By Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports Page Columnist
Here’s a little trade secret from the world of local sports journalism: The Friday before Labor Day is the most shocking day of the year.
It’s almost like the first relatively warm day of spring, only louder. Allow me to explain.
Buffalo’s sports calendar isn’t jam-packed through the entire year, as it is in some cities. That’s mostly because there’s no major league baseball, which takes place throughout the summer and provides news on a near-daily basis for months.
But in Western New York, the two major league teams are football and hockey. The Bills start training camp in late July, and no one can say that it isn’t covered by the local media. Still, there’s a lack of urgency to those stories. Could you have, say, gone to France for two weeks and found yourself missing out on some urgent development that will affect the entire season? It’s not likely. Unless there’s a big injury or a transaction involving a regular, most of the stories are features, less-than-timely tales about players here and around the league.
Meanwhile, all is quiet at the moment with the Sabres. Most of the league is relaxing during the months of July and August. Once the NHL Draft is over, there’s really not much news coming out of the NHL.
The Bisons, of course, are playing almost every day during the summer months. This year the team is actually in a pennant race, which is a nice change from the past few years. Still, attending a game is more of a summer pastime that a reflection of an avid rooting interest for many. At the major league level, the outlines of the playoff races of September are relatively clear but have yet to be played out. So the day-to-day urgency of the sport, even for avid long-distance fans, is a ways away.
All that means that summer is a relaxing time for many sports journalists. A few head to Bills’ training camp in August to write the same stories that they wrote last year, with the names and numbers sometimes changed. Otherwise, it’s a time for vacations and other pursuits. The phone in the office hardly rings, and there are fewer people around. Good luck to those trying to think up subjects for stories, because without games that count there’s not much out there.
And that’s what makes the Friday before Labor Day so jarring. The phones spring back to life, sounding like the company siren at the rockpile from the opening to “The Flintstones” cartoon. It’s as if a school teacher had spent the entire summer in summer school, helping a few kids in a particular subject. Then comes the official school opening for the year, and chaos returns.
For sports reporters, the first sign that the lazy, crazy days of summer are over is the start of the high school football season. This year some teams are opening on August 30-31, while others are waiting a week. It’s the equivalent to dropping the green flag for the start of Indy, and it means coaches will be phoning in their scores and stats from the game, all between the hours of 10 p.m. and midnight, for the next two months. It is madness, and everyone in the business feels it.
It’s also the first weekend of the college football season. The University at Buffalo did the media a favor this season by scheduling its home opener on Thursday night, even if playing Robert Morris isn’t likely to answer many pertinent questions about the team’s upcoming season. But many others will be playing on Saturday, and that means the media has to keep an eye on big games among top 25 teams, great performances, games involving other local schools like Buffalo State, etc.
The NFL doesn’t play on Labor Day Weekend, but it is the time when final roster cuts are made. We’ve all been guessing about what the composition of the team will look like for Opening Day. I would guess that 45 of the 53 jobs are probably set before the start of training camp, but there usually is a surprise or two to keep us interested. Then comes the big crunch with the Opening Weekend a week later, with its rosters, statistics, feature stories, notebooks, schedules, etc. Really, the White House should be covered as thoroughly as the NFL is.
The holiday weekend also means that the Sabres aren’t too far from taking the ice. Some sort of prospects game is usually on the calendar in early September, followed by everyone coming together for training camp.
This all puts media members in a big of a dilemma. They are happy when the games begin for real, because that’s when it gets interesting. It’s why they entered the business in the first place, for the most part.
But that burst of activity, signaled by the phones ringing again in the office, is also a sign that summer is coming to an end. The shorts and golf clubs soon will be put away, and the jackets will be coming out of the closet.
The alarm clock will go off in a week. And there’s no snooze button to stop it.
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)