Tonawanda News

Opinion

August 21, 2011

DUVALL: Tip of the cap goes to ex-Sabre Drury

— — We live in an age where our biggest stars — politicians, actors, athletes, artists — rarely meet their myth. He wasn’t a household name in every city in America, but Chris Drury was due all his accolades here in Western New York.

Drury retired from hockey on Friday, ending a special 12-year career. He spent his best years in a Buffalo Sabres uniform and gave diehard fans — who had seen their team on the brink of extinction just a few years before —something to cheer about.

I have been a diehard sports fan in this town all my life. The Sabres and Bills aren’t just teams to root for, they are woven into the very fabric of life here. With so many things that have gone wrong in this region — the faltering economy, the exodus of our brightest minds to sunnier pastures, the endless political henpecking — perhaps we assign too much importance to these two sports teams. I can’t deny my feelings of community pride are rooted in their very existence, as much as they are in anything else.

That’s why it’s so rare that we find a player who met — exceeded, really — those lofty expectations.

Drury only played three seasons in Buffalo (a fourth was lost to the lockout), but it sure seems like it was more than that. The two seasons immediately after the lockout comprise many of my fondest Buffalo sports memories. In a town that’s known for its losing ways, Drury’s Sabres — and make no mistake, it was his team — account for more good times than almost any other in the 28 years I’ve been watching these teams.

That 2005-06 team was pure magic. No one saw them coming, probably because they skated so fast. After years of a moribund franchise that lost more than it won, finally Buffalo fans had a winner. That first post-lockout season was the most fun I’ve ever had as a Sabres fan. We should have won the Stanley Cup that season. We would have, had it not been for a baffling string of injuries in the conference finals that saw four of our six starting defenseman go down to injury.

I remember going to the Bisons stadium to watch the sixth game of that series with a few dozen friends. Facing elimination, the Sabres rallied late to tie the game and then won it in overtime on a power play goal by Daniel Briere.

What transpired after that was unlike anything I’ve ever been a part of. We, of course, went bananas. As we poured out onto Washington Street, the scene that unfolded was incredible. We literally danced in the streets. Traffic was at a standstill and no one seemed to care. Car horns honked, we yelled and chanted.

For a city that knows little about unbridled joy, on that night our boys delivered.

The following season, I jumped on the bandwagon full-time when a group of old college friends coalesced around the idea of buying Sabres season tickets. Six of us share these seats still today; section 307, row 11, seats 9 and 10 (I usually sit in seat 10) have become one of my favorite places on Earth.

There’s a lesson to be learned here and it has nothing to do with hockey, per se. It has to do with what greatness means and how it translates into so many other, smaller great things.

An athlete like Drury comes to town, plays well, finds success. From that, thousands and thousands of people find a common rallying point. Hockey, more than any other sport, I think, reinforces this sense of community in its fans.

It is no small stretch to say the way the Sabres have played has made my life richer. I have friends and family to watch the games with. I have something to talk about with strangers at a bar.

I’ve always found a neat little metaphor in the ubitiquous chant in HSBC Arena, “Let’s go Buff-a-lo!”

Other places, fans come together to cheer for the team. Here, we come together and cheer for our city — for each other, really.

For that reason alone, we owe our gratitude to a player who made it possible.

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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