Just when I’m ready to proclaim that sports aren’t all that important in the grand scheme of things, something powerful occurs that sets me straight. And this time I can thank Buffalo Bills fans for helping me see the light.
During this annus horribilis — Latin for horrible year — a pandemic has kept Bills Mafia members from attending games and celebrating in-person their beloved team’s best start in a quarter-century. But it hasn’t stopped them from making a big-hearted impact — one felt well beyond One Bills Drive.
Since learning about the death of Josh Allen’s grandmother two weeks ago, Bills fans have donated more than $700,000 to Buffalo’s Oishei Children’s Hospital in her memory. Over the weekend, officials announced they would be dedicating a “Patricia Allen Pediatric Recovery Wing” on the hospital’s sports-themed 10th floor. It will feature a playroom for kids and a photograph of Josh pointing skyward in honor of his grandmother.
Bills fans started a GoFundMe page shortly after learning Allen had engineered a 44-34 upset of the Seattle Seahawks on November 8, less than 24 hours after he received news of Patricia’s passing. Most of the donations were $17, a nod to Josh’s jersey number.
Each year, at this time, I write about things from the world of sports for which I’m grateful. I’m definitely grateful for this heart-felt gesture by Bills fans. You make me want to shout and sing your praises.
With that in mind, here are a bunch of sports-related things for which I am also thankful:
- Former Olympic fencer Ann Marsh-Senic and current Rochester Community Baseball board member Ryan Brecker — both emergency room physicians — and all the other health care professionals who have worked on the front lines during the coronavirus pandemic;
- The sounds of bats hitting balls, sneakers squeaking on hardwood courts, putts dropping into cups and skate blades carving up ice;
- Athlete, scholar and author Tim Green, whose books and literacy programs have brought the joys of reading to tens of thousands of middle-schoolers, and whose courageous fight against ALS continues to inspire, with his supporters donating more than $4 million for new research;
- The never-fail-to-bring-a-smile-to-your face malapropisms of late catcher/wordsmith Yogi Berra;
- The Carrier Dome, Frontier Field, Buffalo Bills Stadium, Blue Cross Arena — may we travel through your turnstiles again in 2021;
- Birthday and Father’s Day games of catch with my kids, grandkids and bride;
- Classic movies, such as “Field of Dreams,” “Hoosiers,” “Bull Durham,” “Slap Shot,” “The Pride of the Yankees,” “The Express,” and “42”;
- Having known sporting friends no longer with us, including Johnny Antonelli, Jean Giambrone, Jerry Flynn, George Beahon, Nick and Sammy Urzetta, Al Cervi, Carmen Basilio, Mike Fennell, Jack Garner, Rick Woodson, Tom Batzold, Kent Hull, John Ricco, Pearl Washington, Bob Schwartz, Pat Stark, and Bob Parker;
- Trips to Syracuse and Yankee games with my paisans;
- College athletes and coaches from youth leagues, high schools, and colleges who have kept the faith despite having their seasons interrupted or erased by COVID-19;
- Mentors such as Frank Bilovsky, John Pitarresi, Vic Carucci and Jim Memmott, who helped me become a better writer and helped me through some dark times;
- The Baseball Hall of Fame in bucolic Cooperstown;
- Jim Kelly’s remarkable fortitude;
- Being there to see Mickey Mantle muscle baseballs into the upper deck; Michael Jordan sink a buzzer-beating, game-winning jumper; Muhammad Ali light the Olympic cauldron; Frank Reich engineer a miraculous comeback; Syracuse upset top-ranked Nebraska in football; Michael Phelps swim to a record eighth Olympic gold medal; and Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods drain long and winding birdie putts at Oak Hill Country Club;
- The annual Challenger Baseball World Series at Frontier Field, and how it gives kids with disabilities a chance to show off their abilities;
- Transcendent books, such as Roger Kahn’s “Boys of Summer,” which had a profound influence on my life and career;
- The magnetic attraction of Lord Stanley’s cup;
- The heroism of Don Holleder, Bob Kalsu, Gary Scott and Tom Way — four local athletes who paid the ultimate sacrifice in Vietnam;
- Friendships with Rochester sports figures Joe Altobelli, Roosevelt Bouie, Fred Costello, Soccer Sam Fantauzzo, Jody Gage, Jim Johnson, Tommy Kress, Gary Larder, Marv Levy, J-Mac, Dan Mason, Ed Nietopski, Diann Roffe, Naomi Silver, Don Stevens, Cathy Turner, Felicia and Iris Zimmermann and many others;
- The Courage Bowl, a Gary Mervis-inspired idea that, among other things, gives kids with cancer an opportunity to be a part of a college football team and cheer squad;
- Yankee pinstripes, UCLA’s powder blue and gold football uniforms and the Rochester Americans’ red, white and blue crest;
- Fans who purchased those cardboard cutouts so they could be there in spirit at spectator-less games;
- Memories of my first ballgame at Yankee Stadium with my dad on Sept. 17, 1966;
- Butterflies fluttering in the stomach before a kickoff, first pitch, tipoff or opening faceoff;
- The annual Rochester Press-Radio Club Children’s Charity Dinner, which has brought to town some of sport’s biggest names and raised more than a million dollars for worthy causes;
- Lou Gehrig’s “luckiest man on the face of the earth” and Jim Valvano’s “never, ever give up” speeches;
- News that the Rochester Red Wings will be affiliated with the Washington Nationals, ensuring the longest-running minor-league franchise in baseball history will carry on;
- Ralph Wilson, who brought the Bills to Western New York and ensured they would stay here, and whose foundation continues to positively impact lives here;
- Marching bands, pep bands and college fight songs;
- The games that went on and continue to go on during the coronavirus; they’ve served a purpose;
- The Green Monster at Fenway, the ivy covering Wrigley Field’s outfield walls, and the massive brick warehouse at Camden Yards;
- People who have read my stuff and passed it on to others. I couldn’t have done this for nearly 50 years without you.
Best-selling author and nationally honored journalist Scott Pitoniak is the Rochester Business Journal sports columnist. His latest book, “Remembrances of Swings Past: A Lifetime of Baseball Stories,” is available in paperback and digitally at amazon.com.