Crossed swords. Charging buffalo. Encased in a simple gold circle. Simply put, the best logo in all of hockey. There is only one word to describe a logo such as this. Class. Some would argue for the intricacies of the elegant Chicago Blackhawks indian head, with it’s bold feathers and serene smile. Others might be partial to the winged wheel of the Detroit Red Wings, a logo which signals greatness.
I bleed Blue and Gold, though. And while it wasn’t always referred to as such, I live in Hockey Heaven. So, for me, it’s the Buffalo Sabres, and their logo, until the day I die.
But what does the logo mean to me?
I was too young to remember the Stanley Cup finals team of ’75, or the exploits of the French Connection (although I can acknowledge my great-uncle Lee as the man who named this great line). I’ve only seen video clips and heard or read stories of the great Tim Horton, Jerry “King Kong” Korab, and Eddie “the entertainer” Shack. I was just a year old when the Aud reverberated with the chant “Thank you, Sabres”, but I’ve seen the footage, and it gives me chills. I couldn’t imagine what it must have been like when the city was granted an NHL franchise. Or the infamous “spin of the wheel”, which almost cost us our franchise player. This team has given the residents of this proud city many unforgettable moments and memories.
My first memories of the Sabres were in the late ’70′s, sitting on my Dad’s couch (the divorce rate in that era probably wasn’t as high as it is today, but nevertheless, it touched me) listening to him yell at Ric Seiling. You see, Ric was the 70′s and 80′s version of Dixon Ward. Seemingly every time he touched the puck, and someone touched him, he fell down. So, my Dad would fire off a quick, sarcastic “FALL DOWN, RIC!”, which would send me into fits of laughter. I guess you had to be there.
My father worked as a statistician in the old Aud press box, and sometimes was in charge of the message board. Once a goal was scored, I would look up and wait to see what cleverness the old man had in him. I think he loved it when Phil Housley scored, with assists from Gil Perreault and Bill Hajt. All of the sudden my father was a poet.
I’ve seen more than my fair share of NHL memories, thanks to my Dad. I was in the Aud on February 24, 1982 when Wayne Gretzky broke Phil Esposito’s record for most goals in a season. My step-mother and I were sitting in the upper golds directly behind Don Edwards, when Gretzky took a few, slow strides into the Buffalo zone. In what seemed like slow motion, the Great One slid a slick wrist shot past the outclassed goaltender with 7 minutes left in the 3rd period, and a man sitting behind us drenched my step-mother with his beer. The Auditorium EXPLODED for this scrawny 21-year old kid who would be the greatest hockey player I’ve ever seen. It would also be the only standing ovation for an opposing player I’ve ever seen in person.
Gretzky would add 2 more goals, his 78th and 79th, before the game was over. I witnessed hockey history, punctuated with an exclamation point.
I recall the open practices at the Aud. Watching these giants on blades whir past, as I was pressed up against the glass in awe. These were rock stars. Larger than life. These guys might as well have been makeup-era KISS. I’ll always remember Tony McKegney throwing me a puck over the glass, and the disbelief that I actually had caught a real NHL puck. From a real NHL player. “Cocoa” became one of my favorites of that era, with a nickname that would never fly today.
I’ll never forget the blockbuster trade of December 2nd, 1981, that sent Danny Gare, Derek Smith and Jim Schoenfeld to Detroit for Mike Foligno, Dale McCourt and Brent Peterson. I was 10 years old and I thought the Apocalypse was upon us. I never understood until a little later that trades were a necessary part of hockey. I quickly understood, however, why the Sabres dealt for Foligno. I will always remember his relentless hustle, the signature jump after he scored, and the ugly, Great Gazoo-shaped helmet he wore. To this day he is a top Sabre for me, and if Marcus is anything resembling his Dad, well, to quote Terry Pegula from his introductory press conference: “Oh boy”.
My cousin and I would go to games in those days wondering if we were going to get drilled by a Gilles Hamel slap shot because, well, he hit everything else except the net. He and I would feign raising garbage can lids to use as shields to protect us from good-ol’ Gilles and his uncontrollable howitzer. We would sit there and wonder how in the hell Bill Hajt ever made it into the National Hockey League. He played, hands down, the ugliest brand of hockey we had ever seen. Only later did I appreciate the mastery of the defensive zone big Bill had. Defensive defensemen don’t get chosen to play in all-star games, they just don’t. But he did. My apologies, Mr. Hajt.
I recall family parties and holidays at my grandparents house, where my cousins, two uncles and I would sneak into the finished basement and play “hand hockey” with a taped up, balled up pair of socks. Of course things got rough, and checking each other into the heating ducts was soon quashed by my grandmother. I always left their house with either welts or red, swollen hands from our vicious hand slap-shots.
As I grew, so did my passion. My understanding of the game, on and off the ice, became acute. I couldn’t get enough of the game, really. This, coincidentally or not, was when Pat LaFontaine and Alexander Mogilny came charging into our lives, and into the opposition’s zone. Fluidity, seamlessness, explosiveness and dominance. These two guys were a line unto themselves. Sure, they had some good linemates, but most of them were just able to keep up. Every time they touched the puck and came roaring up the ice, intertwining, weaving, untouched and unmatched, you knew they were going to make something happen. The year Alex buried 76 goals in 77 games was one of the most exciting for me as a fan. It seemed as if every shot he took went in, either from a sweet LaFontaine pass, or off one of his countless breakaways. I would sit in front of the TV, glued to their magic every game. It didn’t matter if the team won, because this dynamic duo made you forget about everything else but them.
Save for a few distinctive players, a few good seasons and, of course, “May Day”, most of those late ’80′s and early 90′s teams were a lesson in mediocrity and quite insipid. This era, though, produced one of the single best goaltending performances of all time. Twas the four overtime game in round one of the 1994 playoffs against the New Jersey Devils, and that goalie was Dominik Hasek. Hasek was brilliant that night, stopping 70 shots, out-dueling Martin Brodeur. I was out at a club that night (while my VHS tape was capturing it all back home) trying to avoid any mention of the game or the score. Of course, with the Sabres in the playoffs, that was impossible. It was getting late, and I overheard someone in the bar say it was going to double overtime. I immediately called home to ask my step-father if there was still room on the tape. He told me that he had already popped in tape number two. Curiosity got the best of me, and I spent a chilly late April night in that club’s parking lot listening to the rest of the game on my car radio.
I still have those two VHS tapes.
Then came 1999. We all know what happened. The 60′s generation will always remember where they were when Kennedy was shot, and the Y2K generation will never forget what they were doing on 9/11. Well, on a much, much lesser scale (AND I CANNOT UNDERSCORE THIS POINT ENOUGH…lest I may get my head ripped off), Sabres fans will always recall where they were when Brett Hull (didn’t) score that overtime, Stanley Cup clinching goal. I took the simple route, as I do for 99.9% of Sabres games, and was planted in my recliner, while my wife (who’s nerves during playoff games are shot) drifted in and out of sleep on the couch (I guess it really was a boring finals). She never made it to the 3rd overtime period, and I ended up in a fit of sobs and anger, in utter disbelief that it actually ended in that fashion.
It was Buffalo’s version of professional sports rape. What was stolen cannot ever be given back.
Of course, there have been amazing, magical seasons since then. There have been players that have come to Buffalo, blossomed, and then allowed to leave. They will always be a part of us, and will forever hold a place in Sabres history. With all the good times, there have to be some not so good times, and even some horrible times. It’s the way life goes, and the same goes for hockey. I feel that I am the biggest Sabres fan alive today. I have never wavered, and never will. I champion the game of hockey and the Buffalo Sabres as much as I can, to whomever I can. I believe in the current team, and the present state of the franchise has never, EVER had more promise. I cherish the present and look so forward to the future, but I arrived at this point because of those memories.
And that is what the logo means to me. Memories, past, present and future.
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