It would be cool if the Buffalo Bills invited Bishop Michael Curry to “lead the charge” as the players run onto New Era Field before a game this season. In case you’re not familiar, Curry is the Episcopal minister who became an internet sensation after delivering that rousing, passionate sermon about the power of love at the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle last Saturday.
The first African American to preside over the Episcopal Church in the United States, Curry has strong ties to Buffalo. He grew up there and graduated from high school there. And, yes, he is a lifelong Bills fan.
“That’s the origin of his belief in hope,” a friend of his told Buffalo radio station WBFO when asked about Curry’s fandom. The bishop also describes himself as “a certified NFL grief counselor.”
It all makes him divinely qualified to climb onto that end zone stage at New Era and wave the Bills flag.
A doff of the helmet to the Bills for deciding to retire Thurman Thomas’ No. 34 this October. The franchise’s all-time rushing leader deserves to join Jim Kelly (12) and Bruce Smith (78) as the only Bills to be so honored. And after Andre Reed’s No. 83 is taken out of circulation down the road, that should do it for a while.
No need to make a mockery of it the way the Boston Celtics and New York Yankees have, with 23 and 22 retired numbers, respectively. Yes, I’m well aware those franchises have longer and much richer histories than the Bills, but when you retire that many numbers, the honor becomes as watered down as a pitcher of beer with a block of ice floating in it. That’s what team halls or walls of fame are for. Honor your best, but save the jersey retirements for the best of your best.
Interestingly, the Bills do have another number retired, though not officially. That would be O.J. Simpson’s 32. I can’t imagine the team ever reissuing the digits of a man accused of double murder, though Simpson’s name remains on the Wall of Fame, a thorny issue to be sure. So, even if a Buffalo newcomer has worn 32 since his Pop Warner days, he’s going to have to find a new number to call his own.
As the sponsor of last Friday’s “Renew Your Vows Night” at Frontier Field, Bernie Puglisi was given the opportunity to throw out a ceremonial first pitch. Though honored by the offer, the owner of Nolan’s Party & Tent Rentals asked one of his sales reps, Greg Witkowski, to pinch-throw for him. And that wasn’t Puglisi’s only request. He also proposed that this would be the perfect setting for Witkowski to make a wedding proposal to his girlfriend.
Witkowski loved the idea, and the two men began plotting how to pull off their big surprise. After he and former Boston Red Sox World Series hero Bernie Carbo tossed their ceremonial first pitches, Rochester Red Wings General Manager Dan Mason called Witkowski to join him next to Bernie.
“Greg, you’re a baseball guy,’’ Mason said into the on-field microphone. “Do you have any questions for Bernie?”
Greg said he didn’t, but he did have one for his girlfriend, Jill Emmighausen, who was standing nearby. There, in front of several thousand people, Witkowski dropped to a knee and asked Jill to marry him. She began sobbing tears of joy to the point where her response was inaudible. Mason took the mic from Greg and told the audience, “She said yes.”
“I think she was wondering why Bernie wasn’t throwing out the first pitch, but we managed to pull it off and wound up taking her by surprise,’’ Witkowski said. “I can’t thank the Wings enough for making it go so smoothly. And I can’t thank Bernie enough. It was his idea in the first place. He’s always doing things like that for other people.”
The St. John Fisher College women’s softball team didn’t experience the storybook ending it sought, losing two games to Ithaca College in a best-of-three superregional over the weekend. Those losses prevented the Cardinals from returning to the NCAA Division III World Series, where they had hoped to avenge championship game losses the past two seasons. Despite the disappointing finish, these young women made memories and learned lessons that will last a lifetime. They’ll never forget the courage Bari Mance showed them while continuing to coach through chemotherapy treatments for breast cancer. The way these players rallied around her is more valuable and lasting than any ring or trophy. It was the stuff of true champions.
Citing the high number of bowl opportunities for their football brethren, the Atlantic Coast Conference basketball coaches urged league leaders to lobby for an expansion of the NCAA hoops tournament from 68 to 72 teams. I think it’s a foolish idea. Here’s a better one: drastically reduce the number of bowl games. As it stands now, more than half of all major college football programs are eligible for the postseason, and that has led to participants with losing records. Let’s cut the number of bowl games in half, keep the hoops tournament the way it is and return to rewarding success rather than mediocrity.
St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Jordan Hicks threw two 105 mph pitches the other night and two more clocked at 104 mph and one at 103 mph. That’s insane. And as more pitchers break triple digits, you start to wonder if we’ll reach a point where hitters no longer can react rapidly enough to balls thrown that hard from 60 feet, six inches.
Best-selling author and nationally honored journalist Scott Pitoniak is the Rochester Business Journal sports columnist.