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On Bills fans’ behavior, team nicknames and a lost mascot

I’ve long been intrigued by the passion of sports fans. But there is a difference between passion and stupidity, and the stupidity of drunken Buffalo Bills tailgaters is on full display in a newly released 10-minute mini-documentary.

Barstool Sports president Dave Portnoy, whose company produced the film, said it was meant to be humorous. I know I’m not his demographic, but I found it to be embarrassing, repugnant and somewhat scary at times. That people would get so sloshed that they would risk life and limb by jumping off campers onto tables or leaping onto flaming grills doesn’t tickle my funny bone. And we’re not talking solely about immature young people here. This doc features numerous baby boomers suffering from serious cases of arrested development.

To me, the film is a huge black eye for Buffalo, and an insult to the majority of Bills fans who care deeply about their team and behave in a more responsible manner. This flick focuses on a faction of crazies looking for their 15 minutes of fame. (Or should I say their 15 minutes of infamy?) It’s filled with selfie-absorbed, liquored-up people hoping their juvenile behavior goes viral. And Barstool Sports, a multimillion dollar sports and entertainment company based in Boston, not only gives them a forum but celebrates their boorishness. You won’t hear any complaints from Portnoy, who has to be laughing all the way to the bank, because this is the kind of click-bait behavior companies like his love to exploit.

I’m no prude. I’ve covered enough NFL games to know they can be R-rated events. And I, too, enjoy having a few adult beverages while rooting for the old home team when I’m not wearing my journalist’s cap. But there’s nothing funny about this film. In fact, it’s rather sad.

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My curiosity has been piqued by the news that production has begun on a new movie about Lou Gehrig, tentatively titled, “The Luckiest Man on the Face of the Earth.” It will be interesting to see how director Jay Rush modernizes a story originally immortalized in the schmaltzy but poignant 1941 movie, “Pride of the Yankees,’’ starring Gary Cooper. Interestingly, Robert Molloy, grandson of late New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, is one of the new film’s producers.

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The rich just keep getting richer. After winning their fifth Super Bowl in February, the New England Patriots have won the off-season. The acquisitions of New Orleans Saints wide receiver Brandin Cooks, Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore and New York Jets linebacker David Harris will make them even stronger. This, of course, is bad news for the Bills who appear headed in the right direction with new coach Sean McDermott and new general manager Brandon Beane, but probably are looking at an 18th consecutive season without the playoffs.

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Bills loyalists will be happy to hear that Tom Brady is regarded as the most hated player in football, according to Sporting News. The Patriots quarterback “earned” that dubious distinction because he benefited from the Tuck Rule, Spygate and Deflategate, but also because of the jealously engendered by his record-tying five Super Bowl rings. The magazine ranked Brady as the fifth most hated player in NFL history. The top spot belongs to Michael Vick because of his involvement in that heinous, dog-fighting scandal. Bills guard Richie Incognito was ninth on the active list and 18th all-time. Former Bills in the all-time rankings: Marshawn Lynch (40th), Conrad Dobler (15th) and Terrell Owens (2nd). I’m surprised O.J. Simpson’s name didn’t show up.

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The Syracuse Chiefs will stage an interesting promotion on Aug. 5 when for one game—and one game only—they’ll be called the Syracuse Salt Potatoes. The Chiefs solicited nickname candidates from fans, and team officials made the final call. There’s a historical connection, according to General Manager Jason Smorol, who years ago held a similar position with Batavia’s minor-league team. Salt potatoes were popular among Irish immigrants in the 1800s, particularly in Syracuse, which has long been known as the Salt City. The Chiefs received International League approval for the one-game name change and will wear uniforms and caps with logos showing a Mr. Potato Head-like figure holding a fork with melting butter on its head.

It got me to thinking about what nicknames Rochester sports fans might broach. Food and drink options could include the “White Hots” or the “Genny Cream Ales.” I would suggest the name of one of our historical figures. How about the “Susan B’s” after Susan B. Anthony? Or the “Eastmans” after Eastman Kodak Co. founder George Eastman? Or the “Douglasses” after abolitionist Frederick Douglass, whose son Frederick Jr. was a pretty fair baseball player for an integrated team in the Rochester area in the late 1800s before moving to Washington, D.C.

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A recent mention of R.W. Homer, the Wings old baseball-shaped mascot, elicited a response from friend and current Miami Marlins broadcaster Glenn Geffner. As an intern with the Wings in the early 1990s, he occasionally had to play Homer. Before Glenn left to work for the Boston Red Sox, Wings general manager Dan Mason asked what he would like for parting gifts. Glenn requested the retired Homer costume and the pitching rubber from the Silver Stadium bullpen where he proposed to his wife. No problem, Mason told him. Unfortunately, someone wound up stealing both items.

So, if anyone knows the whereabouts of these pieces of Rochester sports history, please contact me. Glenn would love to have them.

“I have a picture of me as R.W. Homer saved on my phone to this day,’’ he wrote recently. “I pull it out every time I talk to students and even interns and others just starting out in their careers in baseball. It’s a reminder about paying your dues and also about how fondly you’ll hopefully look back on those times many years down the road.”

Best-selling author and nationally honored journalist Scott Pitoniak is the Rochester Business Journal sports columnist.

(c) 2017 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-363-7269 or email madams@bridgetowermedia.com.

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