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THANK YOU, SABRES!
Sabres fans find closure at rally
Tuesday, June 22, 1999

It was a beautiful summer day today in sunny Buffalo. In Niagara Square at noon today, 20,000 Sabres fans gathered to give the Buffalo Sabres a thank you rally. With a huge sign draping City Hall "Thank You Sabres," the rally proved a final closure to a very disappointing end to the 1998-99 season. About half the Sabres squad was there, as were owner John Rigas, Lindy Ruff, Darcy Regier and a host of local politicians. But this was the players day. The city paid tribute to a team that fought against all odds and came withing a whisker (or a blown video review) of taking the Stanley Cup Finals to the limit. Lindy Ruff closed out his speech by saying "I have two words to close with: NOOOOOO GOOOAL!" With that, the crowd went berserk.

There were a number of original signs that I felt voiced the mood of the community. One sign read "IF THEY CAN TAKE AWAY MISS AMERICA'S CROWN, THEY CAN TAKE AWAY THE CUP!" One fan went by with a huge white buffalo riding on top of his shoulders with a sign on the Bison saying "Thou shall not steal the Stanley Cup!" This was more of a rally for the fans to vent their anger, frustration and tears as it was to thank the Sabres. It served to fulfill the need for closure on the season. Now maybe the fans can get on with their lives.

The sport fans of Western New York have taken a lot of hits over the years. With the Buffalo Bills losing four straight Super Bowls, they are quite sensitive about losing the Big Ones. What this city didn't need was another championship loss to a Dallas team (the last two Super Bowls were massacres at the hands of the Cowboys). And the last possible thing fans here dreaded was to lose the Stanley Cup on home ice again (the Flyers had beaten the Sabres in game 6 in 1975 in Buffalo's old Memorial Auditorium). To have it happen the way it did, near the end of the third overtime and on a very controversial goal no less, sent a dagger into the hearts of devoted Sabre fans. With Western New York experiencing a rapidly declining population, and the highest taxes in the country, they were hoping to bring home a major league championship for once. Those hopes and dreams were shattered at 1:31 AM Sunday morning on a goal that hasn't been allowed the past three years. And when the NHL officials did a Watergate-type cover up operation, it made matters even worse.

But a bright sunny day in Buffalo can do wonders to cure the doldrums. Owner John Rigas pulled a Marv Levy and quoted Winston Churchill, saying "Give us the tools and we'll finish the job." The players were thrilled by the enthusiastic support and Ruff said, "this is a party that should be taking place three days from now, to celebrate the Stanley Cup championship!"

For me, the rally helped set matter straight. It was full closure. Next on the agenda is the Expansion Draft and then the armature Draft in Boston. Now maybe we can all get back to reality again!

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