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As much as we love our big-league professional sports teams, it's time we gave our less prominent teams their due. The Bisons' opening day Thursday at Dunn Tire Park (field conditions permitting) offers us a great chance to reflect on how much we owe to our community's teams.

Really, where would die-hard sports fans have been this past year without them? Consider the achievements of our college and Triple-A teams since last summer:

The Niagara University Purple Eagles men's basketball team won its conference tournament and advanced into the NCAA tournament. It was the first time Niagara had made the NCAA tournament in 35 years.

The University at Buffalo men's basketball team lost its conference tournament on a last-second basket. It was on the verge of making the NCAA tournament, until that loss effectively ended its chances. Still, UB went on to the National Invitation Tournament, where it won its opening game before losing on the road to the tournament's eventual runner-up, St. Joseph's.

The Canisius College Golden Griffins women's basketball team made the women's NCAA tournament for the first time in the program's history.

The Buffalo Bandits indoor lacrosse team is currently in the playoffs, a position it has enjoyed for 11 of its last 14 seasons.

And last but not least, the Buffalo Bisons -- the team that reminds us that winter doesn't last forever -- finished its 2004 season with an 83-61 record, the best record in the International League. In September, they won the league championship.

Not too shabby for a region convinced it didn't have a thing to root for after the Buffalo Bills failed to make the playoffs for the fifth straight year, and the National Hockey League lockout dragged on, icing the Sabres for the season.

Let's be honest. We love our major-league teams because they remind us that although we're a shrinking town, we still have big-city teams with big-city dreams. But if we're a true sports town, we should pay proper respect to the sports teams and players that don't have big-money budgets, just big hearts and the will to win. There's nothing more Buffalo than that.

Now it's time for the Triple-A Bisons to start a new season. They are routinely in the hunt for the division title. They deserve our loyalty and our thanks. Even more, they deserve our attendance.

Go Bisons!