From now on, some extra evidence that No. 11 is the all-time greatest uniform number in Buffalo sports history will be hanging from the rafters in First Niagara Center.
John Tavares’ number was retired and raised to the roof during a ceremony on Friday night. At the other end of the building, a different No. 11 - Gil Perreault’s uniform number with the Sabres - is honored in the same way.
“Starting in 1992, when they were giving out numbers, I played summer lacrosse back then and I wore No. 6,” Tavares said before the ceremony. “So I just asked for No. 6, although I’m not a numbers guy. They gave me No. 11 instead. Not that I was disappointed, but I thought, ‘My God, Gil Perreault wore this number.’ I’m very proud that I’m joining Gil Perreault and many others in the rafters. It’s nice to see that No. 11 won’t be worn by a Sabre or a Bandit again.”
One of those who saluted Tavares during a video tribute was Perreault, who welcomed another No. 11 to the First Niagara Center ceiling.
For the record, Hall of Famer Bob McAdoo wore No. 11 for the Braves.
Tavares was a little overwhelmed at the attention the retirement ceremony received.
“We have a lot of neighbors, friends, colleges and my entire family coming,” he said. “Neil Doddridge,” a member of the 1996 Bandits’ championship team, “is flying in from Vancouver.
“I’m very proud my parents are coming. They are 85 and 84, and it’s hard for them to get around. They haven’t watched me play since 1993 or so.”
Tavares has had a lacrosse stick in his hands since the age of 4, and still loves the game. It’s a different feeling, being behind the bench as an assistant coach instead of being on the floor as a player, but it’s been a good substitute so far.
“I’m pretty good with it,” Tavares said about the transition to coaching. “I played for so long, and I realize I’m too old to go on. My body definitely does not miss it. I do miss the competition of playing, but the last couple of years were more challenging than all of the others – staying healthy, being productive, serving as captain and trying to be a leader – it’s a tough combination.
“I wasn’t the type of player to bark instructions to people. I was more of the type to lead by example. As a coach, you have to insure that you are verbal. You tell guys what you want, more so than when I was a player. But I know I have to do it, and I’m OK with it. ... I think the guys are responding really well. So far it’s been a good fit.”
Here are a couple other quips and quotes from former teammates about Tavares:
Billy Dee Smith: “Everything with JT was business. He came in, stretched, and practiced. Halfway through practice, you could ask him what his shooting percentage was, and he’d tell you. As a coach, he’s on the guys to shoot in practice like it’s a game. He never had to say that when he was a player because we saw him do it.”
Steve Dietrich: “When I was playing against him, the ball would go in a certain direction that I didn’t expect, and John would be waiting for it. And I’d say to myself, ‘How the hell did he know the ball was going there?’”
Then there’s a story about Tavares’ sense of humor from his playing days. At one point in his career, Tavares was having problems finding shoes he liked. He was told to go to a store and find a pair that fit. Tavares did so, even though they were white instead of the usual black shoes he had worn throughout his career.
In the next game, Tavares was standing by the door on the bench as he waited for his turn to start a line change in the fourth quarter. Out of nowhere, he said sternly, “I have a serious question.”
“Sure, John, what is it?” said someone standing nearby.
“Do the white shoes make me look faster?” Tavares asked, followed by a smile.