Sometimes, when there are questions with no definitive answers, we tend to reach toward the unexplained for reasoning. Is Buffalo cursed? If so, how and why?
For a few decades, there has been speculation that Buffalo, as a city, has some sort of mystical hex or curse cast upon them. There was Scott Norwood and his ‘wide-right’ kick that cost the Buffalo Bills the 1990 Super Bowl. That was followed by 3 more consecutive Super Bowl losses. There was the ‘Music City Miracle’ in the 1999 NFL Playoffs – the Bills were ahead 16-15 with 16 seconds left in the game, when a questionable lateral pass ultimately led to the Tennessee Titans to a last minute victory. The Bills have not been back to the playoffs since.
There was the Buffalo Braves, who ultimately became the current Los Angeles Clippers of the NBA. This team has never won a championship in it’s history.
Then, there is the Buffalo Sabres. 42 seasons, no Stanley Cups. Here are some fun facts:
-The Sabres once had one of the best lines in hockey history, the French Connection, comprised of Gilbert Perreault, Rick Martin, and Rene Robert. Despite this, the team could not capture a Cup, and lost to the Philadelphia Flyers in the Cup Finals of 1974-75.
-The Sabres once had one of the best tandems of all-time, Pat LaFontaine and Alexander Mogilny. The duo could not help Buffalo attain a Cup.
-The team went 10 seasons, from 1983 to 1993, without a playoff series victory.
-Only a team like the Sabres could have a coach of the year, Ted Nolan in 1996-97, then fire him.
-The Sabres had arguably one of the best goaltenders to ever play the game, Dominik Hasek, for 9 seasons and could not win a Cup. Hasek left in 2001-02 and immediately won the Cup with the Detroit Red Wings.
-The Sabres lost the 1999 Stanley Cup to the Dallas Stars due to one of the worst calls in sports history – the infamous ‘no-goal’ by Brett Hull.
-Lindy Ruff brings the Sabres to the Cup finals in his second season (1999), then never again in his following 13 seasons.
-The strong 2005-06 Sabres team that probably would have won the Cup, but lost to eventual Cup champion Carolina Hurricanes in the Conference Finals. The Sabres lost 4 of their top 6 defensemen during the playoffs, highlighted by Jay McKee’s mysterious leg infection.
-The Sabres gained a billionaire owner in Terry Pegula, and shortly thereafter, now find themselves dead last in the Eastern Conference, despite having one of the highest payrolls in the league.
So, what gives? Is there a curse on the Buffalo Sabres?
In 1974, the Sabres selected Taro Tsujimoto in the NHL Draft, 183rd overall, in the 11th round. Taro ended up playing in zero games for Buffalo, due to the fact that he was a fictional player that Punch Imlach selected as a joke on then NHL President Clarence Campbell.
Taro supposedly hailed from the Tokyo Katanas of the Japanese Hockey League, listed at 5’9 and 165 lbs, born March 15th, 1953. The “punchline” (get it) of the joke wasn’t revealed to the league until Taro never reported for training camp. The Sabres went on to the Cup Finals that season without Taro, lost, and the culture of never capturing the Cup has remained with Buffalo ever since.
The legend of Taro continued on for years. Back when Sabres fans were more vocal and rowdy (the Aud years), there were chants of “We Want Taro” whenever the team played poorly. Banners used to be hung up with “Taro Says” phrases containing witty banter (i.e. Bobby Orr has bad knees, but Taro has Japanese). Nowadays, we are relegated to one measly ‘Ennis The Menace’ sign and random Tyler Myers taunts.
In 2013, the theory that some form of a curse exists is believed in so strongly, that there is even entire websites devoted to it. Oh, mysterious planet, is it possible that a voodoo-hex-witchcraft-jinx-spell-curse-malevolent force is plaguing Buffalo and/or the Sabres? If so, are we able to exorcise those demons and be saved from this history of misery? Can a mythical hockey player be causing this? Babe Ruth supposedly cursed the Boston Red Sox and turned the New York Yankees into consistent champions, and I would hate to think that the Sabres are the Red Sox of hockey.
The Sabres throughout the years have tried different methods and styles. We have seen speedy teams, defense-oriented teams, high-powered teams, gritty teams, mediocre teams, penny-pinching teams, and our current expensive team. We have been through solid ownership, ownership that bankrupt the team and went to prison, ownership that was cheap, and now a billionaire owner. We have witnessed blockbuster trades, weak trade-deadline moves, great draft picks, lousy draft busts, and a Russian superstar being hunted by the KGB. What harm could it do to play into the idea that Taro Tsujimoto might be haunting the Buffalo Sabres?
I propose, since nothing else is working right now, that in a few weeks when Taro’s birthday comes on March 15th, that the Sabres finally put him to rest, and announce that moving forward, he will be removed from the media guides. He will always exist in Buffalo lore, why not put him officially to rest?
It may not be a coincidence that the name Taro is strikingly similar to ‘tarot,’ so let us flip that card back over, and move on.