Tonawanda News

Opinion

February 23, 2011

DUVALL: Believing in one of our own

— — Finally, there is someone who did exactly what I would do if I made a billion dollars: first, make my family comfortable and then go buy the Buffalo Sabres.

Really, how cool is that?

As a lifelong fan of this team who’s been through more bad times than good, before today I never realized the one thing that irked me. Aside from the Knoxes, whose era was drawing to a close as I was coming of age in the sport, I have never known what it feels like to have an owner whose passion for the team rivals my own. I imagine a lot of Buffalo sports fans might share the same sentiment.

If I had a few billion dollars, why would I, as the owner of a sports team that I’d loved since childhood, spare any expense? What does money mean when you have that much of it, and what is it worth if you aren’t willing to spend some of it on the things you’re passionate about?

That’s why I never really understood the greed of the Rigases, or the frugality of Tom Golisano — people who had more money than they could ever possibly spend, and who still pinched pennies (or, in the case of the Rigases, stole them.)

It was always clear they didn’t love the team as much as its fans do. They lacked the passion a leader must have to inspire greatness in players and hope in fans.

If first impressions count for anything, we have that man now in Terry Pegula — and it feels great.

Pegula’s introduction went about as well as it could have. He earned some serious street cred with diehard fans telling stories about having friends hold a telephone up to a television so he could hear the games after he’d moved out of town. He hit a similar emotional note when he glanced off the dais at HSBC Arena and started to cry at the sight of his boyhood hero Gilbert Perreault sitting in the front row.

Even the most cynical Sabres fans were smiling.

Like any Sabres fan, I have from time to time fantasized about what it would be like to own the team; what it would feel like to win a Stanley Cup. And if I spend too much time thinking about it — say, any more than 30 seconds or so — I can start crying like John Boehner in a room full of kindergartners.

That sounds silly if it were just about a hockey team. Of course, it is so much more than that. Sports is woven into the fabric of life here. Many of my fondest life memories are of the monumental moments in Buffalo sports history, not only because of the game. Lord knows, if it were only about the outcome of the games I’d be crying for an entirely different reason when I think about the Sabres.

I love this team because it brings me closer to the people and city I love. I get to go to games with friends and watch them on television with family. I get to talk about it with strangers at bars. It gives us a sense of identity and civic pride in an age when those things are in too short supply. Though they haven’t won a Stanley Cup, the Buffalo Sabres have already given those of us who care about them far more than we ever could have asked for.

I got the sense watching Pegula on Tuesday that he feels the same way. He was at turns Tuesday, a passionate fan, shrewd businessman and rambling parent bragging about his children. It is remarkably fortunate that all those things combined to make a man who wants to run this team the way it should have been run all along.

I never got the sense that Pegula is doing this out of some urge to create a do-gooder facade like the crook John Rigas, or as a corollary to a political agenda like Tom Golisano.

Terry Pegula would appear to have bought the Buffalo Sabres because he and his family love the sport and love the team — and because they happen to have $4 billion, which certainly helps turn dreams real.

Buffalonians love to call themselves blue collar. We have a low threshold for crap and an undying loyalty to those who see in us what we try to be: honest, hardworking folks who know how to have a good time.

Pegula instantly earned that loyalty Tuesday. It’s his to lose, but for the first time ever I actually believe they’re going to win.

Others have made promises: Rigas promised after the Sabres fell short of the Cup in the 1999 finals that he would provide the tools to finish the job; Golisano, that he would eat his microphone if the Sabres missed the playoffs.

What’s different about Pegula’s promises? Well, I guess it’s just that we’ve never had one of our own making them before.

Eric DuVall is the managing editor of the Tonawanda News. His column appears Wednesdays and Sundays. Contact him at eric.duvall@tonawanda-news.com.

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