On the face of it, it has been a great week for Buffalo sports fans, who are lovably fatalistic about their teams and their city, but who now have a real reason to celebrate at the Buffalo Bills' 2014 home-opener at The Ralph on Sunday.
Terry and Kim Pegula repelled the would-be plunderers of the city's NFL franchise. A team that once seemed certain to depart for richer, more fashionable locations in Toronto or Los Angeles will stay in beleaguered Buffalo: The billionaire owners of the local NHL team stepped up to buy the Bills from the estate of the late Ralph Wilson for a reported bid of $1.4-billion (U.S.).
For once, there is no "wide right" for Buffalo fans, no Brett Hull in the crease. The fancy guys from Toronto and their rocker buddy Jon Bon Jovi, who bid $1.05-billion, finished up the track for a change, along with the huckster Donald Trump. Cue the Genny, brats and beef on weck for the The Ralph's parking lots on Sunday, baby.
Once it became clear that the great moral arbiter, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, was not about to let the Bills depart for Toronto in the auction sale, the bid from Bon Jovi, Larry Tanenbaum and Edward Rogers was in trouble. Anyone who thought Trump had a serious chance of owning an NFL team knows nothing about the league's history, but team owners have long memories when it comes to Trump's involvement with the USFL in the 1980s.
The Pegulas' bid still has to be approved by three-quarters of the NFL's 32 owners, but that is not expected to be a problem. Terry Pegula has plenty of cash, thanks to the sale of his oil and gas company for $4.7-billion back in 2010. And nothing talks louder in the NFL – or any other league – than money.
Now, without the spectre of the Bills moving hanging over their heads, fans can dream a little. How about a new stadium to replace the bare-bones Ralph, which has always been a pain because it's way out in suburban Orchard Park with only a couple of roads to get you there?
New York State hired consultants to recommend sites for a new stadium, and The Buffalo News reported the list has been pared down to four in Erie County, although the report has yet to be released. But with Pegula in the picture, it is not difficult to imagine a new playpen for the Bills in downtown Buffalo, perhaps right next to the Sabres' First Niagara Center and Pegula's $172-million HarborCenter development.
HarborCenter is supposed to be the catalyst that finally spurs downtown development and ends all those jokes about fires in Buffalo. There are two hockey rinks under construction at HarborCenter along with a Marriott hotel and a big retail building. A football stadium would be the crowning glory.
But – and there always is a but with Pegula – this does not mean the Bills will shed the on-field mediocrity that has dogged them for two decades. Pegula may be the model owner when it comes to paying the bills, but not so much when it comes to building winning teams.
His three-year run as owner of the Sabres has featured one front-office fiasco after another, mostly because he brings a fan's sensibility to his job. Darcy Regier was kept too long as general manager because certain people had Pegula's ear. Those familiar with the team's operations say office politics play far too much a role in the Sabres' day-to-day life.
It looked like Pegula finally had a grip on things when he sent Regier packing and hired franchise icon Pat LaFontaine as president of hockey operations in late 2013, but it did not take long for things to fall apart. Tim Murray was hired as Sabres GM last January, and LaFontaine resigned just three months into the job amid whispers of backstabbings and betrayals in the hockey office.
So rejoice, Bills fans. Your team has been saved from a move up the Queen Elizabeth Way. But don't plan on any return to the glory years of Jim Kelly, Bruce Smith and Thurman Thomas just yet.