Top 10 Buffalo Sports Moments Since Doug Marrone's Departure

On Dec. 31, the previous coach of the Buffalo Bills, (Exact wording used in all Buffalo Bills marketing materials) after the most successful season the Bills had in 15 years, bid adieu to Buffalo in hopes of landing in a happier place. Perhaps he had plans to head to a magical place where he’d feel compelled to pet his dog after a loss. Maybe he thought It’s possible that a locality existed filled with football fans that love fourth down punts inside opponent territory. Where did he think that place was? New Freakin’ York (Whoops, New Jersey. Sorry Guys). If you are to believe the rampant rumor mill this winter, it was owner of the Jets, Woody Johnson, who would have been happy to canonize the former Bills coach as “St. Doug”- coach of the New York Jets.

At the time “St. Doug” absconded off in his golden parachute (I hate that term, by the way. A Parachute made of gold is a ridiculous thought), the Sabres were in the midst of a 14 game losing streak that included zero (Read: zero, zilch, nada, zip) wins in the month of January. That’s ALMOST as impressive as YOUR GOALIE, Michal Neuvirth, getting fined for multiple diving/embellishment offenses. You know you have a dearth of skill players on the roster when YOUR GOALIE is the only one capable of pulling off that maneuver. Somewhere, dishonest Gordon Bombay from the first Mighty Ducks movie was smiling.

It was a dark, cold (excruciatingly so) time for Buffalonians. Our football team was without a coach, QB, or direction. Our hockey team had to explain what it felt like to get booed after scoring a goal.  Little did we know that our patience and resiliency was soon to be rewarded. And it all began with you, Mr. Coach of the Buffalo Bills 2013-2014.

It all unraveled so fast for the coach who shall not be named. And yes, Coach, WNYers are still smiling about your apparent “misfortune”. It started slowly, when the New York media got wind that Fred Jackson, the most popular Buffalo Bill in the last decade, didn’t like how you texted members of the team that you were leaving instead of holding a proper closed doors team meeting. Ok. Maybe that was sour grapes. But then your old assistant from Syracuse accused you of being self-centered, greedy, and always having your next job lined up.  But he was just your assistant, right? Your holiness? Who the hell was he to say something about you? But Coach, then you went and blew your interview with the Jets. Woody Johnson was so uninspired by your interview that he announced that the Jets would continue their search for a head coach. Eight and a half months later, can you guess the name of the offensive line coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars who was watching helplessly as his squad surrendered five Week 1 sacks to the Carolina Panthers? You can look him up in the Buffalo Bills Media Guide as “Previous Coach of the Buffalo Bills”.

It was this man’s decision that gave the Pegulas the opportunity to hire “their guy”. Frankly, I don’t think they were ever sold on the abilities of Marrone or offensive coordinator Nathanial Hackett. Whatever the case may be, their departure opened up the opportunity to find the guy that the Pegulas felt could take this team, and this region to the promise land. The subsequent hiring of Rex Ryan was the first step in what has become a very exciting 2015 (so far).

While this was going on, the Sabres kept losing! Yes! Wait? Was Darcy right?? Oh forget about him, he’s gone. Now we’ve got Tim Murray! With the Sabres ability to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat down the stretch and some bold moves made at the trade deadline, Sabres fans finally had something to be optimistic about. But as we know, this was just the very beginning of an eventful year so far for the Blue and Gold.

As a lifetime (28 year) Buffalo sports fan, I have ridden this wave of emotion with you all from the beginning. Yes, there have been tears and there has been optimism (both blind and warranted). However, I cannot recall a time where we have been so unified in the enthusiasm and belief in the future of our sports teams.  It’s a special time, Western New York, and I think everybody, both inside our little community, and outside, know it.

A lot has transpired between St. Doug mailing in his resignation and now.

The following is my ranking of the ten most important major Buffalo sports events since 01/01/2015 that has churned our detached, callous Buffalo sports souls into full blown FANDEMONIUM (Miss You, Van).

Obviously (get it?), this post serves as one big “Thank You” to the Pegula family. Without whom, these teams may not exist anymore. Certainly the Bills wouldn’t have set a franchise record in season ticket sales and spent a fortune in free agency all while bolstering our robust (one of the biggest in the NFL) coaching staff. The Sabres, most likely, would be without our most recent acquisitions and trying to balance the same old retread act that has failed us for so long. Once again, “thank you” Terry & Kim for the Sabres, the Bills, Canalside, Harbour Center and whatever else it is you have planned for our city in the future.

The List:

10.Sabres Clinch last Place! – 04/10/2015

I had no choice but to put this one last (It’s only appropriate). Was it important? Absolutely. Did I hate every second of it? Yes. Did I ever root for the Sabres to lose like 95% of the WNY faithful? No. But I’ve got to tell you, I loved the result. Finishing in last guaranteed the Sabres something so important to the Franchise. We would finally get our #1 center. McDavid or Eichel. Whoever it was would finally put an end to two years of fans arguing about the importance of losing verses the honor of trying to win. GOOD RIDDANCE!

9. Buffalo Bills Re-Sign jerry Hughes – 03/09/2015

I have a secret for you. I was against the Hughes signing. With Rex Ryan coming in I figured he would be able to manufacture a “good” pass rusher out of a recycled stack of Genny Cream Ale cans. I stand corrected. After watching Jerry Hughes’ performance Sunday against a terrific Left Tackle in Anthony Costanzo, I’m glad we have Hughes. Maybe I should have paid more attention to Rex pulling him out of OTAs for disrupting the offense too often. 

8. Buffalo Sabres make Blockbuster Trade for Evander Kane & Zach Bogosian - 02/11/2015

Whoa. Did we ever give up a lot for Kane and Bogo. Longtime fan favorites and Buffalo centerpieces Tyler Myers and Drew Stafford were traded away along with Joel Armia (Former 1st Rd. Pick) and Claude Lemieux (2nd Rd. pick). Two prospects who Sabres fans were excited to see flourish in our system for years to come. Best-case scenario: Kane and Bogosian are mainstays in the Blue and Gold’s starting lineup. Worst-case scenario: We get to ogle Evander’s girlfriend, Mara Teigen, for the duration of his stay.

7. NHL Draft Lottery -  04/18/2015

The day we had all been waiting for! What would it be? 1 or 2? 2 or 1? There were so many Draft Lottery parties that you couldn’t possibly have stayed home this night. In the end, the Oilers (insert sad Connor McDavid face here) were the lucky ones and the Sabres, not allowed to fall more than one spot past their last place finish wound up with the second pick. WNY immediately Googles everything there is to know about Jack Eichel.

6. Tyrod Taylor Named Starting QB -  08/31/2015

Ok who remembers what day Tyrod Taylor was named the starter? I’ll bet you remember it. You were angry! Seething! Some wanted Doug Whaley removed from the front office. Sound Familiar? Yes, the announcement that Tyrod Taylor would be the Buffalo Bills starting QB was made roughly two hours after news outlets began reporting that the most beloved Bill in the 2000s had been released without so much as a “Thank You”. Fred Jackson was gone. But hey, I’m guessing that by the time you read this you know that he’s doing well in Seattle and the Bills have a very talented group of RBs in his stead. Hello, Karlos Williams!

Taylor, the people’s choice to win the job from the moment he began performing in the pre-season, was announced the starter and it didn’t take long for T-Mobile fever to spread. The 4-year backup to Joe Flacco finally has his chance to start for a professional football team and the early results are promising. Everybody loves an underdog but Taylor has a long way to go to prove that he belongs in the same conversations with the Rodgers, Rivers and Romos of the world. For now, Bills fans love them some T-Mobile.

5. The Sabres hire Disco Dan Bylsma!– 05/28/2015

Ugh. This one brings back memories of that fool, Mike Babcock, who used Buffalo as leverage to get the job we wanted in Toronto. It’s ok, everybody. Disco Dan came to the rescue. The future contains the answer to whether we got the guy we need or not. However, I think it’s important to note that Bylsma has experience developing really young talent (Sydney Crosby comes to mind) and we may have a guy or two (or three of four) who can really develop under that kind of tutelage. But seriously, we better stomp Toronto for the next 15 years.

4. Kiko Alonso traded for Shady McCoy!!??– 03/03/2015

As I write this, I’m watching the fourth ESPN replay of Kiko Alonzo making an incredible, one-handed interception of Matt Ryan while defending the endzone for his new team, the Philadelphia Eagles. We’ll always have 2013, Kiko, but as I continue into this paragraph I see that you are still a major liability in the run game. You were a great Bill, but I think LeSean McCoy will make us forget about you sooner rather than later. We’ll see who gets the better of this matchup when the Bills play the Eagles in December. The only thing I know for sure at this point is that the “asking price” for a Bills Kiko Alonso jersey has gone wayyyyy down.

3. Bills extend Marcel Dareus– 09/10/2015

Who knew you could sign a historical NFL while under suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy!? This is a big contact for a big man. Marcel is so pivotal to what the Bills do on defense that this could potentially be ranked #1 on this very subjective list. We’ll see what the Crimson Elephant shows us in 2015-16, but the reports out of training camp are that he is ready to eat. With the extension taken care of, Marcel can focus on developing his skills under Ryan’s tutelage and maintaining his newfound maturity. To me, more money seems to equal more problems for guys that seem to find trouble. You can count me in as one of the few skeptics who will let the next five years decide whether this contract was worthy of letting other important future pending free agents walk.

2. Rex Ryan’s Introductory Press Conference – 01/14/2015

Yes, I know Rex was “hired” a few days before this, but all people wanted at that point was to hear our brash new Head Coach start guaranteeing Super Bowls. While he didn’t quite deliver on that guarantee, he did prepare us for football in January, which would be nice (outside of Week 17). Ryan’s press conference provided a glimpse into the future of the Buffalo Bills. He was going to “build a bully” (we signed Richie Incognito, Percy Harvin & Geno Smith’s personal “face re-arranger” IK Enemkpali). He excited us when he told us that finishing 4th in defense would have been a “disappointment” with the talent we had last year. Oh, and he absolutely hates the Patriots (is it Sunday, yet?) with a passion. Bills fans across the world were ready for opening day in Mid-January.

 1A.  Bills Manhandle Colts in Week 1 Home Opener – 09/13/2015

Hmm, look what I’ve done. I suppose I have 11 things here. Oh well. Scotch, Cigars and the opening week of the NFL will do that to you. As an 8 year Season Ticket holder of the Bills there was absolutely, positively no way that I was going to miss this game. Did it matter that nine hours prior to kickoff I was somewhere in the Adirondack Mountains after standing in one of my best friends wedding? No. Did it matter that the reception went three hours longer than it should have and I went to bed at 2 AM? No. I was not only determined to make it back for the game, but also making it back with enough time to comfortably tailgate with 70,000 of my closest friends. So there I was, at 5:15 AM driving, half asleep, down a really scary dirt road with blind turns every mile. It could have been Mt. Everest and it wouldn’t have mattered. I was getting back in time.

I arrived at the Stadium at 10:30. Not ideal, but I was alive. I had made it in time to have one of the best Sundays of my life. It wasn’t just that the Bills dismantled the Colts and had a very comfortable lead in the 4th quarter. It wasn’t just that we did it without Marcel Dareus or a productive Sammy Watkins or Shady McCoy. It was the feeling that every Bills fan had in the stadium watching that game. It was the feeling when 2nd Round pick Ron Darby picked off the NFL’s darling star child Andrew Luck and Rex Ryan met him halfway onto the field with to celebrate with a chest bump. It was Tyrod Taylor’s effortless 50-yard dime to Percy Harvin for the first touchdown of the year. To all of the pessimists worried about the deep ball this year, I assure you, Taylor is proficient at it. Roman may not dial it up as much as we want, but if it’s there, Tyrod will make the throw. Lastly, it was that most of the 70,000 strong stayed until the clock ticked down in a blowout to sing the “Shout Song”. Bring on the Patriots on 9/20. As excited as I am, something tells me Rex is even more excited. 

1B. Jack Eichel and Ryan O’Reilly become Sabres the Same Day – 06/26/2015

Oh Tim Murray, you little Minx. Jack Eichel and Ryan O’Reilly in the same night? Where do I sign up for Season Tickets? On top of Evander Kane, Zach Bogosian and the promising lineup of young talent (looking at you, Reinhart) this could be an interesting season. Are a lot of prognosticators selling the Sabres as playoff contenders? Not currently. Not with the questions we have at Goaltender and depth positions. But you can guarantee that this season will be fun to watch. After years of futility, the Sabres are back on the NHL map.

On this evening, the Sabres took Jack Eichel to be the face of the franchise with the #2 overall pick that they tried so hard to get, then give away, only to eventually lock up late in the season. Murray doubled down later in the night, trading Nikita Zadarov, Mikhail Grigorenko, prospect T.J. Compher and the 31st pick in the draft for O’Reilly. The early return on Eichel is promising. He lead the Sabres to a win in the first annual Prospects Tournament held in Buffalo by scoring an overtime goal in the championship game.

In contrast, O’Reilly thanked the Sabres for their faith by drunkenly driving his new pickup truck into a Tim Hortons somewhere in Canada. While he has repeatedly apologized for “his mistake”, WNYers won’t forgive him until he hits the ice when games start to matter in October. As we’ve learned so often in the past, winning forgives everything, let’s hope that this can be the case with O’Reilly this year; I know I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do.