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Our football, hockey teams popular statewide; Bills top Jets, Sabres beat Rangers, Islanders and Devils downstate

The New York Yankees and their star shortstop, Derek Jeter, are the toast of the Empire State, but the Bills and Sabres have a strong fan base from Long Island to Niagara Falls.

The Bills are the second-most popular NFL team in the state -- sorry, Jets -- and the Sabres beat out the Rangers, Islanders and New Jersey Devils for top honors among hockey teams.

Those are among the findings of a poll of New York residents released Friday by the Siena Research Institute.

Buffalo's two major sports teams showed surprising strength in statewide polling and had a lot of fan support across upstate, according to Don Levy, the institute's director.

Thirty-eight percent of upstate residents polled identified themselves as fans of the Bills, a finding Levy deemed "quite impressive." Twenty-six percent said they were fans of the Sabres.

Since so much of the state's population is downstate, it's no surprise that teams from the greater New York City area held the top positions in the poll.

Asked which New York team was their favorite, the Yankees (31 percent) and Giants (17 percent) dominated, followed by the Mets at 9 percent and the Bills at 6 percent.

The Sabres rated 3 percent, finishing behind the Knicks, Jets and Syracuse University's sports teams but ahead of the New Jersey Nets and the other three NHL teams in the region.

How did the Bills triumph over the downstate Jets with their bombastic coach and media-friendly backup quarterback, Tim Tebow?

"The Jets, they just get beat up being in the same market as the Giants," Levy said.

Among individual players, Sabres netminder Ryan Miller was the highest-ranked local athlete, coming in 14th.

He's behind a group that includes Tebow -- who has yet to play a down for the Jets -- and three NBA stars who never played for a New York team: Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Michael Jordan.

Levy noted that only 60 percent of survey respondents said they were sports fans, so he suspects the non-New York athletes came "off the top of the head of somebody who isn't a sports fan."

Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was in what could be called the "also receiving votes" category, at just above 0 percent.

The survey of 807 New York state residents has a margin of error of 3.4 percentage points.

email: swatson@buffnews.com