Peters as of this writing. Although there has been one major injury, rookie LB Alvin Bowen, Peters holding out is the worst news of the first two weeks of camp. The longer he stays out, the more desperate the two sides become. Will the Bills start their playoff drive without their All Pro OT? Will QB Trent Edwards develop a nervous neck twitch to his left? Will Peters leave $3.5 Million, plus fines of $15,000 per day, on the table? Will Dance Star Jason Taylor, now LB of the Redskins, do a little jig on J.P. Losman’s skull this Saturday? Will Ralph Wilson ever be able to find those Easter Eggs he hid last April? Tune in next week for another exciting episode of “As the NFL Turns”.

·        The baseball trade deadline just passed and the rich got richer. Ken Griffey Jr. is giving it one last shot with the Chicago White Sox. Mark Teixeira made the move from Atlanta to the L.A. Angels of Rancho Cucamonga. The Yanks bolstered their depth at catcher with Ivan Rodriguez. Last, but certainly not least, the Boston Red Sox made an addition by subtraction, sending Manny Ramirez from Bean Town to the L.A. Dodgers. That’s perfect; it’ll give the paparazzi something to do during the dog days of summer. Thinking of Manny being Manny in Tinsel Town reminded me of something my favorite History teacher, Mr. Herkert, taught us many moons ago, “If you could pick up the U.S. and shake it, all the nuts would roll to California.” Amen, Mr. Herkert.

·        The Summer Olympics start this weekend. Does anyone care? NBC will be hosting the event and the coverage will be nonstop. I just have a problem staying home on a nice summer’s night watching athletes, and sports, I know nothing about compete in a country I have no respect for. I’m sorry, but watching Kobe Bryant and Lebron James beating up on a bunch or Euros is not very compelling. Isn’t that what they’re supposed to do? What really gets me is, here we are less than 20 years after a lone man stood in front of a line of tanks, after people died in Tiananmen Square and we’re celebrating a country that will not allow journalists free access to the internet. China may be an industrial power but that’s not progress as far as I’m concerned.

·        It’s as if the Sabres disappeared now that Bills training camp is in full swing. Funny how that goes, isn’t it? Don’t worry hock-o-phobes, Sabres training camp will be here sooner than you think.

·        I was a little disappointed to see so few of you go to my website, www.benspicks.com and read ‘The Truth about Brett Favre’. I urge you all to take the time and check it out. I assure you my take on the matter is one you will not see anywhere else. In the meantime, the Brett Favre, Green Bay Packers circus continues and you can almost hear the calliope music in the background. Favre has won the latest round by forcing the Packers to reinstate him so that he doesn’t make a beeline to Minnesota. The two sides are now making nice and saying all the right things but the bottom line is Favre has played his last regular season game for the Packers. The supposed ‘open competition’ is just a smoke screen so the Packers can sit on Favre until right before the regular season, then cut or trade him. Why, because they don’t want to face the Vikings, with the ‘Golden Boy’ wearing a purple #4, on opening day. Talk about embarrassing, Favre’s picture is printed on the ticket and the Pack was going to retire his number that Monday Night. Ironic, isn’t it? Meanwhile, Commissioner Goodell has absolved the Vikings of any tampering in the incident. Yeah, right. Take my word for it my friends, the script has already been written. Brett Favre will be wearing a purple #4 before the middle of September. You can take it to the bank. Thanks, Ben

 

 

July 29, 2008

Training Camp

        I know it feels like summer has barley begun, but the pads are already popping at St. John Fisher College in Rochester. Don’t look now football fans, but August is here, Labor Day is right around the corner and we’re already a week into Buffalo Bills training camp.

To me, training camp signals summers’ halftime and from what I’ve seen so far, this game is going be over before it starts. Where are the tan lines, my yard work has barley begun, the beach is only a distant dream and that trip I was planning to Saratoga feels like an optical delusion. If training camp is halftime, it feels like I’m down 17 points, my QB has been intercepted 3 times and my defense can’t stop the run. Who drew up this game plan anyway?

Luckily, for Buffalo Bills fans, the brain trust at One Bills Drive is much better at planning than I am. Buffalo hit the ground running last weekend locking up their final draft pick, #1 selection Leodis McKelvin, at the 11th hour. The Bills seem to be progressing nicely and there are even whispers of Playoffs. Playoffs?

Yes, playoffs. The 2008 Bills are primed to make a postseason run in the tough AFC. The coaching staff has been in place for 3 years now and it’s time for Buffalo to make a move. On defense, the Bills have upped the ante with the addition of DT Marcus Stroud and LB Kawika Mitchell. Promising LB Paul Posluszny will also be returning from injury and that can only help. The Bills suffered through an injury plagued 2007 and, believe it or not, those injuries will help their cause this year because several backup players have gained some much needed experience. Overall, the defense is much improved.

On special teams the Bills are the envy of the league with Coach Bobby April calling the shots. Buffalo has arguably the best kicking tandem in the game with K Rian Lindell and P Brian Moorman. Their return game is also top shelf with Terrence McGee and Roscoe Parrish. The just signed Leodis McKelvin is also a top-notch return man. April will have to find a few replacements for his coverage unit now that Coy Wire and several others have moved on. It’ll be interesting to see who steps up to make the squad.

The biggest question mark is the offense. Turk Schonert takes over as coordinator and, although we’ve heard good things, the jury is still out. The QB position is set with the steady Trent Edwards but he has only started a handful of games and needs experience. The RB position is a no-brainer with Marshawn Lynch going into Beast Mode; just make sure you don’t step in front of his SUV on a rainy night. Lee Evans is the #1 wide out and big Rookie James Hardy will be looking to make some major inroads in the red zone, as long as he leaves his gun back in Indiana. The TE position is very thin with Robert Royal the incumbent and that’s not saying much. The offensive line is where it gets interesting, as LT Jason Peters is the lone Bills holdout.

Peters has been a Buffalo Bills project since he arrived here as an undrafted rookie. A TE at first, Peters slowly made the transition to the offensive line. His promise garnered him a hefty pay raise and now that he has played his way to the Pro Bowl, he does not like the fact that he’s the third highest paid lineman on the team. I don’t blame him but he’s going about it the wrong way. Peters held out of all the voluntary workouts throughout the off-season and is fined $15,000 for everyday of training camp he misses. OUCH! His agent is not very bright, especially after all the confidence the Bills have shown in Peters and the fact that they have been more than willing to rewrite contracts for deserving players. I get the feeling it’ll be a cold day in hell before Ralph Wilson opens up his change purse for someone who doesn’t want to get with the program. Get to camp Peters, if you know what’s good for you.

Overall, it looks like an interesting year ahead. Last year Buffalo was hit hard by injury bug and still finished 7-9, it’ll be interesting to see how the improvements they have made translate to their record. The schedule makers have given us a slight break this year but we still have to face the Patriots twice. That’s like playing 14 games when everyone else gets 16. It won’t be easy but that’s why it’s fun.

So, everyone enjoy the rest of your summer, while you still can and make every minute count. Don’t forget the opening preseason game is Saturday, August 9th, against the Washington Redskins and it won’t be long until summer’s over. I think I’ll take a day off and take a slow ride to Rochester to see the boy’s first hand. What the Hey, that yard work will still be there next year. Thanks, Ben

 

 

July 21, 2008

Miller’s Island

“I want to win games and I want to do it here.” That’s a direct quote from Buffalo Sabres goalie, Gilligan, Doh! I mean Ryan Miller, after he accepted a $31.25 Million five-year contract extension last week. After a year stranded here with no playoffs, that quote was music to my ears.

The Coconut Domed Sabres management endured one mutiny after another losing Daniel Briere, Chris Drury and Brian Campbell in less than a year. The brain trust of Gilligan’s Island, Tom Golisano – Thurston Howell III, Larry Quinn – The Skipper and Darcy Regier – The Professor, finally changed their policy and began to negotiate with the natives before the Volcano erupted and they all left the island. It’s about time.

Gilligan was happier than Ginger Grant with her own hut, about the deal and it feels good to know our ‘Little Buddy’ actually wants to be here. There were rumors out there he was going to repair the hole in the SS Minnow and sail it to Hockey Town, like his alter ego Dominick Hasek. Lucky for us he has too much class for that.

Gilligan appreciates the faith the Millionaire, the Skipper, the Professor and the rest of the natives have shown in him and he is willing to do whatever it takes to rescue us all, not just himself. Besides that, rumor has it he has a big crush on Maryann. However, didn’t we all?

 

 

Can You Handle the Truth?

I would like to apologize to those of you who enjoy visiting this space every week. I appreciate your interest and I’m sorry I did not submit a column last week. I was more than prepared to give you my take on the Brett Favre Soap Opera but I decided against it. Why, because in the famous words of Jack Nicholson from the movie ‘A Few Good Men’, “You can’t handle the truth.”

You see, I am 99% certain of my opinion but it is so far out in left field most people will not even consider it. The public has been so brain washed into the Good Ole Boy, Brett Favre, ‘persona’ they can’t come to grips with what’s real and what’s a Wrangler commercial. That’s why every time I tell someone; they look at me as if I’m from Mars.

Through the years, I’ve had a chance to gather a little evidence to help prove my theory. The people that I have enlightened, and have paid attention, have come to grips with the fact, what you see is not what you get when it comes to Ole #4. Yes, Brett Favre has won a Super Bowl and his name is at the top of almost every QB record in the NFL. That said it’s important to remember his name is also at the top of the all time interception list. The thing to remember about interceptions is it’s not how many you throw that’s important; it’s when you throw them. Brett’s last pass as a Packer, an interception in OT versus the NY Giants, is proof positive of my theory.

To those of you who think they can handle the truth, I invite you to go to my website, www.benspicks.com and click on, Brett Favre-The Truth. There I have posted my theory and some visual evidence to help support it.

For those of you who are still skeptical, just ask yourself one simple question, why would a successful Coach and GM rather start the unproven Aaron Rodgers, over a living legend? It doesn’t make any sense does it? Go to my website, open your mind and it will. Can you handle the truth? Thanks, Ben

 

 

July 10, 2008

Tidbits

·        I hope you all enjoyed the extended July 4th weekend because I know I certainly did. Watched some baseball, are those Yankees ever going to warm up? Went to the Lafayette Tap Room, hadn’t been downtown for a long time. Attended a great backyard barbecue on the 4th, paid for eating all of Kim’s stuffed hot peppers in the morning. Got some yard work done, just enough to create some more work for myself, it figures. Fired up the grill, experimented on some ribs, they were the bomb. Took a couple of great Dagwood Bumstead naps, so that’s what it feels like. Went to my watering hole, where was everyone? Took a great cruise around town, yeah I know its $4 a gallon, but what the hey? The weather was great and I can’t believe how many people were out there, loving it. Does it get any better? I doubt it. Thanks, Buffalo.

·        NHL Free Agency struck on July 1st and the Buffalo Sabres didn’t make much of a splash. The Swords addressed their need for a backup goalie by acquiring journeyman, Patrick LaLime. LaLime has played for Pittsburgh, Ottawa, St. Louis and last year he was in Chicago. LaLime posted a respectable 2.82 goals against average and a 16-12-2 record or the Black Hawks. He will be a capable backup to Ryan Miller and an immediate upgrade over fellow French Canadian, Jocelyn ‘Swiss Cheese’ Thibault. Thibault was so bad; Miller had to play over 30 games in a row during the Sabres playoff push. Miller was running on fumes, but Lindy Ruff must have been scared to death of the guy. Oui-oui?

·        It was obvious the Sabres were not overpaying for a Free Agent defenseman and I’m beginning to believe players around the league are looking the other way when the Sabres call. Darcy Regier was on the hot seat and immediately went looking for a trade. Regier was trying to drum up some business for the Sabres overabundance of forwards. Max ‘Which Way Do I Go’ Afinogenov was the first name on his lips, but its obvious there’s no market for Maxi right now or he’d be gone already. Instead, Buffalo unloaded underachiever, Steve Bernier, who the Sabres acquired for Jason Campbell, to the Canucks for a couple of draft picks. Then, Darcy basically, traded those picks to San Jose for stay at home defenseman Craig Rivet. Rivet is a big solid veteran defenseman, signed for 3 years, and the Sabres know exactly what they’re getting. Typical Darcy deal. The man is a machine; check him for Borg marks.

·        Rocket Man was hardly alone in his enjoyment of the Buffalo Sharks basketball victory over the Italian Select team. It was a great physical game and I’m sure the Italians learned a lesson or two on how to play physical basketball. This ain’t Bocce Ball Baby. My good friend, and neighbor, Vinny Lesh is determined to bring professional basketball back to Buffalo, and I hope the Buffalo Sharks have a lot of success. Judging from this game, held in a packed Medaille gym, Buffalo is Jones-ing for some B-ball.

·        The Marshawn Lynch hit-and-run debacle finally came to its conclusion almost a month after it started. Lynch admitted his guilt and said he didn’t know he hit anyone. Come on Marshawn, you’re kidding right? Your car had damage for God’s sake. I gotta say, looking back at the whole mess, he, and his lawyers, certainly limited the damage. As long as your name isn’t Kim Shpeley that is. At least Ms. Shpeley will be able to sue the pants off Lynch and I’m sure she will. Hey Marshawn, that image took a big hit, what a fool. If you see a bag black guy on the side of the road, trying to hitch a ride, with dreads and no pants, SLOOOW-DOWNNN. You wouldn’t want to hit him, would you?

·        Don’t look now, but training camp starts in less than two weeks. Finally, some real football news. Thanks, Ben

 

 

June 25, 2008

Size Matters

The Buffalo Sabres brain trust gathered in Ottawa last weekend for the annual NHL draft. Although the players selected are barely 18 years of age, and several years away from contributing, the draft gave Sabres Management the opportunity to change the direction of their franchise.

In the several years since the lockout, the Sabres have been a very exciting team. They are fast, can score goals and have made it to the conference finals in two of the last 3 years. The problem is Buffalo lacks the size and toughness necessary in crunch time, late in games and in the playoffs. The Smurf-like Sabres must kowtow to the bigger and stronger opposition. The bottom line is, the Sabres are an exciting regular season team but, if the ultimate goal is to win the Stanley Cup, they are ill equipped to handle the rigors of the playoffs.

Last weekend Buffalo selected eight prospects in the NHL draft and its obvious Management had one general goal in mind, BIGGER is BETTER. Nowhere was that more evident than their first pick, 12thoverall, 6’7” defenseman, Tyler Myers. Myers towered over the suits on stage in Ottawa and although he has a skinny build, only 204 pounds, I’m sure he will eventually play well above 220. Buffalo must have really valued this prospect because they gave up a 3rd round draft pick just to trade up one spot in the draft. Because of his height, many comparisons have been made to Herman Muenster, I mean Zdeno Chara, but the upside here is, Myers is an excellent skater, rated 4th overall in the draft. That means with his height, speed and poke check ability he’ll be able to cover one side of the ice all by himself. That’s certainly a move in the right direction.

Then, with their second pick in the 1st round, 26th overall, the Sabres took a slight step back, size wise, and selected center, Tyler Ennis. Ennis is 5’9”, only weighs 146 pounds, but has drawn positive comparisons to Daniel Briere. He has a Napoleonic mind set (No, that doesn’t mean he skates around with his hand tucked in his sweater), a scorers touch, can skate like the wind and, despite his size, is not afraid to go into a corner.

In the 2nd round, with the 44th overall selection, Buffalo went big selecting 6’2” power forward Luke Adam. The scouting report on Luke is his upside is pretty high, he plays big and can score. Let’s just hope Luke listens to his mentor Obi wan ‘Ruff’ and ‘The force is with him’.

In the 3rd and 4th rounds respectively, the Sabres traveled to ‘The Land of 1,000 Lakes’ and selected two kids right out of high school. The 81st overall selection was 6’2” defenseman, Cory Fienhage. Cory is a tough stay at home defenseman with a little mean streak. 101st overall was fellow Minnesota native Justin Jokinen. Jokinen is a center who stands 6’2” tall but only weighs 165 pounds. Obviously there’s a major upside there when he fills his frame, but he has a scorers touch and can put the puck in the net.

The remaining selections were 6’2” defenseman Jordon Southorn, 104th overall, 5’11” left wing Jacob LaGace, 134th overall, and 6’1” defenseman Nick Crawford, 164th overall.

As you can see, these selections were made with an eye towards size and toughness, two areas the Sabres are sorely lacking. The problem is none of these players will be ready to contribute for several years. I for one am not willing to wait 3 or 4 years for the Sabres to get back to elite status. That’s why I was pleased to hear Buffalo General Manager Darcy Regier say this franchise is listening to trade offers and will be a player in Free Agency. Buffalo has a glut of small forwards and a lack of tough defensemen. It would be nice to cut the fat A.K.A., Maxim Afinogenov, and package a deal for a power forward or stud defenseman. If the Sabres really want to compete for the Cup, it’s the only way to go. All things being equal, Size Does Matter!....................That’s what she said. Sorry, I couldn’t resist. Thanks, Ben

 

 

June 17, 2008

An Emotional Week

It was an emotional week for yours truly leading up to Fathers Day. My Dad has passed for several years now and earlier this week I attended the wake of my cousin, Sam, he and my Dad were about the same age and best friends growing up. Seeing the sadness of his immediate family and the photos of him and my Father in their youth got the best of me this close to Fathers Day.

Then, later in the week, we got the news of several former members of the Buffalo Bills family passing. Former Bills Head Coach, John Rauch, former Defensive Coordinator, Tom Caitlin, and colorful Special Teamer, Mitch Frerotte, all passed within a few days of each other. Though not family members, it still affected my emotional state of mind and got me thinking, why is a black cloud floating above our humble burgh?

The Boston Celtics provided a brief respite with a 24-point comeback win against the L.A. Lakers to take a commanding 3 to 1 lead in the NBA Finals. I’m not a Celtics fan, but it was fun to root for the underdog after everyone had written them off in the first half.

Friday morning brought a rare smile to my face after reading about the Chicago Black Hawks, and South Buffalo native, Patrick Kane reel in the Calder Trophy for NHL Rookie of the Year. The 19-year-old mighty mite played his heart out all year and deserved the award. It was good to see him celebrate with his family by his side. I was beginning to think the black cloud was about to blow on by but little did I know it was just the prelude to a major storm.

That afternoon the Queen City’s pride quickly turned to sorrow after we learned of the passing of Buffalo’s favorite son, Tim Russert. I’m not a political animal and I don’t watch much of ‘Meet the Press’ but after viewing several days of tributes, all I have to say is, WOW! I’m sure you’ve heard all the accolades a dozen times already so there is no reason for me to repeat them here but it’s easy to see why so many people related to Mr. Russert. Although he was obviously much more intelligent than most of us he carried himself as a typical Buffalonian. He had a way of cutting through all the bull and getting to the meat and potatoes. I guess that’s why he was so good at what he did.

It humbles me to think a man as powerful and liked as he was, basically, grew up in the same way, in the same place and with the same values that I did. His love of family and fondness of sports intertwines throughout Buffalo and it feels good to know that he was proud of where he came from and we should be too.

Can you imagine the ribbing he had to endure in Washington, and beyond, after wearing his love for the Bills and Sabres on his sleeve, only to see them come up short time and again. Yet, there he was time after time drinking from the trough hoping against hope the next one would be the charm, just like the rest of us. It’s an unspoken bond we Buffalonians have and it doesn’t matter where you go or how old you get, you never lose it, it’s a part of you. That’s why so many people who leave our city come back; you don’t get that feeling anywhere else.

It was especially ironic Mr. Russet passed away only 2 days before Fathers Day. As I’m sure, you know the two books he wrote were about the bond between fathers and their sons. It must be especially tough for his dad, Big Russ, to outlive his famous sibling. I couldn’t imagine. Fathers Day must have been awful. I, myself, found it tough watching the tributes and Tiger Woods come back to tie the U.S. Open, between clips of he and his dad.

The irony aside, what does it all mean? To me it means, live life to the fullest, show the people you love, you care and when it’s your turn, you can look back with no regrets.

Mr. Russert only spent 58 short years with us but I’m sure there isn’t much he would change. Seeing the love he had for everyone, and how everyone loved him, proves it. In the near future, they will be changing the name of Route 20 in front of the stadium as a tribute. I’m sure he would be humbled by the honor. Hopefully, now that Tim can interview the Big Guy in person, it won’t be long before there’s a Super Bowl parade down Tim Russert Highway. Go Bills! Thanks, Ben

 

 

June 10, 2008

Tidbits

·        Congratulations to Da’Tara for winning the 140th running of the Belmont Stakes. Big Brown was a Big Bust, disappointing many fans and their wallets, as the big colt went off at an amazing 1 to 4 odds. For all you non-Horseballs that means you had to wager 4 dollars to win 1. Big Brown was in a perfect stalking position, around the final turn, but failed to respond to jockey Kent Desormeaux’s request down the stretch. When Desormeaux realized something was amiss, he wisely let up on the colt. Good decision Kent, no need to risk the wrath of PETA and the $50 Million in stud fees the horse will surely earn. No Triple Crown winner again this year and it was 1978 when Affirmed last completed the elusive Hat Trick. This also makes the 11th time, since Affirmed, a contender has come up short in the Belmont. Just goes to show you how good those Triple Crown winners must have been.

·        Dominick Hasek announced his retirement, again, last Monday at the age of 43. In his retirement address, he stated that demanding a trade from the Sabres, to the Red Wings, was the best decision he ever made. Yeah Dominick just like that decision you made about 8 year’s ago to retire and move back to Czechoslovakia so your children could grow up in their native culture. How did that work out for you? Except for the formation of Hasek’s Heroes, I have no respect for that little bag of bones. He quit on the Sabres, and Coach Teddy Nolan, in the middle of a playoff run causing a major rift in the Sabres organization. He also bailed out on the Sabres after Buffalo lost a game 7, in OT, to the Penguins, on a simple slap shot from the blue line. Instead of manning up and taking the hit for the ‘Hardest Working Team in Hockey’, he comes out and demands a trade. Not only that but he insists the Sabres do not get equal value in the trade or he will retire. Thanks for nothing Dominick, just another selfish athlete as far as I’m concerned. Hey Dominick, why don’t you go back to Czechoslovakia and crawl back under that rock. I hope you enjoy that 2nd Stanley Cup goalie Chris Osgood earned while you sat on the bench. It’s all about you Dominick.

·        The Buffalo Bills have sold more that 52,000 season tickets and seats only remain for 2 of the 7 regular season games that are to be played in Buffalo. This before tickets are even available to the general public. Need I remind you we’re selling the place out and our team has not made the playoffs in almost a decade. Yet, we have to endure Newspaper articles and National talk of our team, inevitably, moving to Toronto. What more do you want Ralph, blood? More on this in a future column.

·        Belated congratulations to the Lacrosse Champion Buffalo Bandits. I have never been to a professional lacrosse game but several people have told me it’s very exciting and competitive. I’m going to make a point to attend a game next year. Let’s just hope this isn’t the only Championship Buffalo ever gets to enjoy.

·        As of this writing the Boston Celtics have a 2-0 lead over the L.A. Lakers in the NBA Championship Series. The Celtics have used a suffocating defense to silence Kobe and company, not to mention a little help from the refs. The series now shifts to L.A., for 3 games and, if the Lakers don’t sweep their home games, you can start engraving the Shamrock on the Championship Trophy. I know one thing for sure, the NBA would love this ‘Dream Match Up’ to go 7 games, ratings are through the roof.

·        The N.Y. Yankees have finally hit .500 and climbed out of the basement of the American League East. It took a couple of 9th inning comeback wins to do it and it’s no coincidence, Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada are back in the lineup. The Yanks are finally getting healthy but still have a major problem with pitching. Will the shift of Joba Chamberlain from closer, to starter, make a big difference? I don’t really know but plugging one hole by creating another one doesn’t make much sense to me. Look for a trade, or the Yanks may be on the outside looking in come October.

·        Last, but not least, Dear Marshawn Lynch, you may be waiting out the inevitable to get the best deal possible from the authorities. However, in the court of public opinion you’re already guilty. Bad move Marshawn. Do the right thing and stand up like a man, as you should have done over a week ago. I also wonder why no one is talking about the poor girl who was run over? Remember everyone; Marshawn is not the victim here. Thanks, Ben

 

 

Saturday June 7, 2008

Mark's Belmont Selections

Folks: There have been 10 Belmont's in the past thirty years where attempts to win the Triple Crown have failed. Today Big Brown will be history's 12th Triple Crown legend.

He has never been beaten, never challenged, never hard ridden. His five wins have been by a combined 39 lengths, on grass, on dirt, on five different tracks, at five different distances-two from seemingly insurmountable outside post positions.

Big Brown's main rival is the Japanese-connected Casino Drive. Casino Drive is also unbeaten and looked pretty spectacular in his lone runaway triumph in the Grade 2 Peter Pan three weeks ago. However something is amiss since Casino Drive has not worked very well since his last race or is simply not up to snuff. I will fade him and go with Big Brown on top with a straight exacta with Denis of Cork and Icabad Crane.

The numbers are: 1 with the 4 and 10 straight exacta.

The Belmont under card is interesting with some possibilities for profitable wagering:

Race #4 - The wager is on the 5 win and place. Play 4 with the 5 in an exacta box.

Race#5 - The wager is on the 2 win and place.

Race#7 - The wager is on the 8 win and place. Play the 8 with the 3-5-10 in exacta boxes.

Race#9 - The wager is on the 9 to win only. Play 2-3-4-5-6 on top with the 9 for second in straight exactas (no boxes).

Race#12 - The wager is on the 9 win and place. Play 9 with the 1-3-5 in exacta boxes.


Thanks for tuning in and let's get ready to win,
Cordially, Mark Clement

 

June 3, 2008

The Belmont Stakes

Please join me in welcoming back our old friend, Handicapping Guru, Mark Clement. Mark is going to break down the Belmont for us today. Take it away Mark.

Are you ready for some horse racing? What I am talking about is the 140th running of The Belmont Stakes on Saturday, June 7th. Big Brown has already won this race in comments by his trainer, party boy, Ricky Dutrow Jr. Pumped higher than a blimp, Big Brown is a lock to win the Belmont Stakes and clinch the Triple Crown. Along with Dutrow, media hype is pouring on accolades with a trumpet blast heard around the planet: come one, come all and see Big Brown in the greatest show on the turf.

        But not so fast horse ball breath--Ricky, babe, and his media entourage, take a deep breath; herewith a cautionary tale:

The Japanese colt, Casino Drive, has a chance. His trainers sent two horses to Australia for the biggest race, The Five Million Dollar Melbourne Cup at two miles on the grass. Nobody thought they had a chance in the big field of 24 horses. They were held at 18-1 and ran one, two in the race. The Aussies didn't know what hit them. They are still looking for their horses.

Casino Drive is a novelty in running only two races this year. He won his first race in Japan, in February, then came to Belmont and won the Grade Two Peter Pan at nine furlongs last month. He won by nearly six lengths with a higher speed-rating figure than Big Brown in his last race (The Preakness).

The soap opera has begun. Can Big Brown overcome the hoof injury (quarter crack) that he suffered after the Preakness three weeks ago? Will the time off with the injury hinder his training schedule? Will Kent Desormaux who missed winning the Triple Crown by a nose aboard Real Quiet in 1998 get a second chance to make history?

Kent Desormaux lost the 1998 Belmont race by a nose to Victory Gallop after opening a four-length lead in the stretch. Desormaux has said, "I don't enjoy talking about getting beat (1998 Belmont Stakes). Hopefully, no one is going to ask me about Real Quiet again". But what about the other part of the soap opera, the unorthodox training methods by Casino Drive's Japanese connections. Since his win in the Peter Pan, Casino Drive has worked so slow in a gallop that it could have been timed on a calendar. Suddenly the hype lessened on Casino Drive and Ricky Dutrow especially dismissed him from contention. The Japanese were asked how they expected to win the grueling mile and a half Belmont off only two lifetime starts. They said they had trained him for it all year. "In Japan, we get them to run uphill on a wood-chip track. Casino Drive has a very solid foundation. In a mile and a half race, you don't know what can happen."

Looking at the betting prospects of The Belmont, it is very apparent that this is a two horse race: the odds will be low on both Casino Drive and Big Brown. However the under card is attractive for finding a value bet. There are three Grade 1 races and a pair of Grade 2 races on the under card.

I will attempt to end my loosing skein with picks on some of these races and of course, The Belmont Stakes.

The picks will be available at 9AM Saturday, June 7th on the internet site of

www.benspicks.com. At that time, I will be able to say, "Let’s get ready to rumble".

 

 

May 13, 2008

BATTER UP!

        Now that softball season is upon us, spring has finally sprung in Western NY . Yes, the pros have been playing in the Big Leagues, and Triple A, since the beginning of April but in my eyes, it’s not officially baseball season until you can enjoy the sunshine, smell the fresh cut grass and hear the crack, ‘dooh!’, the ‘ping’ of the bat. Ah softball season, where else can a man, or woman, take refuge from the reality of middle age?

        I, myself, am not particularly athletic, so I fuel my competitive juices by watching my friends compete. The bar I frequent, I’m not naming names but it’s located in ‘Downtown Blackrock’, sponsors several teams and I especially enjoy watching the Ladies compete on Tuesday nights. These women take their softball seriously and are quite good. Many of these women have been playing for years and fit the profile of your typical softball player, including several who ‘bat for the same team’ (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Besides, I certainly can’t fault anyone for liking the same things that I do. It’s an awesome sight watching a well-endowed woman rounding the bases, hooters flapping in all directions, trying to beat a throw home. Where else can you get that kind of free entertainment on a warm summer’s night?

        The league plays at Houghton Field and the diamonds there are not very good. Holes and divots are everywhere and there’s a valley beyond the infield. It’s particularly difficult for the infielders backpedaling, or fielding grounders. Many of the Ladies are injured but the City doesn’t care, the field hasn’t changed in years. It would be nice if the City of Buffalo took a little pride in their facilities and literally, ‘leveled the playing field’. What would it take, a backhoe, a little labor? I know the City is poor but come on already.

        I also enjoy watching the Men’s Over 35 League play at Cazenovia Park . Most of them are my age, a lot closer to 50 than 35, but still take pride in their performance. The problem is most of them are now carrying a sidecar and, although the wheels are still willing, it’s the brakes that give them the most trouble. It’s especially amusing watching them stumble as they round the bases and dive for balls, wondering if they’ll get up in one piece. You can bet your bottom dollar there will be several injuries, especially early in the year. My friend Frank is a sideshow un to himself and if I was smart enough to have my camera rolling, I could pocket big money on America ’s Funniest Home Videos.

        This group of guys wins as many games as they lose but they don’t really care. What better way to spend a couple of hours on a warm summer’s night, than with your buds, away from your nagging wife. Then, as nighttime descends, you trek back to the bar, talk about the game and cap it off with couple of cold brews and a steaming stack of chicken wings. Ah, the modern athlete, can it get any better than that?

        I’m urging all you couch potatoes out there to put down the remote, go out and enjoy summer. If you can’t play, pick a team to follow and have a little fun. If you know someone on a softball team, go watch them play. If your niece or nephew plays Little League, grab a folding chair and take a hike to the park. It’s entertaining, it’s live, it’s fun and best of all, it’s F-R-E-E that spells Free!

        I’m especially looking forward to this evening because the Ladies will be playing their first game of the season. This particular group of Ladies has been together for several years and still has not been able to win the league championship. The frustration is especially maddening because it’s always the same team that gets them in the end. Rumor has it several Ladies from the Championship team have defected to our side. It’ll be interesting to see which ‘team’ these Ladies literally, and figuratively, bat for tonight. BATTER UP! Thanks, Ben

 

 

May 7, 2008

Tidbits

·        Big Brown dominated the competition in his Kentucky Derby victory, pulling away from the field down the stretch. Jockey Kent Desormeaux was the reason why. The wily veteran made it look easy, guiding the big colt from the 20th postposition to within 5 lengths of the lead in the first quarter mile. In a race with 20 horses, the best horse does not always win. Big Brown is lucky he had ‘Little Kent’ on his back.

·        The ‘Thrill of Victory’ and the ‘Agony of Defeat’ were both on display at the Derby finish line. Philly Eight Belles showed the boys how it’s done, finishing second, only 4 lengths behind Big Brown. That triumph quickly turned to tragedy as Eight Belles broke both her ankles, after the finish. She was euthanized right on the track. PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, predictably, was all over the widely viewed incident pushing their own agenda. Yes, it was a tragic situation but one that has been repeated many times. Hey PETA, are you just figuring out now a horse with broken legs is put to death, or is this just a free publicity grab? I’ll start listening to PETA after they solve the problems of PET-H, ‘People’s Ethical Treatment of Humans’.

·        Our good friend, Mark Clement, didn’t come through with the Derby winner. His selections, Colonel John and Pyro, finished 7th and 9th. I know we didn’t cash, but Big Brown was a 2 to 1 favorite. It doesn’t make sense to beat 19 horses and only get $2 in return. The early line for the Preakness has Big Brown a phenomenal 2 to 5 favorite. He’s good, but that’s crazy. Like Mark says, ‘If you have the $5, why do you need the $2?’

·        The Buffalo Bills rookie class got together for a little bonding last week at One Bills Drive. Coaches began to indoctrinate the newbie’s on the ways of the NFL. This year’s class looks especially strong with speedy CB, Leodis McKelvin, and big WR, James Hardy, looking to contribute early. The Bills are primed for a breakout year, with an easy schedule and many starters returning from injury. The defense looks particularly good with the addition of DT Marcus Stroud and LB Kawika Mitchell. Now, if we can get some consistency on offense, we may be able to reach 10 wins and the playoffs. Just don’t get too excited, you’ll know the Bills are really good when they can beat the Pats. This year may be a little early for that, but the closer we get, the better. Besides, Tom Brady has to retire eventually.

·        I have to admit, I’m not totally tuned in to the NHL playoffs. It’s nice to see Danny Briere score the clutch goal and Marty Biron make the key save, but every time I catch myself cheering for the Flyers, I want to gouge my eyes out.

·        The Penguins eliminated Chris Drury and the Rangers in overtime. Predictably, Drury was hobbled and bleeding afterward. Would he have it any other way?

·        San Jose and Brian Campbell made a valiant comeback after going down 3-0 to Dallas. The Sharks took the Stars to the fourth OT, of game 6, before bowing out. ‘Soupy’ was in the penalty box at the time. Ouch!

·        I reported to you on April 10, 2008 that a Canadian with deep pockets was kicking the tires on the Sabres franchise. A month later CBC Sports has reported that Canadian Billionaire, and Blackberry ‘Typhoon’, Jim Balsillie contacted Sabres owner, Tom Golisano, around Christmas time about purchasing the NHL franchise. Balsillie had previously attempted to purchase the Pittsburgh Penguins and Nashville Predators with the sole purpose of moving them to Hamilton. Golisano indicated he would be open to selling the club, but not if Balsillie was planning to relocate it. The good news is, Golisano has our backs. The bad news is, it’s obvious he’s just in this for the money. What does this all mean? Lord Stanley’s Cup will not find a home in Buffalo until Tom Golisano sells out to a local owner.

·        It feels like spring outside. I think I’ll take a jaunt around Delaware Park, see you there. Thanks, Ben

 

 

Saturday May 3, 2008

Mark's Derby Selections

The holiest day of the year for the horseballs is here and I'll get right to it: my pick for the Derby is 9 Pyro and the other at shorter odds is 10 Colonel John.

Sorry, no block busters since this year's Derby field looks weak compared to previous Kentucky Derby Races.

20 Big Brown is the horse to beat and will be short odds. Conditioning plays a big part in the Derby and 20 Big Brown lacks enough races and coupled with an extended layoff since his last race adds more burden to his chances of winning besides poor post position draw; and I reiterate he is the favorite.

With great trepidation I'll select 9 Pyro who will be a strong closer against all that early speed and hope 20 Big Brown will have to extend himself at the beginning of the race and is softened up vying against the other speedsters.

However my gut feeling is that 9 Pyro will become the darling of the wise-guys and thus a sure bet to join the previous grave yard of losers who are bet down before post time.

10 Colonel John could be overlooked with all his races on a synthetic track. Not only is he an excellent closer but his sensational workout on the dirt track at Churchill at 5 furlongs shows also a liking for the local surface. Last year the two fastest workouts at Churchill ran one-two.

What to do?? Let the odds determine your bet; and don't worry the afternoon odds do not change all that much until posttime.

Bet both 10 Colonel John and 9 Pyro if either one or both are at least 5-1. Bet win and place.

Play straight exactas(no boxes) 9 on top with 6,10,16,19.

Play again straight exactas(no boxes) 10 on top with 6,9,16,19.

With 20 entrants you will need great luck to cash in this mother of all chaotic sport events.

If you lasted this far I'm including a strong play for the Derby Day wagering:
Race 8 at Churchill; wager win and place on 6 Windyindy. Also wager on an exacta box of nos. 6-7-9.

All the best with your selections,
Cordially, Mark Clement

 

April 30, 2008

Kentucky Derby Q & A

Saturday, May 3rd, is the 134th running of the Kentucky Derby and I have a real treat for all you Horseballs out there. We have an interview with my good friend, Mark Clement, winner of the 2006 Horse Player World Series in Las Vegas. Mark is going to help us break down this year’s race. Hopefully, he’ll do better than last year.

 

Ben: After blowing last year's Kentucky Derby, what makes you think you’re able to win this year?

Mark: First of all, I do not necessarily look for the winner of the Derby but for contenders who can pay a large price when they win.

Ben: How can you throw out the obvious standout horse for one that does not have much of a chance?

Mark: Although, there are contenders who do have a chance to win, the race is so chaotic that many times the best horse does not win. Sometimes the favorite simply gets beat because of a bad ride by the jockey, or by circumstances such as racing wide on the turn, or being cut off by another horse when making a move in the race. This happens more often in the Derby because there is a large field of entrants. Also, none of the horses have run this elongated distance of one and a quarter mile. We're wagering on a horse to do something that it hasn't done before. It's usually best to go for a price to compensate for the unknown.

Ben: That makes sense Mark. Now, what makes a contender?

Mark: I prefer horses who have a foundation--which is the conditioning (races and workouts) leading to Derby Day. Paramount is the number of races this year must be three or more. Very few have won without three current (2008) preps. Also, the last race should be within 28 days of Derby Day. Stats show that starters racing off a 28 plus day layoff have a combined 32 starts but only 1 win and 1 place in the last 22 Derbys. The old adage that "Pace makes the Race" takes on extra meaning in the Derby.

Ben: Hold it right there--what do you mean by pace?

Mark: Pace is running style, and the proper winning Derby pace is broken down to winning races by 23% stalkers (1-3 lengths behind the front runner), by 23% rally (6 lengths or more behind the pace setter) and by 36% deep rally (more than 10 lengths behind the pace setter). Also if the pace prognosticator can reasonably map out the internal fractions, history will point out the running style most likely to win. I use a computer for the pace match-ups and I feel this is my edge compared to the average handicapper.

Ben: Mark, this is just a lot of mumbo jumbo to me; all I want is the winner.

Mark: I recommend, because of the large number of entrants in the race, that wagers should be made not only on the win position, but also on the place position. I would make only small exacta and triactor bets since horses finishing in the minor money positions sometimes do not figure, and it becomes a crapshoot rather than handicapping.

Ben: Mark, you’re starting to make me dizzy.

Mark: That’s not very hard to do Ben. However, there is a lot more to consider such as workouts, trainers and jockeys, breeding for the distance, the bounce factor, the wise guy factor.

Ben: Wise Guy factor? You mean like the Sopranos?

Mark: No, all these horses still have their heads attached.

Ben: Very funny, but enough is enough. I need to post your selections on my website, www.benspicks.com, by 9AM Saturday, May 3rd; and don't stink up my site, and column, with any more of your losers.

Mark: Benny, now I know why you never got married.

Ben: We all can’t be as lucky as you Mark, Lynnie is a Saint.

Mark: Amen!

Ben: Thanks Mark, if you pick a winner, maybe we’ll see you at the Preakness.

Don’t forget to go to www.benspicks.com on Saturday morning to access Mark’s selections. Click Mark’s Derby Selections. Thanks, Ben

 

 

April 23, 2008

‘Remember Pearl Harbor’

The release of the upcoming Buffalo Bills schedule is usually a day I look forward to with great anticipation and optimism. It’s fun to look over Buffalo’s opponents and wonder how many games they can actually win. This year, when I examined it, I got a queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach. Those of you who’ve seen the ‘Buddha’ know it’s not something easily ignored.

There on December 7, 2008, Pearl Harbor Day, in HOME GAME capital letters it says, ‘MIAMI DOLPHINS (TORONTO)’. The reality hit me right then and there, the Bills are actually playing a regular season home game in the land of hosers and donuts and it isn’t just any home game, it’s the hated Dolphins. My stomach did a summersault. The queasy sensation simmered and then boiled over until it finally settled into a feeling of dread. It felt like the beginning of the end.

How could that be? We’ve backed this team for 47 years, sometimes 80,000 strong, win or lose, through thick and thin, in blizzards and sub-zero temperatures, paid for stadiums and scoreboards, made Ralph Wilson a Billionaire and what has it gotten us? Nothing, no Super Bowl Championship, no thank you’s, just a big fat punch in the gut. Where’s the loyalty?

I can still vividly remember the first game I ever attended at the old ‘Rock Pile’ on Best Street. It was the late 60’s, the Bills were past their AFL glory days and in a nosedive, on their way to drafting O.J. Simpson. I was only about 11 at the time and up until then football was black and white and limited to a 20-inch screen. My dad loved football and decided to take the family to a rare night game against the Kansas City Chiefs and Coach Hank Stram.

It was quite an experience for an 11 year old because television wasn’t the only thing that was black and white in those days. In the 60’s, when you crossed Main Street, into the East Side, it was the difference between night and day. Black people lived on one side of Main and white on the other. There was very little in between, especially for an 11 year old.

I can still remember the traffic, parking on someone’s lawn, all the people, the buzz, going through the turnstiles, the toilets overflowing, and the drunks. But, the thing I remember the most was walking through the isle, to our seats, and nighttime turning into day, like a black and white television turning into color. There in front of me, like Dorthy arriving in the ‘Land of Oz’, the bright lights illuminated a standing red bison painted on a bright green grass field. Wow, I was awestruck and hooked for life.

The game itself left much to be desired, the Chiefs were contenders and the Bills were pretty bad. Buffalo was down a couple of scores with about a minute to play and K.C. had the ball inside the Bills 10-yard line. All that was left was for K.C. to run out the clock. Instead, the Chiefs called a timeout before the clock ran out and scored a seemingly meaningless TD. I turned to may Dad and asked why. He said, he didn’t know why either. Years later, I learned Hank Stram was a notorious gambler and needed the TD so the Chiefs could cover a huge double-digit spread. It’s funny, I was only a kid and didn’t know anything about gambling but I still knew something was not kosher.

The point to the story is this, that day I turned into a lifelong Bills fan. Yeah, I criticize and call them out when they mess up but it’s like the relationship you have with your brother or sister. You argue and complain about them but it’s because you care. Now, what does it all mean? We treat the Bills like family and the Bills treat us like dollar $igns.

It’s easy to figure out, just do the math. Our stadium holds about 72,000 at an average ticket price of approximately $70. That comes out to about $5 Million a game. The Rogers Centre in Toronto holds about 53,000 but they’ll be charging upwards of $150 a ticket. At that price, the total gate comes out to about $8 Million a game. That’s an extra $3 Million a game and that’s a conservative estimate, it’s probably more.

Its obvious Ralph has this franchise pointed due north and there’s nothing much we can do about it. The Bills are presently on pace to sell more season tickets than they ever have before. That doesn’t matter. The Bills have sold out almost every game this century despite the fact they have yet to make the playoffs. What do we get for this loyalty? Our favorite game versus the Dolphins is hijacked and escorted over the border and that’s just the beginning. There’ll be more of the same in the next 5 years. Then the stadium lease will be up. What if Ralph kicks the bucket in the meantime? It’s going to get ugly my friends and we’re the ones who’ll get the short end of the stick.

The Bills say that’s not what’s going to happen but I don’t believe a word of it. I hope I’m wrong but this feeling in the pit of my stomach says otherwise. I know you can’t really compare something like this to war, but the U.S. got stabbed in the back in 1941 and I get the feeling the same thing is going to happen to us Bills fans. If it does, you can bet your bottom dollar the Bills and the NFL will never get another dollar from me. In contrast to that great day 40 years ago that I will never forget, let’s hope December 7, 2008 is not a date that will live in Buffalo Bills ‘Infamy’. Thanks, Ben

 

 

April 9, 2008

Oooh-Aaah Sabres on the Golf Course

Now that the Sabres are officially resigned to the golf course for the year, let’s take the time to ‘address’ the 18 Holes that led them there. In the famous words of Ralph Kramden’s favorite punching bag, Ed Norton, “Hello Ball”.

FORE!

1)    Yes, it was inspiring to see him skate in the final game versus the Bruins but Teppo Numminen’s heart condition forced him to miss the entire competitive season. Make no mistake about it; the Sabres missed the smooth skating veteran and could have used his steady hand with all the youngsters on this squad. The Sabres organization showed no class by suspending him for his medical condition and don’t think the rest of the NHL is not watching.

2)    As in 2 defensemen, Henrik Tallinder and Toni Lydman. These two aging veterans showed very little inspiration and lacked competitive spirit throughout the year. Talk about showing up and collecting a pay check, where’s the passion?

3)    Defenseman Dmitri Kalinin, time to pull the plug on this Petri dish. I don’t know what this guy’s problem is, but he definitely doesn’t want to play hockey. I hope he likes picking ice cubes out of his butt back in Siberia. See-Ya.

4)    Jason Peters, I’m sorry, the guy tries, but this is a wasted roster spot. Peters has no hockey skills and is an average pugilist at best.

5)    Ales Kotalik, yes Al you have a great slap shot and you can score in the shootout, but is that all there is? You’re a big guy and we don’t need another Miro Satan.

6)    Tim Connolly was supposed to replace Daniel Briere. Connolly tried hard to stay in the lineup, but only played 48 games and many of those were under duress. His absence neutered the power play, especially down the stretch. Management, you should’ve known better, he is obviously injury prone.

7)    Speaking of Daniel Briere, he and the Philadelphia Flyers finished with the sixth seed, 5 points ahead of Buffalo. Do you think those positions would’ve been reversed with his 40 goals and shootout skills back in our locker room?

8)    Maxim Afinogenov only potted 10 goals in an injury prone 56 games. Mad Max reminds me of the Scarecrow in the ‘Wizard of Oz’. How long are we supposed to wait until his brain catches up with his skill? Enough is enough already, Max is not a kid anymore.

9)    Thomas Vanek had 36 goals for the season but was very inconsistent. The 10 Million Dollar Man needs to step up every night, not just when things are going well. It can’t be a Hat Trick, then 10 games without a goal. Now, take a breather we’re at the turn.

10)                       The monthly roving captain, it’s time to end this experiment. If you pick a new Captain every month, that means you don’t have any Captain. Lindy, pick the leader and stick with him. My choice is Thomas Vanek. Vanek is the highest paid player; put the pressure on him to perform every game.

11)                       What a joke, Ryan Miller had to play 35 games in a row. Lindy, if you can’t trust your backup goalie, Jocelyn Thibault, you don’t have a backup goalie. The Sabres rode Miller like a rented mule. He was mentally and physically fried by the end of the season.

12)                       Going 5-7-3 down the stretch at home, including losses to Montreal and Ottawa, after leading 3-1 deep in the 3rd period. This is unacceptable. There were also several stretches during the season where we couldn’t buy a point.

13)                       One of those stretches was towards the end of February, right around the trading deadline. That was when our old friend, Brian ‘Soupy’ Campbell was left to twist in the wind. Campbell didn’t know if he was coming or going and it had to affect the entire team. San Jose went 20 games without losing when the Soupster came aboard. Talk about Jumping the ‘Shark’, you’re welcome San Jose. I miss the Spin-O-Rama. I hope the Sharks win it all.

14)                       Lindy Ruff made several mistakes. He didn’t manage the psyche of this young team very well. The Sabres were very erratic and Lindy didn’t have any answers. Lindy could’ve used some veteran leadership and there was none. Ruff also botched the goalie rotation and couldn’t get the team turned around, going 4-9 in shootouts.

15)                       GM Darcy Regier needed to pull a rabbit out of his butt at the trading deadline and all he came up with was Steve Bernier. Don’t get me wrong, Bernier is a young tough guy, but he’s not going to push you over the top during a playoff run.

16)                       The biggest hole of all was no Chris Drury. I know we’ve beaten it to a pulp but his absence had a huge domino affect on this franchise. Without a true Captain, there was no leadership. Without leadership, there was no accountability. Without accountability, there is no discipline. Without discipline, there is no team. When things started heading south, there was no one who could lead them from the abyss. His absence is the main reason the Sabres went from the Penthouse to the Outhouse in one short year.

17)                       Managing Partner Larry ‘Brass Pro’ Quinn. Talk about a guy having his head up his butt. I believe he is one of the main reasons why we are now missing our 3 best players, Drury, Briere and Campbell. Management’s unwillingness to ink them to long-term deals, when they had the chance, has put the Sabres in this predicament. Now, without any playoff revenue, the preverbal chickens have come home to roost. Penny wise and pound foolish. In an AP interview, earlier this week, Quinn said the Sabres would be pro-active this year and try to sign Ryan Miller and Jason Pominville to long-term deals. Ya think Larry? I guess after getting hit in the head enough times with a sledgehammer you might finally start to get it. What a jackass.

18)                       Rumor has it some Canadian with deep pockets was kicking the tires on the Sabres franchise. He backed off after finding out the NHL had a rule against moving until you’ve owned the team for 7 years. Is that how it is Tom Golisano? What’s going on here? Is the invisible owner trying to win the Stanley Cup or is he trying to squeeze every last penny out of his investment. Tom, if you’re not in this for the long haul, do us all a favor and sell the team to a local businessman. If you are in this to win the Cup, then do the right thing. You’re a Billionaire for God’s sake, spend a little money, have a little fun. You can’t take it with you know, you’re not Ralph Wilson. Thanks, Ben

 

 

April 2, 2008

Tidbits

·        “PLAY BALL!” It may not feel like it when you stick your head out the door, but baseball season is upon us my friends. That can only mean one thing sports fans spring is in the air. Yes, baseball can be drawn out and boring, but what else is there to watch and talk about during the dog days of summer. Of course, we’ll have to listen to the incessant preening of entitled Yankee fans and the obnoxious whining of Red Sox fans. I don’t take sides, I argue with both of them. The best part of baseball season is starting an argument, then stepping back and watching two diehards go at it. Most times the arguments are better than the games.

·        FINAL FOUR x 1. The Final 4 of the NCAA Basketball Tournament square off this weekend. In a rare happenstance, all 4 regional #1 seeds made it to the final weekend. No Cinderella’s welcome at this dance. In a who’s who of basketball, it’s the UCLA Bruins v the Memphis Tigers and the North Carolina Tar Heels v the Kansas Jayhawks. UCLA will be looking to close the deal after making its third straight Final 4 and Memphis, despite only losing one game all year, will be looking for respect. It’ll be a grudge match in the other game, as the Kansas faithful will be looking for revenge after getting dumped by Tar Heel Coach Roy Williams. These are all great teams worthy of winning it all. It’s going to be a fun weekend.

·        In breaking news, ‘Ralph Wilson is not senile’. Two years ago the Buffalo Bills owner, along with Cincinnati Bengal head man, Mike Brown, were the only owners to vote NO on the NFL’s new collective bargaining agreement with the Players Association. The vote was 30-2. Both Brown and Wilson, vilified for being cheapskates (which they are), were portrayed as being out of touch with the rest of the league. Ralph looked especially bad after a couple of sound bites made it to the national media. Babbling will do that when you’re in your 80’s. Now on the front page of the April 1, 2008 Buffalo News, ‘NFL owners now agree Wilson was right’. No, it wasn’t an April Fools joke. Other owners are now beginning to agree with Wilson that they were wrong to increase the player’s share of annual revenues from 54% to 59.5%. Now it is almost a given the owners will vote to opt out of the agreement by November, then they will have until March of 2009 to come to a new agreement. That won’t be easy considering what happened last time and the fact union chief, Gene Upshaw, has already dug in his heels. What does it all mean to you and me the average fan? If there is no agreement by next March, 2009 will be the last year with a salary cap, 2010 will have no salary cap and 2011 will probably result in a lockout by owners. Ah the business of sports, millionaires arguing with billionaires. Keep that zipper closed tight on your change purse Ralph.

·        Lock the doors and hide the women and children, it’s the 3rd period and the Sabres are ahead 3-1. With their playoff lives on the line, the Sabres snatched defeat from the jaws of victory versus the Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadians last week. Did you ever see a more pathetic display of choking in your life? Where’s Chris Drury when you need him? Oh yea, ‘Captain Clutch’ is scoring the overtime goal to beat the Penguins and clinch the New York Rangers spot in the playoffs. What a difference a year makes. More on this next week. Thanks, Ben

 

 

March 19, 2008

Embrace the ‘Madness’

        Don’t look now but the ‘Madness’ is upon us my friends. I know most of you out there are not basketball fans but if you’re any kind of a sports fan, you have to love this time of the year.

        After all the NCAA tournament is the purest form of the game. No 5 Star hotel rooms, no private jets, no fat cat NBA millionaires, just raw, emotional, 19 and 20 year olds playing for the name on the front of the jersey not the one on the back.

        Last year the first and second round games took place at HSBC Arena and they were two of my favorite days of the year. Downtown Buffalo was vibrant and alive with young people and basketball fans. There was an air of anticipation; everyone knew they were going to see something new and original and they did.

        There were upsets, comebacks, triumphs and disappointments. Reality TV my butt, nothing beats the reality of a senior shooting a free throw, the whole world watching, with the game and his career on the line. Now that’s real, win or lose, you can see the sweat on his brow and feel the raw emotion. Those guys are my ‘Idols’, not some powdered up jackass looking for the approval of a twerpy Englishman, an overweight wanna be and a drugged up has been. Who’s the real American Idol my friends?

        One of the best parts of the 3 weeks of festivities does not even involve a game. It’s the Sunday prior, when the brackets are revealed. Once the brackets are announced, the whining begins. Every year several teams feel they are deserving of a bid but are left out of the competition. Sorry, but if it wasn’t the 66th team, it would be the 129th team. The committee has to make the cut somewhere so, if you want to make it to the ‘Big Dance’, you’d better be sure your ticket is punched early, and often.

        Then the talking heads take over. Expert after expert break down the Brackets like a car mechanic takes apart an engine. Dickie V, Bobby Knight, by the time they’re done, I don’t know if I’m coming or going. I know more about these teams then I ever thought I would but I’m so dizzy, I still can’t decide who to pick. North Carolina, Kansas, Memphis, UCLA, no matter, by Wednesday, it’ll be dartboard time and my Bracket will be submitted one way or the other. Win, lose or draw, where else can you get 3 weeks of entertainment for only $20, or free online?

        By the time Thursday afternoon rolls around, the Soap Operas are put on hold and there’s no way any work’s going to get done. I guess those taxes will have to wait until tomorrow, wait, Friday’s more of the same. I guess Uncle Sam’s going to have to wait until next week. I wonder how much work time is lost filling out Brackets and tracking games online. I’m glad I’m not paying the bill.

        The anticipation is fun but nothing beats the actual games. Last second shots, 3-point bombs, and new heroes are on the horizon. Who will be this year’s also ran? Who will wear Cinderella’s slipper? I don’t know but I can’t wait to find out. You want Reality TV stay tuned, the ‘Madness’ has just begun. Now, somebody get me a straight jacket. Thanks, Ben

Ben's NCAA Brackets

 

 

March 14, 2008

One Rung at a Time

        The Buffalo Bills began their ascent from the playoff abyss with the start of the NFL Free Agency period. Bills management hit the ground running with a plan and purpose, the results will be clearly visible come opening day in September.

        The plan: make the Bills bigger and stronger, especially on defense. The purpose: getting to the NFL postseason and eventually competing for a championship.

STEP ONE

        On February 29th, Buffalo wasted no time locking up former NY Giant linebacker Kawika Mitchell to a 5-year, $17.5 million deal. Mitchell is big; 6-foot-1 and 253 pounds, versatile; he plays all 3 downs, and a Super Bowl Champ. Mitchell is physical player; can run and cover and finished the year with 87 tackles and 3.5 sacks. With middle linebacker Paul Posluszny, coming back from injury, and strong side linebacker Angelo Crowell, the Bills now have 3 starters that can run and play all 3 downs.

STEP TWO

        On March 1st the Bills beefed up their run defense by trading for former Jacksonville Jaguars defensive tackle Marcus Stroud. Buffalo gave up third and fifth round draft picks for the gargantuan, run stuffing, Stroud. A small price to pay for a 3 time Pro Bowler and someone who will raise the level of play of everyone around him. At 6-foot-6 and 310 pounds, Stroud is a beast. He pushes the pocket and cannot be easily moved by one man. He will clog up the middle, allowing linebackers Crowell, Posluszny, and Mitchell, more room to run to the ball and make open field tackles.

        The added bonus to the Stroud addition is, his presence will make speed rushing defensive ends Chris Kelsay and Aaron Schobel more effective. Kelsay and Schobel had a sub par year in 2007. In fact, the Bills sack total dropped to 26 last year, compared to 40 in 2006. Without a force at defensive tackle, the opposition could focus their attention on the defensive ends, nullifying their speed. Now, with the opposing offense having to use two players to neutralize Stroud, this will free up the ends to attack the QB. This quote from Schobel after he learned of Stroud’s acquisition, “Yeah, I’m happy. He can change the whole way we play defense. He’s a difference maker.” Amen brother.

STEP THREE

        Buffalo signed Free Agent defensive tackle Spencer Johnson, formerly of the Vikings, to a 5-year deal worth $17.5 million. Johnson backed up former Bill, Pat Williams, in Minnesota, can play several positions and is a welcome addition to the defensive line rotation. That rotation includes an improving John McCargo and Kyle Williams. As you all know, you can never have enough good defensive lineman, as evidenced by the New York Giants run through the playoffs last year. It was the Giant defensive line that got them to the top and the pressure they put on New England QB Tom Brady won them a Super Bowl. Being that they have to play the Patriots twice a year, the Bills are obviously taking a cue from the Giants.

STEP FOUR

        The Bills are looking for some size and speed on offense, especially at the wide receiver and tight end positions. Buffalo signed journeyman tight end Courtney Anderson. Anderson is big, 6-foot-6, 270 pounds, and will compete with incumbent Robert Royal for playing time. Buffalo also interviewed several Free Agents, including tight end Ben Troupe, from Tennessee, full back Corey McIntyre, from Atlanta and WR Bryant Johnson of Arizona. WR Johnson is the big prize here, he’s averaged over 40 catches a year playing behind Pro Bowlers Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin. Johnson is big at 6-foot-3 and 213 pounds, but he’s also fast, doing the 40 yard dash in 4.38 seconds. The problem is, Johnson is visiting several other teams and there may be a bidding war for his services. If there is, it is almost certain the Bills will not participate. In any bidding war, you can bet your bottom dollar Bills owner, Ralph Wilson, will be a conscientious objector. Maybe Ralph can seek asylum in Canada. Oops, sore subject.

STEP FIVE

        The draft will be here in mid April and whatever the Bills miss in Free Agency, I’m sure they will be hunting for on draft day. Although Buffalo gave up a 3rd and 5th round pick for Stroud, the good news is they were additional picks they had in those rounds. There is also the possibility QB J.P. Losman might be traded by then, adding additional picks. Personally, I would prefer J.P. stay here as Trent Edwards backup, but you can’t blame the guy for wanting a shot elsewhere. After all, he’s had a bum deal here and hasn’t made much of a stink about it. He deserves to get his wish.

        It’s been a long 10-year drought since the Buffalo last qualified for the playoffs but, Step-By-Step, the Bills are slowly beginning to improve. Let’s just hope the ladder is strong enough to hold all of us. Thanks, Ben

Check out my NCAA Tournament picks, next Wednesday, at www.benspicks.com

 

March 5, 2008

Do You Know the Way to San Jose ?

        In a strange twist of fate, singer Dionne Warwick was in town last Monday night, to perform the Burt Bacharach standard at the Seneca Niagara Casino. Sadly, defenseman Brian ‘Soupy’ Campbell, and the rest of the Sabre Nation already know the answer to the question, ‘Do you know the way to San Jose?’

        The way to San Jose is paved in gross mismanagement and pure stupidity.

        Its come down to this, a player the Sabres developed and desperately need, someone reduced to tears at the mere thought of leaving, a teammate that’s respected and inspires and a player the fans love, is traded because the Sabres front office can’t get its head out of its own derriere. Are you listening, Darcy ‘My Hands Are Tied’ Regier, Larry ‘Bass Pro’ Quinn and especially you, Tom ‘Alligator Arms’ Golisano?

        Sabres management is just plain stupid because they refuse to learn from their mistakes. Soupy should have been ‘canned’, at the beginning of the season, for $25 Million over 5 years. Yes, that’s an exorbitant amount of money but after offering the two time All Star a contract worth $18 Million over 3 years last week, and it getting torn up in their face, that first figure looks mighty tasty.

        The sad part is management refuses to learn their lesson. Didn’t we just go through this with the Chris Drury and Daniel Briere debacle? What did they learn, Nothing! What about the mishandling of Thomas Vanek’s contract? They let the Edmonton Oilers set Vanek’s price instead of taking care of their own business.

        Why are the Sabres being reactive, letting the marketplace set the price for these players, instead of being proactive and locking these guys up before things get out of hand? It doesn’t make any sense.

        Who is ultimately to blame? The puck stops at the top my friends. Tom Golisano signs the ‘Paychexs’ and makes the final decisions. Mr. Golisano is a successful businessman and a Billionaire, but you can’t run a hockey club like you run Paychex. At Paychex, if an employee demands too much money, you can tell him to take a hike because there is someone just as qualified waiting in the wings. In sports, an above average employee is a commodity that needs to be protected because they can’t easily be replaced.

        In the last two years alone, the Sabres have lost Jay McKee, Mike Grier, J.P. Dumont, Daniel Briere, Chris Drury, and Brian Campbell. That’s the nucleus of a pretty good hockey team, a Stanley Cup contender if you ask me. Isn’t it funny how, with those guys, the Sabres make a couple of nice playoff runs. Now, without them, we’ll be lucky just to make the playoffs.

        Maybe that’s when it’s all going to make sense to old Alligator Arms Golisano. If the Sabres miss the playoffs, those added millions don’t come rolling in this April. Reality can be a cold, hard, slap in the face to someone who only thinks about the bottom line.

        You can already see the consequences of Campbell’s absence. Shots allowed are up 7, from 28 to 35. Save percentage is down to .867 from .909. Penalty kill is an embarrassing 57% down from 85%. The most telling sign, goals against are up to 4.67 from 2.78. That’s almost a solid 2 goals a game. This is only a 3 game sample, but watch out, there’s only 16 games left and time is running out.

        The Sabres, currently mired in 9th place, are on a 1-3-1 losing trend, all home games. Two of those loses were to the Rangers and Flyers, teams they’re chasing. Also, goalie Ryan Miller, next on the new contract list, is starting his 20th game in a row and in need of a break. Things don’t look good.

        The bottom line here is, the boys in the Blue and Gold better get it turned around soon or, by Saint Patrick’s Day, they too will know ‘The Way to San Jose’ and they better bring their golf clubs. Thanks, Ben

 

February 19, 2008

Riding the Turnip Truck

        Were we born yesterday? Did God pass us by when it was time to hand out the brains? Are we dumber than we look? Are we all blonde, okay that last one was a low blow.

        The answer to those questions is obvious. However, to be a sports fan nowadays, you must check your intelligence at the door and file your logic where the sun doesn’t shine.

        Roger ‘The Truth Dodger’ Clemens, testifying before Congress, would have us believe everyone around him was doing HGH, Human Growth Hormone, yet he was oblivious to the fact and his butt is pristine. Brian McNamee testified, under threat of prison, he injected Roger, his wife and his ‘former’ best friend, Any Pettitte, with HGH. McNamee was Clemens’ own personal trainer. He followed him from the Blue Jays to New York, at Roger’s request. McNamee has a syringe and bloody gauze he says he used to inject Roger. Rogers’ wife admits to it. Andy Pettitte admits to it and admits knowledge that Roger did it. But, somehow Roger was above it all.

        Were we born yesterday, Roger?

        Bill Beli-Cheat, a.k.a. ‘The Hoodie’, would have us believe all this Spygate stuff was simply a misinterpretation of the rules. Matt Walsh, a former video technician for the Patriots, claims to have evidence he videotaped the St. Louis Rams walkthrough practice prior to Super Bowl XLII. Walsh refuses to ‘fess up’ what he knows without complete indemnification, this will protect him from being sued. The NFL says they will offer indemnification as long as Walsh is truthful. The problem is, as soon as Walsh opens his mouth, the Pats and the NFL will say he’s lying and sue him. Talk about a Catch-22?

        You can already see The Hoodie working it in the Feb. 18th Boston Globe, “In my entire coaching career, I’ve never seen another team’s practice film prior to playing that team. I have never authorized, or heard of, or even seen in any way, shape, or form any other team’s walkthrough.” This from a man who has already been fined for cheating and admitted doing so since 2000.

        Scott Pioli, the Pats vice president of player personnel, said Walsh was terminated in January 2003 after he discovered Walsh was “secretly tape-recording conversations between him and me.” Obviously, he’s already trying to discredit Mr. Walsh.

        Beli-Cheat, a man with a 170 I.Q., also says he “couldn’t pick Matt Walsh out of a lineup”.

        Hey Bill, did God pass us by when it was time to hand out the brains?

        To top it all off, ESPN and all the other outlets are burying this story on the back pages. Do you think that has something to do with the fact these news outlets are in bed with the NFL? Isn’t it obvious, if the NFL loses credibility, ESPN, NBC, CBS, Fox and the NFL all lose money?

        Stay down Mr. Walsh; don’t say a word until you get total indemnification from Senator Arlen Specter and Congress.

        Ralph Wilson would have us believe, the Buffalo Bills playing 5 regular season games and 3 preseason games in Toronto will help keep the Bills in Buffalo. Ralph, flanked by 5 time Billionaire Ted “The Vulture” Rogers, said with a straight face, “Hey, I can’t speculate, But don’t worry. Don’t worry right now.”

        Are we dumber than we look, Ralph?

        Toronto, a city of some 4 Million, has nothing but cash and can’t wait to get its hands on an NFL franchise. The NFL will never grant them one as long as the Bills are close by they are in Buffalo territory. The only way they are going to get one, is to steal ours in the middle of the night.

        I’m worried, very worried.

        Hold on tight Buffalo, it’s getting awful deep out there and you wouldn’t want to fall off the turnip truck now. Thanks, Ben

 

 

February 12, 2008

Tidbits

·        The sight of Florida Panther, Richard Zednik, skating to the bench, clutching his throat and trailing a pool of blood, will be one Sabre fans never forget, myself included. Zednik was in the wrong place, at the wrong time, when teammate Olli Jokinen’s flying skate caught him. However, he was in the right place, at the right time, to receive the immediate medical attention that saved his life. Kudos to Dr. Leslie Bisson and everyone involved. The thing that gets me thinking is, what if this happened at a high school or peewee game? It should be mandatory that children wear all the protection available for obvious reasons.

·        The irony of the Zednik situation is the similar nature of Clint Malarchuck’s horrific injury some 19 years ago. The double irony is Dr. Bisson was also the first responder for Kevin Everett’s spinal injury 5 months ago. It’s good to know we have topnotch medical care in this area. Let’s hope we don’t have to see them in action again for a long, long, time.

·        Don’t look now but the Sabres are on a mini run, 4-0-2, and on the cusp of a playoff berth with the Senators on deck, (this was written prior to the Ottawa game). High priced winger, Thomas Vanek has contributed with 4 goals in the last 6 games. It’s about time. That’s 10 Million dollars, divided by 16 goals, a mere $625,000 per goal. What a deal, I’ll bet Owner, Tom Golisano, wishes he would’ve signed Vanek before Free Agency now. It’s better to be proactive, than reactive. Nuff said.

·        Speaking of high priced Free Agents. The Sabres are making a last ditch effort to sign All Star defenseman, Brian ‘Soupy’ Campbell, while they’re in Ottawa. Campbell’s agent is based in Ottawa and this may be their last chance to lock him up before the trading deadline. If he doesn’t sign by then, he’s as good as gone. The Sabres can’t afford to lose another All Star and get nothing in return. Do the right thing Mr. Golisano, we love Soupy, he’s MMM,MMM, GOOD!

·        Last week Mr. Golisano did the right thing and reiterated his interest in purchasing the Bills. Let’s hope Ralph does the right thing. Ralph, why do you want to take your ownership of the Bills to the grave? What is that going to prove, what a pigheaded old geezer you are? The vultures from Toronto are circling overhead, waiting to pick apart your bones. You make the call Ralph, save the team for the area and become a hero, or be vilified upon your demise. You can’t take it with you.

·        Speaking of the vultures from Toronto, Ted Rogers is worth 4.9 Billion and he can’t wait to get his beak on the Bills’ carcass. Did you see that look on his face when they were announcing the upcoming Bills games in Toronto? I couldn’t stand it. I wanted to reach right into the TV and put my hands around his neck. I don’t like people from Toronto; they have this smug sense about them, as if they’re entitled, just because they’re from Toronto. Rogers took great pleasure in announcing they would be charging $250 per ticket for the Toronto games. Nice guy to hang around with Ralph, maybe you can start kissing Jerry Jones’ butt too.

·        Speaking of Jerry Jones, Ralph compared Toronto to Dallas because of all the construction cranes he witnessed on his way in. Then he started bad mouthing Buffalo, using the same old lines we’ve been hearing from him since the 60’s. Hey Ralph, ain’t it funny how even though people are leaving the area, you still sell out almost every game despite the fact the Bills haven’t been to the playoffs in a decade. Why don’t you look at yourself in the mirror and give us something worth watching for our money. How long do you think that’s going to fly in Toronto, at $250 per ticket? Why don’t you lob us a thank you once in a while, for making you a multi-millionaire, instead of punching us in the gut.

·        You’re welcome Ralph. Now show a little gratitude and do the right thing.

Thanks, Ben

 

Previous Rants

Information Purposes Only - Not Intended For Anyone Under 21 Years of Age

The Legend

ATS – Against Spread

aft - after

bfr - before

BPR - Ben’s Power Rating

B2B – Back To Back

BOUNCE – Opp. result

D – Dog

Def - defense

DDD – Double Digit Dog

DDF - Double Digit Favorite

DIV - Division

F – Favorite

L - Loss

SAND - Sandwich game

 

H – Home

HD – Home Dog

HF – Home Favorite

HOME TEAM – In Capitals

LW – Last Week

LY – Last Year

N-DIV - Non Division

O/U – Over /Under

OFF – Offense

R – Road

REV – Revenge

SU – Straight Up

V - Versus

W - Win