That’s the question posed recently in a series of sports stories in The Buffalo News.
What if Wide Right and No Goal never happened?
What if Forward Lateral and our other sporting sorrows simply dissolved?
We offer here a one-act play from some parallel universe, where victory is forever ours:
Pea-soup smog covers the stage. It’s left over from 1975’s Fog Game. (That’s when the Buffalo Sabres were on the way to the first of their two dozen Stanley Cup championships.)
Slowly the vapors vanish. And our play begins.
Scene: Checkers bar, on Hertel.
Honest Harry walks in. He’s wearing a Bills Mafia cap and a grin wider than a hubcap. Harry spots Loose Lip Louie, the barkeep, drawing a draft.
“Hey, Louie, how are you still open? I thought you closed down years ago.”
“Not in this universe, Harry.”
It’s Dyngus Day 2020, in a world void of viruses. Buffalo’s bars are full. The Sabres and Braves are each minutes from starting first-round playoff series: Sabres vs. Bruins, Braves vs. Celtics.
“I almost feel bad for the fans in Boston,” Harry says. “They can’t catch a break when their teams play our teams.”
Louie throws a bar towel at Harry.
“Stop,” he says. “They wouldn’t feel bad for you.”
“True,” Harry says. “How great was it when the Bisons beat the Red Sox in seven games in last fall’s World Series?”
“Yet again!” Louie yells.
The Bisons arrived in the big leagues as a National League expansion team in 1968. The Sabres and Braves were born a couple of years later, in 1970, which also was when the Bills officially joined the NFL, following their 10-season tear through the AFL.
“My favorite moment in Bills history was when they won Super Bowl I,” Harry says. “Who can forget that 99-yard TD pass? Jack Kemp to Elbert Dubenion.”
“Golden Wheels!” Louie cheers. And they punch the air in unison.
Just then, their old pal Sam the Itinerant saunters in.
“Sam!” shouts everyone in the joint. Louie has his Labatt Blue on the bar before Sam can reach his stool.
“What’s new, Harry?” Sam asks.
Harry tells him they’re ranking great moments in Buffalo sports history. They all look at one another and burst out laughing. Where to begin with such an embarrassment of riches?
Harry thinks the string of good fortune begins in 1970, when the Sabres get the NHL’s No. 1 overall pick and take Gil Perreault – and the Braves get the NBA’s top choice and take Bob Lanier, the hometown kid, fresh off St. Bona’s national championship victory against UCLA.
“Remember how scared we were in the regional final, when Lanier got clipped by Chris Ford from Villanova?” Harry says. “Looked like the Big Cat might be hurt bad.”
“Originally the NBA was going to give the top picks to established teams instead of the expansion teams,” Sam says. “That would’ve been crazy dumb.”
They nod their heads in agreement and take big swigs from their frosty mugs.
“Then we got really lucky,” Louie says. “Calvin Murphy was still there in the second round.”
They toast the original Braves, who won their first NBA title in their first season. Then the old friends wipe the foam from their mouths and order another round.
“How about the French Connection winning four Stanley Cups in the 1970s?” Harry says.
“And then Dominik Hasek winning six more in the 1990s,” Louie says.
“Slinky for a spine!” Sam bellows. And they toast to that.
The Bisons will have their home opener in a few days, when they’ll raise another World Series flag at Luke Easter Park. Then, a few days after that, the Bills will pick last in the first round of the NFL draft.
“Doesn’t matter, no one drafts better than the Bills,” Harry says. “That’s why they’ve been so good for so long.”
“My favorite was the time they got the kid from Williamsville North in the second round,” Louie says. “Rob Gronkowski is Buffalo to the bone.”
They look around warily, in case Gronk is there. When he is, he likes to crush beer cans on his skull. While they’re still full.
“So which Bills teams do you like best?” Harry asks. “The Gronk teams that won six Super Bowls? Or the Jim Kelly teams that won six in a row?”
“Gotta be honest,” Louie says, “I loved those Marv Levy teams.”
“The best was when they went to the White House,” Sam says, “and President Kemp tossed that celebratory pass in the Rose Garden to his secretary of state.”
“Yep,” Harry says. “Good ol’ Eddie Rutkowski.”
There’s a picture of that over the bar, by Mickey Osterreicher, from the front page of the Courier-Express.
Just then a hush settles over the packed barroom. The playoff games are about start. That’s when Harry’s wife walks in.
“Come on, Harry, time to go home,” Ruby says. “We’ll watch the games there.”
Harry leaves a wad of bills on the bar, and he and Ruby head for the door.
“See you tomorrow night,” Louie calls out.
“Can’t make it,” Harry says.
“The grandkids have a talent show at school.”
“OK, have fun. Where do they go?”
“Scott Norwood Middle School, in Orchard Park.”