So when I step back and look at what has been accomplished I can’t help but feel good. During the last off-season, a debate raged over the new Sabres logo. Many folks said the logo was the team – that as players come and go it’s the shape of what’s on the uniform that we cheer for. Others said we cheer for the Sabres in general – for the team on the ice. But for me, it’s always been something else. I’ve always loved the feeling in the building. The feeling of excitement when you walk in, the palpable sense of energy pulsing through the crowd, the way you get a little misty when a certain highlight plays or the voice of the Sabres elicits a special memory when you hear “May Day!” or “Who Else? Who Else?” coming through the speakers. Sure, it’s about the team on the ice. But it’s also about the team off the ice – the feeling and emotion that a playoff run can bring to the psyche of the community in general and help pull that community together.
Granted, I have always contended that Buffalo has more than its share of bandwagon fans. But real fans – tried-and-true, hardcore, die-hard fans – have to start as something. This run has sucked in a new generation of fans. I know, because I’ve watched it happen. Not only have I seen it happen at the Arena, where attendance has increased by over 3,000 folks per game over the last three seasons, but I’ve seen it in my office, in my church, at my kids school, and in my house. People who never considered themselves fans can’t get enough of the Sabres now. And while I am not naïve enough to think that all those folks will stay fans through the inevitable bad times, all we need is to keep a critical mass of them. A mass that sells out the Arena every game, and a mass that lets the Sabres operate at a comfortable financial level and keep this team competitive in the future.
The Sabres accomplished something this season that hasn’t happened since the Buffalo Bills run in the early nineties – they brought an entire region together. I’m stealing and paraphrasing this from someone, and I can’t recall whom, but sport has the ability like nothing else to bring people together. It crosses religious lines, political lines, neighborhood lines, and socio-economic lines. Flaming liberals and die-hard conservatives locally usually can’t agree on much, but by God, if they were sitting next to each other when Chis Drury scored with 7.7 seconds left they probably ripped off a high-five. Some evangelical Christian type may have even hugged one o’ them gay fellas’ at some point and not even realized it. Nobody sits around the lunch table at work and talks about the legalization of marijuana or the Grand Island toll barriers while the entire room feels involved in the conversation, but it sure happened with the Sabres this year.