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BILLS, SABRES ARE BOTH IN GOOD HANDS

The ownerships of Buffalo's two major sports franchises are now in the hands of men who are Buffalo loyalists dedicated to bringing the best to the city and the area. There's no need for area sports fans to be concerned that these owners are looking for ways to move their teams to more prosperous communities that would enable them to raise ticket prices and enhance their investments.

Fans in many cities with National Football League and National Hockey League franchises wish they were in the same situation as Buffalo. Buffalo, a city filled with pessimists and critics about most things, including their sports franchises, have every reason to be positive about the Buffalo Bills and now, with its new ownership, the Buffalo Sabres.

The Bills, blessed with the stable ownership of Ralph Wilson for more than four decades, have an owner who not only invests his dollars in his team but also invests in the community without any desire to blow his own horn.

For example, Wilson and his wife Mary donated $500,000 to the Center for Hospice and Palliative Care in Cheektowaga to support the center's best known agency, Hospice Buffalo. It was a contribution the Wilsons made because of their desire to support a worthy endeavor, and not to get good publicity.

I've known Wilson since 1959, and at times have had some differences with him. But never once have I questioned his loyalty to Buffalo and his dedication to bringing a winner to the community. He's been subject through the years to some uncalled-for criticism, and while I'm sure he didn't relish it, he stayed the course and rejected the calls from other communities to move his team to greener pastures.

In addition to his latest contribution, Wilson has been highly supportive of the Ronald McDonald House, the United Way, Children's Hospital, Canisius College, the Food Bank and many other charitable and nonprofit ventures in the area. While it's a fact that the value of the Bills' franchise has increased significantly since its inception and the team has been financially successful for many of the years it has been in Buffalo, the same could be said of many other franchises whose ownership has not been as generous as Wilson in contributing to community endeavors.

Buffalo's other major league sports franchise, the Sabres, has emerged from the cloud of questionable ownership that has left its supporters disgruntled with its practices and disappointed with the performance of the team. Now, however, there's every reason to believe that the new ownership will direct its fortunes with the same dedication to excellence and commitment to fans that Wilson has practiced for decades.

Two Buffalo-born and Buffalo-bred men have taken over the hockey team. Their business success, dedication to the city and the area and willingness to invest significant dollars in a troubled venture are all positive signs of a much brighter future for the franchise. Mark Hamister and Todd Berman have excellent reputations in their fields of endeavor and most certainly would not have undertaken ownership of the Sabres unless convinced they could run a successful enterprise that will win the appreciation of the team's fans.

Buffalonians are more familiar with Hamister because of his ownership of the Buffalo Destroyers Arena League football team. Hamister has been a successful businessman in many ventures and has also been very involved in civic endeavors seeking to enhance the Buffalo economy.

Berman, the majority investor in the Sabres, heads up New York City based Chartwell Investments, a very successful operation. The Amherst native's father, Dr. Leonard Berman, once was team doctor to the Buffalo Bisons hockey team of the American Hockey League. I've never met Todd, but his father was a well-respected physician who, in fact, many years ago, treated me.

Looking at photos of Todd Berman, I couldn't believe how much he looks like his father. If his personality matches that of his dad, Sabres fans will be the beneficiaries of a Hamister-Berman tandem that will engender a great deal of good will and, one hopes, produce a fine product on the ice.

MURRAY B. LIGHT is the former editor of The Buffalo News.

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