We’re all hoping Damar Hamlin makes a miraculous recovery

As I write this, Damar Hamlin lies sedated in a hospital bed at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center in critical condition. And, like the millions who watched in horror as the Buffalo Bills safety collapsed to the turf during the first quarter of Monday night’s game against the Bengals at Paycor Stadium, I anxiously await updates and pray he will be OK.

At this point, I could give a rat’s fanny about the rescheduling of this game or playoff implications. At this point, all I care about is the well-being of a 24-year-old man who should have the best years of his life in front of him. Difficult situations like this one provide a stadium-full of perspective. We are reminded this is someone’s son, someone’s brother, someone’s friend — a human being, not just some number on a football depth chart.

We watch sports to escape reality, but occasionally reality barges into our playpens uninvited and the games truly become matters of life and death. Although I have never seen an athlete suffer cardiac arrest on a field the way Hamlin did, I have been there for similarly harrowing, chilling moments. And some of those moments came rushing back as I struggled to sleep after finally going to bed in the wee hours of Tuesday morning.

I was in the press box at then-Ralph Wilson Stadium on September 9, 2007 when Bills tight end Kevin Everett suffered a near-fatal collision with Denver Broncos kick returner Domenik Hixon. Like the situation with Hamlin, trainers and doctors attended to Everett on the field, while players from both teams prayed, hugged and shed tears. In Hamlin’s case, the medical staff worked furiously to restore his heartbeat through CPR before lifting him into the ambulance that whisked him to the medical center two miles from the stadium.

After examining Everett, doctors began hypothermic treatment, which drastically lowered his body temperature and reduced swelling around his injured spine. Eventually, they were able to place him in the ambulance. Those were different, less sensitive times, and the game resumed shortly after the ambulance drove through the tunnel.

Despite their swift actions, doctors were not optimistic about Everett’s prognosis, telling us the day after the game that his injuries were “catastrophic” and “life-threatening.” But their pessimistic outlook changed dramatically 24 hours later when Everett began moving his legs and was taken off the respirator because he was able to breath on his own again. A new prognosis was issued, with doctors predicting Everett would walk again, a forecast that came true several weeks later.

Almost a year to the day after that near-death experience, Everett was back at the Ralph, walking on his own power to a midfield podium to receive the George Halas Award for Courage.

“It brought tears to my eyes, especially at the beginning of the game while I was looking at that spot on the field [where he had suffered a fracture and dislocation of his cervical spine],’’ he said. “I felt like it was a miracle.”

I was there at the Houston Astrodome on September 24, 1989, when Bills cornerback Derrick Burroughs ducked his head while making a tackle, pinching his spinal cord between the third and fourth vertebrae. That scene of Burroughs lying limp on the turf, unable to move his arms and legs, remains vivid and shocking three decades later. The looks of grave concern on the faces of trainer Bud Carpenter and Burroughs’ teammates were similar to looks I witnessed Monday night.

After immobilizing his body and sliding it onto a stretcher, Burroughs was put into the ambulance. Like after the Everett injury, the game went on. A few days later, he regained sensation and movement in his limbs and was able to fly back to Buffalo. However, he was told he could never play football again because he was diagnosed with cervical stenosis — a narrowing of the spinal column.

“I was extremely depressed for the longest time because something I loved had been taken from me way too soon,’’ he said. “But over time, I came to realize that my injury had been a blessing because it enabled them to discover my condition. Had I kept playing there’s a chance I’d have wound up paralyzed.”

I was there in the Carrier Dome on January 17, 1982, when another near-fatal experience sucked the air out of me and a raucous arena. Nearly 25,000 had shown up to watch Georgetown center Patrick Ewing’s highly anticipated Dome debut, and the Syracuse faithful couldn’t wait to give him the business. The crowd was so loud at opening tip that I struggled to converse with reporters on either side of me on press row.

A minute into the game’s first timeout, the place became eerily silent, save for the agonizing voice of a young women in distress. The Syracuse cheerleaders had formed a human pyramid, four bodies high, on the court, and at the end of their routine, 5-foot-1 inch Michelle Munn, back-flipped from the top, but no one was in place to catch her. She landed on her head, and soon, the only sounds you heard were Munn’s screams as the medics attended to her. She was taken by ambulance to nearby Crouse-Irving Memorial Hospital where she was diagnosed with a fractured skull.

The game, which was being telecast nationally on NBC, resumed, but the players and coaches didn’t seem into it. “For the first time in my life, I wanted to stop playing,’’ said Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim. “It shook me up.” Forty minutes after the accident, Dome public address announcer Carl Eilenberg informed the crowd that Munn was “in stable condition.” The news was greeted with thunderous applause. Munn returned to campus after about a week and completed her engineering studies that year. Today, she lives in Boca Raton, Fla., the mother of three grown children and six grandchildren.

Fortunately, the game did not go on Monday night. Nobody was in any mood to play football after watching Hamlin fight for his life. The NFL is a tight-knit brotherhood. The players and coaches understand the dangers involved but do their best to suppress those fears. Sometimes, though, it’s impossible to keep the risks buried. A teammate collapses to the turf. Reality crashes the party. And all we can do is hope and pray for miracles like the ones experienced by Everett, Burroughs, and Munn.

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

Heritage Christian unveils new logo, collaboration with Buffalo Bills’ defender  

Heritage Christian Services will unveil Thursday evening a new logo and tagline: People of possibility, conveying its mission to promote the inclusivity of all people and its belief in the endless possibilities for everyone it serves.  

The logo will be unveiled during pre-game festivities on Heritage Christian Services’ Facebook page at 7 p.m. in advance of the primetime game between the Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots. 

Buffalo Bills’ cornerback Cam Lewis and his collaboration with Heritage Christian Services will also be highlighted at that time.  

Lewis chose Heritage Christian Services as his charitable organization for NFL My Cause My Cleats, a program to help players raise awareness about causes and organizations.  

During tonight’s game, Lewis will wear customized cleats with a unique design inspired by the people he met during a recent visit to a Heritage Christian Services location, as well as the organization’s mission. 

The shoes that Lewis wears during tonight’s game will be auctioned off. Proceeds will go to Heritage Christian Services. (submitted photo)

As part of My Cause My Cleats, the shoes that Lewis wears during tonight’s game will go to a public auction where bids will be accepted for five weeks. Proceeds from the auction will go to Heritage Christian Services and its mission.

“We’re thrilled that Cam Lewis chose Heritage Christian Services as the organization he’s supporting through My Cause My Cleats and we celebrate our shared values around inclusivity and dignity for all people,” said Marisa Geitner, president and CEO of Heritage Christian Services. “Our founding principles remain the same and our refreshed brand reflects how we welcome the community to the next generation of services and supports, and how we invite people to join our workforce.” 

During a recent visit to Heritage Christian Services, Lewis spoke about his shared values with the people there. 

“Nothing is impossible, really,” Lewis said. “And, you know, just keeping that drive, always bring back love and care, because that always plays a big thing in today’s world, there’s so much hate out there. So, having that love, that care, that drive, nothing is not possible.” 

To see some of Lewis’s visit to Heritage Christian Services, tune in live at 7 p.m. to Facebook.com/HeritageChristianServices. 

[email protected] / (585) 653-4021 

College football’s gluttonous bowl schedule about to begin, perhaps sans numerous stars

Tis the season to be jolly — and bowled over by college football bowl games. Forty-one are scheduled for December and January, and that’s not counting the national championship game, which has replaced the Rose Bowl in Pasadena as “the granddaddy of them all.”

This means 82 of major college football’s 131 teams will be participating in post-season bowls, many of which boast corporate names that either roll or stumble off the tongue. My personal favorites are the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, the Bad Boy Mowers Pinstripe Bowl, the Cheeze-It Bowl and the Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl, which portends to be “Grrrrrrrreat!’’ Heck, there’s even the Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl, sponsored by the longest current running late-night talk show host and believed to be the first bowl named after a person.

With 63 percent of major college teams now eligible, we’ve far exceeded the saturation point; we’re under water. The NCAA once required teams to win at least six games to be bowl-eligible, but the greedy governing body of college sports now finds itself in a situation where demand has far outstripped supply, meaning you will see some teams with 5-7 records participating. Once again, mediocrity is rewarded in a world where everyone receives a trophy and students are given “A’s” just for showing up.

If the content-starved execs of network television and streaming services had their way, they would petition the NCAA to make every team eligible. It would be like one of those binge product giveaways at the end of old Oprah Winfrey Shows. “You get a bowl invitation! And you get a bowl invitation! And you get a bowl invitation!’’

Oh, well. Maybe I’m just getting old and cranky, but I liked it a lot better when postseasons in all sports weren’t so watered-down and actually rewarded teams for regular seasons well played. All that said, I’ll probably be lured into watching some of them, and might even be forced to acknowledge that a few of these games were “Grrrrrrrreat!”


Speaking of bowls, Syracuse University was one of the first teams in the country to become eligible after sprinting to a 6-0 record. That start proved as hollow as a Wiffle ball bat, as the Orange lost their next five and needed a stirring comeback against a poor Boston College team Saturday night in order to stop the bleeding and finish 7-5.

It’s still to be determined which bowl they’ll wind up in. Of greater concern is the possibility they’ll be going bowling without, arguably, their most valuable player, Sean Tucker. The sophomore running back played through some nagging injuries this season, but has looked like his old, dynamic self lately, as evidenced by his 125-yard rushing effort against BC. And with extra time to rest before the bowl game, Tucker should be even healthier.

But his decision to play or not to play has nothing to do with his current condition and everything to do with his NFL aspirations. The third-leading rusher in SU history almost certainly will enter the 2023 draft and may decide a meaningless bowl game isn’t worth the injury risk. Like numerous players, he may opt to use the time to begin training for February’s NFL scouting combine. Tucker’s stock dropped this season, but he still projects as a third-round pick, according to a simulator that tracks all the major mock drafts. Last year’s third-round picks received signing bonuses that ranged from a high of $1.1 million to a low of $849,000.

The traditionalist in me bemoans the fact that increasingly more star players are opting out of bowl games. But the realist in me understands why. There is a lot of money waiting for them, and they could squander it all if they were to be injured in a bowl game. So, as much as I would hate to see Tucker and a few of his teammates with pro potential sit out what should be the biggest games of their collegiate careers, I understand the rationale.

Some players attempt to protect themselves by taking out costly insurance policies. But I don’t believe that is going to stem this trend. I feel for fans and alumni. The team they rooted for during the regular season very well might not be the team they root for in the post-season.


The Buffalo Bills have been among the healthiest NFL teams in recent years, ranking near the top in fewest games missed by starters. A huge part of that was attributable to their medical and training staffs, which have employed the latest science and technology to prevent and mitigate injuries, and help their players perform at their peaks. But that healthy stretch also was due, in part, to luck. And this year, obviously, their luck has been bad.

Key players such as Micah Hyde, Jordan Poyer, Matt Milano, Mitch Morse, Tremaine Edmunds, and Tre White all have missed significant time, and Von Miller soon will be joining them. Meanwhile, Josh Allen continues to gut through a sprained UCL in his throwing elbow that’s affected his passing.

A schedule that has forced the Bills to play four games in 19 days on turf certainly hasn’t helped. That they’ve managed to rebound from a mid-season swoon is a testament to their toughness and roster depth. If they continue to persevere and regain control of their division and conference, it will make their achievement even more impressive.


Liked the news that the New York Yankees may approach legends Don Mattingly and Derek Jeter about joining YES network game telecasts. Would like the news even more if they were approached about being the team’s manager and director of baseball operations, respectively.

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

Battered Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills seek answers to mid-season swoon 

We’ve been reminded again that NFL fortunes can change in a snap. Or, in the case of the Buffalo Bills, a fumbled snap. 

Last week, fans fretted over Josh Allen’s strained throwing elbow, the most talked about wing in Western New York. Those concerns were quickly allayed during Sunday afternoon’s game at Highmark Stadium, only to be replaced by a new worry: the condition of Josh Allen’s bruised and battered psyche.  

For the second consecutive week, Buffalo managed to squander a double-digit, fourth-quarter lead and lose a game it should have won. And the man most responsible for building those leads and giving them away was Josh Allen. 

A month ago, after out-dueling Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes on the road, Josh was the leading candidate for NFL MVP. Now, he’s leading the NFL in interceptions with 10. 

He was picked off two more times in Sunday’s 33-30 overtime loss to Minnesota and fumbled away a snap in his own end zone, while nursing a four-point lead with 41 seconds remaining in regulation. The Vikings recovered for the improbable, dispiriting go-ahead touchdown. Josh managed to drive the Bills down the field for the field goal that sent the game into OT. And it appeared he was going to redeem himself by engineering a victory march during the extra session, but he wound up throwing an interception in the end zone that iced the Vikings win. 

In the second half of his last three games, Josh has six interceptions and two lost fumbles. His red zone problems are even more alarming. Since week five, six of his eight turnovers (five picks and a lost fumble) have occurred inside the opposition’s 20-yard line. That’s in stark contrast to the efficiency of his first four NFL seasons, when he threw just two interceptions in the red zone. Every coach since the leather football helmet days of Pop Warner and Amos Alonzo Stagg has preached that turnovers are killers, and the Bills have committed at least two of them in five of their last six games. Hardly a formula for success. 

And now a team favored to win it all finds itself in third place in the AFC East, trailing the Miami Dolphins (7-3) and New York Jets (6-3), both of whom have beaten Buffalo. Were the playoffs to commence today, the Bills would be the fifth seed in the conference and forced to open the postseason on the road. It’s too early to panic, but it’s not too early to be concerned. 

The NFL is wackier than ever this year. How many of you predicted the New York Giants would have a better record than the Bills through nine games? And who thought the Chiefs, sans star receiver Tyreek Hill, would be dominating an AFC West division that was supposed to be the most competitive in football history? 

The Bills will have an opportunity to right things the next two weeks with potential “get-well” games versus the 3-6 Cleveland Browns in Orchard Park and the 3-6 Lions in Detroit on Thanksgiving Day. And they control their destiny in the AFC East, with four division games remaining (home against the Jets, Dolphins and New England Patriots, and on the road vs. the Patriots.) 

But much will depend on Josh doing a better job of protecting the football and making wiser decisions, especially in the red zone and at the end of games. He has been trying to do too much lately. And that’s somewhat understandable, given the banged-up Bills defense, which has dearly missed injured safeties Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer, and shutdown cornerback Tre’Davious White, and the issues with the offensive line, secondary receivers, and a rushing attack that remains overly reliant on Josh. 

Some of the coaching decisions also continue to baffle. Had Sean McDermott kicked a chip-shot field goal to go up 30-10 early in the fourth quarter Buffalo would be 7-2 and we wouldn’t be having this conversation. 

One of the things that has made Josh great is his drive and determination; his willingness to do whatever it takes to get the job done. But it can be a detriment when you try to do too much. As we witnessed early in his career, his attempts to play “hero ball” can result in “zero ball.” Lately, he appears to have reverted to some bad habits by trying to force the issue. This has led to too many giveaways and not enough touchdowns during crunch time. 

“Sometimes before you win, you’ve got to prevent yourself from losing,’’ McDermott said. “I know that’s a negative connotation, but that’s really where it starts.” 

Adversity comes calling every season. Slumps happen. Players and coaches press. Fans despair. Josh needs to get back to being the Josh we saw a month ago. He needs to relax a bit. Stop trying to do too much. And he needs others to do their share. Josh is facing a crisis of confidence, but I believe he will bounce back. There’s plenty of season left. And it still can be something special. 

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


To watch Josh Allen play football is to witness athletic greatness

Sunday afternoon, for the first time in five years, I was back at Highmark Stadium chronicling a Buffalo Bills game, which meant this was the first time I’d seen Josh Allen perform in person. The Right Arm from God didn’t disappoint.

By halftime against the hapless Pittsburgh Steelers, Allen had thrown for 348 yards and four touchdowns. He finished with a personal best 424 passing yards – second most in franchise history – and added another 42 yards on the ground as the Bills romped, 38-3, handing Mike Tomlin the worst loss of his Hall of Fame coaching career.

Though pleased with the way his injury-depleted team took care of business — the Bills were missing seven starters — Allen lamented several plays he didn’t make.

“Honestly, I felt like I missed a few throws,’’ he said. “I was a little ticked off with a couple of passes. I want to complete every ball. Honestly, I know that’s typically not possible. There were just some throws I could have done better.”

His response is just another reason to love the guy. Complacency will never be an issue with him.

Yes, he was intercepted in the end zone and he sailed another potential touchdown pass over the head of a wide-open receiver, but his completions are what really stood out. Several of them came on throws no other quarterback in the NFL can make.

A muffed opening kickoff forced Buffalo to begin its first drive on its own two-yard line. When two running plays netted zero yards, many Bills fans probably began fretting that this game was going to follow a pattern similar to last year’s season-opening upset loss to the Steelers at Highmark.

But those concerns were quickly allayed after Allen dropped back and unleashed a bomb 46 yards down field and into the wind as he was being hit. His spiral cut through Lake Erie’s 15-mph swirling gusts and sailed majestically over two defenders and into the hands of Gabe Davis, who sprinted the rest of the way for a 98-yard touchdown connection. Sixty-four seconds into the game, Buffalo was up 7-0. No team in NFL history had ever scored a longer touchdown in a shorter period of time.

Now, savor that throw for a minute. From Allen’s own end zone. While being hit. Into a wicked wind. Over two defensive backs. Into the hands of a receiver who didn’t have to break stride. It was Michael Jordanesque. It was amazing. And with Allen the Alien, such superhuman plays are becoming the norm rather than the exception.

“Obviously, the kick return put us at the two, put us behind the eight-ball, there,’’ Allen said. “But guys were resilient. We didn’t blink. Just trusted our guys, and they made some plays.”

Did they ever. Davis, back to full speed after an early season ankle injury, made a spectacular one-handed grab, wrestling the ball away from Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick for a 62-yard touchdown reception. Allen followed that throw with a 15-yard scoring toss to his favorite target, Diggs, and a 24-yard TD pass to rookie fill-in Khalil Shakir. The rout was on.

When the Jumbotron showed Allen on the sidelines after his touchdown passes, the “Let’s Go Buffalo!” chants were replaced by chants of “MVP!” Through five games – four of them victories – Allen has 14 touchdown passes and leads the NFL in passing yards (1,651). He is on pace to throw for 5,613 yards and 48 scores.

Yes, I realize such extrapolations can be foolhardy. The reality is that if Allen continues to dominate like this, he’s going to be spending fourth quarters on the sidelines watching his backup nurse humungous leads instead of being out on the field padding his stats. I also realize Allen put on a show against a bad Steelers team that was missing NFL Defensive Player of the Year T.J. Watt. But let’s not forget that the Bills were really banged up, too, but it didn’t matter because Allen is one of those rare athletes who elevates the play of all around him, including the second and third stringers.

There is a great sense of anticipation each time he takes a snap. It’s like when New York Yankees slugger Aaron Judge steps to the plate. We have a feeling we might be about to witness something we’ve never witnessed before. And we have to keep reminding ourselves that Allen is just 26 years old. The best is yet to come.

Taking care of two-touchdown underdogs like the Steelers is an indication this team has matured and learned some painful lessons. The Bills realize every game matters if you want to secure homefield advantage throughout the playoffs – something they failed to do last season, while losing to Pittsburgh and Jacksonville.

They now find themselves at 4-1 with another trip to Kansas City this Sunday to play a 4-1 Chiefs team that has twice blocked them from reaching their Super Bowl destination. Bills fans need no reminder about last January’s gut-punching 42-36 loss in overtime – particularly those final 13 seconds in regulation when their team inexplicably squandered a three-point lead and a chance to host the AFC Championship Game for the first time in a quarter of a century.

In that game, Allen and his friend and Chiefs counterpart Patrick Mahomes treated us to one of the most breathtaking quarterback duels in history, as the two combined for 844 yards of offense and eight touchdowns. Mahomes’ Chiefs have won three-of-the-four matchups between the two, with Allen coming out on top in last year’s regular-season meeting.

A Bills victory Sunday won’t atone for last January’s loss – only a win vs. Kansas City in the postseason can do that. But a win would give them a two-game edge in the conference playoff race. We saw what happened in the early 1990s when the road to the Super Bowl routinely went through Buffalo. The Vegas oddsmakers are bullish on these Bills, installing them as early 1.5-point favorites, marking the first time in Mahomes’ illustrious career he’s been an underdog at home. It speaks to the belief people have in Allen. It’s a belief I share, especially after seeing him perform with the naked eye on Sunday.

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

Soaring Bills expectations conjure Super Bowl memories

The similarities are striking, the comparisons inevitable. The last time expectations were this stratospheric was in the summer of 1991, when, following the heartbreak of “Wide Right,” the Buffalo Bills were everybody’s darlings to win the Super Bowl. And, so, here we go again, all these years later. As Van “The Man” Miller used to advise before opening kickoffs, “Fasten your seatbelts.” Eight months after that gut-punch playoff loss to Kansas City – a loss that forever more will be known as “13 Seconds” – the Bills are near-consensus favorites to win it all.

And the analogies between then and now are not only acknowledged but welcomed by the men who guided the franchise to an unprecedented four consecutive Super Bowls in the early 1990s.

“You know, I’ve seen this movie before,’’ said Bill Polian, the architect of that glorious run. “And the only thing that’s missing is a happy ending.”


Long-time Bills fans need no reminder how those glory days featured gory endings, starting with Super Bowl 25 when Scott Norwood’s potential game-winning 47-yard field goal sailed wide right. Pigskin pundits and prognosticators remained bullish on the Bills the following year, figuring Buffalo would finally bring home that elusive, silver Lombardi Trophy. Alas, it was not to be, as the Bills lost the big game again. That would be followed by lopsided Super Bowl defeats the next two seasons, and that would be that, as age, injuries and departures slammed that window of opportunity shut.

But just as quarterback Josh Allen reminds many of Jim Kelly, and coach Sean McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane conjure memories of Marv Levy and Polian, this team has wedged that old window open. And just as the Bills of yore bounced back from the agony of “Wide Right,” there’s a feeling this bunch will use the pain of squandering away a playoff victory with just 13 seconds remaining last January as motivation to do something no Buffalo team has done before.

“After we lost that first Super Bowl, I was mad – I mean really mad,’’ said former Bills linebacker Darryl Talley, one of the leaders of those teams. “And I stayed mad that entire off-season, right into the regular season. But I’m one of those competitors that can take anger and turn it into positive energy. And that’s what I did, and so did my teammates. We played like men on a mission that following season. And, I sense this team is the same way. I think they are going to be on a mission in 2022.”

Polian concurs. He recalls how the Bills’ Super Bowl run was preceded by plenty of turbulence. A loss in the AFC Championship Game in Cincinnati on Jan. 8, 1989, was followed by a tumultuous season in which a team known as the “Bickering Bills” appeared ready to implode.

“You experience some adversity, and, hopefully, you learn from it, and grow stronger and closer as a team,’’ said Polian, who earned NFL Executive of the Year honors five times while constructing Super Bowl teams in Buffalo and Indianapolis, and a playoff team in Carolina. “The modern-day Bills have been through rough spots and have continued to grow and get better. The addition of [free-agent edge rusher] Von Miller might wind up being the final piece of the puzzle.”

The most important piece, of course, remains Allen, a freakishly gifted quarterback whose combination of size (6-foot-5, 240 pounds), arm strength, running ability, toughness, and leadership skills is incredibly rare, perhaps unique.  “Amazingly, as great as he’s been these past two seasons, we have to remind ourselves he’s still only 26-years-old,’’ Polian said. “He’s only going to get better, as he works more with his receivers and becomes more adept at reading defenses. Having played in a bunch of high stakes games is only going to help him.”

Of all of Allen’s attributes, the one that impresses Talley most is his grit.

“Josh showed that in the Kansas City playoff game, when he did everything in his power to will his team to victory,’’ he said. “I love the way he competes every play and every second of every play. I’ll never forget how, two years ago, he fumbled a snap, and, despite having two linebackers ready to clobber him, he picked up the ball and bulled through them for a first down. Some quarterbacks wouldn’t even have tried to recover the fumble, let alone pick it up and try for the first down. When that happened, I said, ‘Look out NFL, ’cause this kid is coming.’ ”

The national love being shown the Bills has many of their fans worried. Incidents such as “Wide Right,” “13 Seconds,” “Home Run Throwback,” and “No Goal” have taught them to fear the worst. Many of my friends who are diehards wish Buffalo was still under the radar.

“I know where they are coming from, but you have to embrace the ride,’’ Talley said. “This team is really good, and I’m interested to see how they are going to respond to being the hunted rather than the hunters. It’s a whole different perspective when you have to play from the front of the pack instead of from the middle or the back.”

Talley believes they’ll be up to the task. No one will be rooting for them more fervently and vociferously than him.

“If they win it all and do something we couldn’t do, I’ll tip my cap to them and be on the first flight to Buffalo to take part in that victory parade to end all victory parades,’’ he said. “I’ll be happy for them, happy for us alumni, and, most of all, happy for the people of Buffalo. They’ve had to endure so many close calls. They deserve this.”

A happy ending, after so many sad ones. Wouldn’t that be cool?

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

Opining on Syracuse football, Bills’ bungling of rape investigation       

Victory-famished sports fans often plummet from feeling angry to apathetic. And that can be problematic because at least angry fans care enough to remain financially and emotionally invested in their teams. They still attend games, still buy merchandise and concessions, still root, root, root for the ol’ home team. Apathetic fans just stop going. Period. They opt to spend their cash, time and emotions elsewhere.

I think apathetic is where many Syracuse University football fans are at this point, and I can’t say as I blame them because the Orange men have mustered just one winning season in the past eight years and just four in the past 17 years. That ignominious stretch has seen them suffer through three 10-loss seasons and two nine-loss seasons. Other than their 10-win campaign and No. 15th final ranking four years ago, they’ve been nationally irrelevant. And irrelevant in their own backyard for that matter.

Syracuse kicks off its 2022 schedule Saturday night against Louisville at the newly named (it’s going to take time getting used to writing this) JMA Wireless Dome. With a ledger featuring games against two top-five opponents and four top-20 foes, it’s not exactly man-bites-dog news that the Vegas oddsmakers are forecasting another losing record.

That would make six losing seasons in seven tries for Coach Dino Babers – more than enough to call for his firing. But, in reality, Babers appears safe despite his abysmal 29-43 record because, according to reports from respected ESPN college football insider Pete Thamel, the affable Babers has a $10-million buyout clause after this season. Although that’s pocket change to football factories like Alabama, Clemson, LSU, Penn State and Ohio State, it’s significant money for a medium-sized private university like Syracuse that historically doesn’t buy out coaches’ contracts. So, unless Babers turns in another 1-10 season like he did in 2020, he probably remains.

Winning is the only remedy that can rouse apathetic Orange fans to care enough to plant their fannies back on those uncomfortable aluminum bench seats in the Dome. And, if you look really hard, you’ll find reasons to believe that maybe this Syracuse team can defy the odds.

Adding respected offensive coordinator Robert Anae, quarterbacks coach Jason Beck, and special teams coach Bob Ligashesky vastly upgraded Babers’ staff. Anae and Beck have a successful track record developing dual-threat quarterbacks. Ligashesky coached 16 years in the NFL and should improve a disorganized special teams unit that cost SU several games in recent years.

Syracuse returns 17 starters. Most prominent among them is Sean Tucker, who is coming off a single-season school rushing record and may be the best running back in America. The Orange features an experienced, albeit occasionally brittle offensive line, and NFL prospects in the linebacking corps and secondary.

As is usually the case, the team’s fortunes will come down to quarterback. Garrett Shrader showed his athleticism and grit last year, rushing for 781 yards and 14 touchdowns. At 6-foot-4, 228 pounds, with speed to burn, he is a home run running threat every play. Unfortunately, Shrader’s throwing (he completed only 52.6 percent of his passes) sank SU last fall, as opponents bunched defenders close to the line-of-scrimmage to stop the run because they didn’t respect the junior QB’s arm. If Anae and Beck can turn Shrader into an effective passer, Syracuse will have a chance to be dynamic offensively, and pull off some upsets. Should Shrader falter early in the season, look for Babers to switch to transfer Carlos Del Rio-Wilson, who was a four-star recruit in high school.

We’ll see if the apathetic can be coaxed into caring again. For now, though, many Orange fans remain in a show-me state. And we’re not talking Missouri.


Much has happened since the story broke last Thursday that Buffalo Bills  punter Matt Araiza and two of his former San Diego State football teammates were being sued for allegedly gang-raping a then-17-year-old girl last October. The disturbing story was news to most, but not to the Bills, who had been notified by the girl’s attorney, Dan Gilleon, in late July. Bills assistant general counsel Kathryn D’Angelo reportedly chatted at length on the phone with “Jane Doe’s” lawyer. The team, then, according to Bills general manager Brandon Beane conducted a “thorough examination,” but questions have arisen about just how “thorough” it truly was. Beane, head coach Sean McDermott and D’Angelo immediately spoke to Araiza, who denied the charges. The Bills braintrust did not follow up with Gilleon and, incredibly, did not request to interview the victim. Instead, they took the word of a 22-year-old rookie who hadn’t been forthcoming about the matter during pre-draft interviews with the team.

Despite warnings of the impending civil suit, the Bills cut veteran Matt Haack and named Araiza the starting punter. Making matters worse, McDermott went on a national podcast and said Araiza was a “great kid.”

It was only after widespread public backlash by angry Bills fans that the team decided to cut Araiza last Saturday. Meanwhile, the San Diego County district attorney continues its criminal investigation. Araiza’s attorney and parents have described the civil suit as a “money grab.” And the victim recently did an interview with CBS News recounting what transpired that harrowing night eleven months ago.

After being backed into a corner, the Bills did the right thing in releasing Araiza. Yes, this was a difficult, highly sensitive matter, and, yes, it’s important to follow due process. In a court of law, you are innocent until proven guilty and Araiza and his two teammates will wind up having their say in a hall of justice if this goes to trial.

In the meantime, I suspect Beane, McDermott and Bills’ ownership will conduct a thorough examination of how they botched this situation so something similar doesn’t happen again.

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

A season of great expectations has Bills legend Jim Kelly stoked

Jim Kelly formed a fist with the large right hand that once filled the air with spirals and excitement and gently tapped the top of a table just outside the main ball room at the Seneca Niagara Resort and Casino.

“Doing good, knock on wood,’’ the Buffalo Bills legend said Sunday night when asked how he was feeling. “My ankle is finally coming around after my ankle replacement surgery led to some complications. And, so far, so good with the cancer. No recurrence, and hopefully it stays that way when I have my annual MRI in two weeks.”

A year ago, his ankle was such a mess he couldn’t participate in his celebrity golf tournament to raise funds for his Kelly for Kids Foundation. And, a few years before that, he was dealing with a virulent form of jaw cancer that nearly took his life. But just as he did so many times after being knocked to the turf at the stadium formerly known as Rich, he’s demonstrated what it means to be Kelly Tough. He’s picked himself back up.

As he bounded about the other night greeting old Bills teammates, corporate donors and longtime Bills fans at his foundation’s 35th fundraising party in Niagara Falls, he seemed like his old self again. He was a ball of energy.

“When we started this all those years ago, I never envisioned it would still be going strong in 2022, but it is, thanks to the hard work and support of some really dedicated co-workers and some really generous donors,’’ said Kelly, whose foundation has donated more than $7 million to charities in the Buffalo and Rochester areas through the decades.

“When we hand a check to representatives from these organizations, they have this look on their faces like they just won the lottery. Each year, we invite five or six of them to tell us how they are putting the money to use, and when you hear those heart-felt stories about the kids who benefit from this, it just pumps you up even more, and makes you want to keep it going.”

This year’s gala featured scores of live and silent auction items, including high-end signed jerseys, helmets and photos from Hall of Famers in football and other sports. One of the most coveted pieces in this year’s auction was a limited-edition football signed by Kelly and current Bills quarterback Josh Allen, with the inscription: “Passing the Torch.” After going through 17 err apparent quarterbacks since Kelly’s retirement following the 1996 season, the Bills finally found a legitimate heir apparent when they drafted Allen four years ago.

As he had done with all the previous QBs who came to One Bills Drive, Kelly reached out to offer Josh encouragement, and the two hit it off immediately, forming a special bond that has grown stronger over time. On day one, Kelly told Josh to embrace Buffalo, and he has in a big way. “It didn’t take long for this kid from California to become one of us,’’ Kelly said. “That’s what Buffalo does to you. Spend a little time here, and you get hooked because the people are so supportive, especially of their football team.”

No one is happier with Josh’s rapid transformation from “questionable first-round draft pick” to leading NFL MVP candidate than Kelly. “Josh is only 26, so the sky’s the limit,’’ he said. “Heck, I was 26 when I played my rookie season in the NFL [after spending two seasons in the United States Football League]. Think about that.”

Kelly is rooting for Josh to do what he and his teammates couldn’t during their unprecedented run of four consecutive Super Bowls in the early 1990s: Win it all. “All of us alumni would love that, but the people I want it for even more badly than I want it for us are the fans,’’ Kelly said. “We came close, but we couldn’t close the deal. I’d love to see this team do it for the city of Buffalo. This place has supported the Bills through the good times and bad times like no other city ever has. These fans deserve that.”

The wizards of odds in Las Vegas believe this is the Bills year. They’ve established Buffalo as Super Bowl favorites. And while it appears the Bills have everything needed to bring that elusive Lombardi Trophy to Western New York, Kelly isn’t taking anything for granted. “I know it’s a cliché, but you really have to take it one game at a time,’’ he said. “You can’t overlook anyone, which they may have done against Jacksonville and a few others last season. But what it really comes down to is staying healthy. They have to keep No. 17 healthy because he’s the guy who makes it all go.”

For the first time in his young career, Josh will be working with a new offensive coordinator. Ken Dorsey, who, like Kelly, attended the University of Miami, is replacing Brian Daboll, who left to become head coach of the New York Giants. Kelly expects the offense to keep humming despite the change. “I’m sure Ken will be doing some tweaking and some things with Josh that Daboll might not have,’’ he said. “But I can’t see him reinventing the wheel, not after the kind of offensive production they’ve had the past two years.”

One thing Kelly would like to see Dorsey do is call fewer runs involving Josh. “I’ve already talked to both of them about that,’’ he said, chuckling. “Josh is a dangerous runner — a weapon. But I’d like to see him run only when necessary. I know he’s a big guy and he’s strong and fast, but we need to keep him in one piece.”

Kelly formed a fist again and tapped the table top once more for good luck.

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