By Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports Page Columnist
Let’s try something for the New Year.
As you may have noticed, I’m a big advocate of trying to put events into perspective. Therefore, let’s look back at the sports year of 2018 and figure out what we’ve learned in that span.
* We thought the Bills needed to do something to address their quarterback situation on a long-term basis, even after coming off a playoff season (that technically ended in 2018). Give them credit for taking decisive action by identifying a player in the college draft and trading up to get him. We don’t know if Josh Allen is the long-term answer after his rookie season, but at least we have seen the skills (big arm, running ability, personality) that made it easy to understand why they wanted him. Allen still has to work on his passing accuracy to resemble someone who will be here for the next 10 years, but he didn’t have a lot of help on offense. He has a chance to be good, which is all we can ask after a rookie year.
* Still don’t think a good offensive line is crucial in football? The Bills lost their two best linemen unexpectedly before the season, and they never could catch up. (Ask LeSean McCoy if he missed Eric Wood and Richie Incognito.) Add that fact to Buffalo’s league-leading figure in dead money in the salary cap, and a losing season in 2018 looked much more inevitable in hindsight than it did 365 days ago. But the team’s football management handled the situation rather well, giving us some confidence that better days are coming in 2019.
* For 13 years we thought Kyle Williams was a fine defensive tackle. It took his last game to figure out that he’s been in the wrong position all this time. Williams obviously should have been a pass-catching fullback. Seriously, we needed more time than a day to say good-bye to Williams – even if we guessed that it might be coming. He’s one of the most beloved players in recent Bills history, and someone who should turn up on the Bills’ Wall of Fame and in Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame.
* It turned out that a ping-pong ball lottery can eliminate several years of bad karma. Buffalo’s hockey fortunes took a 180-degree switch when the Sabres won the draft lottery and the right to take Rasmus Dahlin. It helped that Dahlin hasn’t looked like an 18-year-old as a rookie, fitting in nicely. And he’ll only get better. Between that pick and some other good moves (welcome, Jeff Skinner), general manager Jason Botterill did a fine job of rebuilding the Sabres on the fly.
* In spite of Dahlen’s play, we were reminded that it’s not easy to be a rookie in the NHL. Ask 20-year-old Casey Mittelstadt, who might have been better off learning some lessons in Rochester before a full-time arrival here. The rookie at least will get a lot better and soon; others don’t carry such promise. The Sabres still need reinforcements – internal and external – before they settle in as a regular playoff team, but hope has returned.
* It was easy to wonder how long it would take for Buffalo to become a hockey town again. We found out; 10 straight wins early in the current season did it. The stands were full, and optimism and interest came roaring back. The excitement surrounding the team had an innocence to it that was downright fun.
* Did you ever think one of our universities would become something of a relative powerhouse in major sports? Say hello to the University at Buffalo, which had great years in football (bowl game), men’s basketball (win over No. 4 seed Arizona) and women’s basketball (Sweet 16). We don’t know how long this run will last – coaches at this level have a habit of moving up to better jobs if they find success here – but it has been a fine change of pace.
* We all learned a new phrase in 2018: “transfer portal.” UB quarterback Tyree Jackson took on that status when he filed to explore the possibilities of transferring for his senior year of eligibility. Jackson led the Bulls to a bowl game and is big and strong. It’s hard to blame him for exploring his options as he tries to improve his chances of playing in the NFL. It’s especially true in a world where the coaches of such players have been known to walk away from contracts without much of a second thought. Still, it will be a little sad if we all turn on the television in 2019 and see Jackson suited up for some place like Auburn.
* There were other nice moments in the college sports world. For example, St. Bonaventure won a game in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, and Canisius qualified for the lacrosse version of the Big Dance. It’s never easy for such teams to reach those heights and it’s not usually sustainable, so we enjoy it when it happens.
* If you visited Coca-Cola Field in August, you got to see the Blue Jays’ future in third baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. The adjustment period for him to play in Triple A seemed to take about an hour, as he made the jump from Double A look like child’s play. Guerrero might be the best prospect to pass through here since Johnny Bench. He might spend a little more time in Buffalo for financial reasons in 2019, so catch him in the spring if you get the chance.
* The Bandits had big hopes after some roster rebuilding from the 2017 season, which saw the team finish last overall. It didn’t help, as Buffalo missed the playoffs for the second straight year. A casualty was head coach Troy Cordingley, reassigned to other duties, and some more players departed as well. If the Bandits are sitting home this May, then no one’s job will be safe.
* The Beauts were purchased by the Pegulas late in 2017, but it was 2018 when we saw a bit of a buzz around the team. The Beauts’ ultimate level of success probably will depend on how the league as a whole does; it’s difficult to attract attention with only five teams. Still, the sport of women’s hockey has a better chance of survival now than it did 13 months ago, and that’s progress.
* It’s still odd to pick up our daily newspaper and see a sports section without regular columnists. We miss the old as we try to adapt to the new, even as we realize that none of us has the slightest idea what the future might hold in the business. But to those who found this site and found some entertainment or insight, we thank you. And Happy New Year to all.
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)