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Chris O’Brien: New Buffalo embraces a sense of optimism

I went to the University at Buffalo basketball game on March 6 with New Buffalo and Old Buffalo.

Sitting next to me in a packed Alumni Arena was a man who grew up halfway around the world in a small town I had never heard of. He had moved to Buffalo a little more than 10 years ago. In an accent different than my own, he asked insightful questions as the game progressed and surprised me with his analysis of why the game was going as it was.

Meanwhile, when UB fell behind by 14, a heavyset guy in jeans and a T-shirt, seated in the row behind us, began swearing and saying one negative thing after another. I was tempted to ask the angry man why he didn’t just leave, given the way he was criticizing every action the players took instead of supporting his team.

At one point, I glanced at the guy next to me and saw that he was not flustered by the pessimistic guy behind us; instead, he had a calm aura of simply believing in his team. He gave me a simple nod that made me think, “Either this guy knows something I don’t know or he totally doesn’t understand the game.”

Well, of course, UB came back to tie by halftime, largely due to the shooting of the hometown boy, whom the guy behind us had been swearing couldn’t shoot and should be benched. The second half was a wonderful seesaw battle, with the outcome in doubt until the final seconds. Thankfully, the guy behind us had been largely silenced by the team’s effort, surfacing only in the last minute when UB fell behind by a basket. A few key plays resulted in a UB win and I left happy.

As I walked to the car, I couldn’t help but reflect on the difference between the guy sitting next to me and the guy sitting behind us. It seemed so symbolic of the Old Buffalo and its bickering negativity and the New Buffalo of optimism and progress that has sprung up in the last few years.

Where Old Buffalo would lose its cool and argue for giving up or not believing in a plan for progress, New Buffalo simply steadily keeps its focus on moving forward, rising above the setbacks and coolly analyzing why setbacks are happening. While Old Buffalo resorts to swearing and cursing, New Buffalo looks to analytics.

New Buffalo, as it turns out, not only knows the game but also knows the joy of competing when things are at their worst.

A week later, on a much bigger stage, New Buffalo showed up again in the NCAA tournament. Down by more than 10 early, the Bulls heroically refused to give up. Inspired by a coach who never quits, they came back and nearly pulled off the upset. They didn’t cry about the loss afterward; instead they spoke of looking forward to next season.

I guess what it comes down to is this: Which camp do we want to be in? Frankly, I felt a lot more in common with the man from India than I did with the guy who probably grew up within 10 miles of me.

Yes, it is at times difficult to give up the fears and the memories of past failures, but we cannot continue to be held back by that past. I think and I hope that we are finding these days that Buffalo can and will thrive not only because of the new ideas but also because of the new optimism combined with belief in progress.

I arrived home that night realizing that I had learned an important lesson at UB, without even enrolling.