Summer is winding down. Soon, the school halls will be full, the leaves will turn and the short and sensational summer that we all know and love will be gone. And, with fall, comes football and all of WNY will be focused on Ralph Wilson Stadium to see if E.J. Manuel can come of age and lead the Bills to at the very least, a winning season.
As we know, WNY is fixated on the said Buffalo Bills both on and off the field. Even though this team has not made the playoffs since 1998, the worry that their days in Buffalo could be numbered is more than a cause for concern. And, thirty days after the Bills season begins, our other struggling professional team, the Buffalo Sabres will take to the ice with fans rooting for improvement or more mediocrity so they can draft the next superstar, Connor McDavid.
Yes, Buffalo is a professional sports town, and that can be both good and bad. The thought is that if Buffalo loses the Bills, the city will fade away, the town’s spirit so crushed that they won’t be able to function. Even Andre Reed said words to that effect after he lambasted Jon Bon Jovi and his reported attempts to purchase and move the Bills to Toronto. My hope is that WNYers can think outside the box and realize that there are options---good options---around town to embrace. Sometimes, the area becomes too fixated on the Sabres and Bills that they fail to see what’s in front of them.
Not only do our professional teams struggle to put a winning product on the field, they also put big dents into one’s wallet. Going to a NFL or NHL game is not cheap and there is concern that the classic family of four is being priced right out of the building. But, as mentioned there are fabulous events that go under the radar that might be worth looking in to.
We all know that the Buffalo Bulls are trying to forge a place in the local sports landscape. They’re coming off a 2013 season that ended with a Potato Bowl berth and all in all, a solid 8-5 season. They do struggle to get WNYers attention and the sparse Black Friday crowd at Ralph Wilson Stadium as seen on ESPN was a downer. Bulls’ games are good value with good seating and plenty of entertainment for all.
There is another SUNY school that might merit some of your attention. The Buffalo State Bengals play at the Division III level and they play in a very good football conference. They are coached by Jerry Boyes, who was at the helm during their glory days, then stepped away before coming back for a second stint. Coyer Field is not Ralph Wilson Stadium, but the brand of football is more than decent and certainly not a bad way to spend a Saturday afternoon. The Bengals play in the Empire 8 Conference and this year has home games on September 6 versus Cortland; September 20 versus Alfred; September 27 versus Salisbury; October 25 versus Utica and November 8 versus Hartwick. And, if you become addicted to Bengal football, you can drive 70 miles east on November 15 to watch the Bengals and the Brockport Golden Eagles battle for the Thruway Bowl. There is also a November 1 game at nationally ranked St. John Fisher, ironically the home of Bills’ training camp
The best thing about Buffalo State football is that tickets are just $5 and don’t have to pre-ordered. You just show up and plunk down a Lincoln and you’re in. Larger groups are asked to call in advance to make arrangements in what I would call ultimate (and I love it) optimism by the Buffalo State Athletic Department. You can take your family of four and a few friends for well under $50. Good football and you can still make your car payment. And, not to get ahead of ourselves, but Buffalo State basketball and hockey tickets are also just $5.
It may be Division III but the games don’t lack for excitement. In 2013, they lost 39-33 in double overtime at Alfred, beat Hartwick 59-41, nipped Brockport 42-40, got past Ithaca 41-28 and lost a tough 24-20 Homecoming decision to Ithaca. Rather than complain about E.J. Manuel checking down too often, why not take in the atmosphere at Coyer Field and root on the Bengals.
The next best thing about both the Buffalo Bulls and the Buffalo State Bengals is that neither team is for sale nor are they threatening to move or play a home game in Batavia, Erie or Jamestown. Both represent Buffalo and both provide good entertainment at a good price. Two tickets to a Bengals home game are cheaper than one ticket to a movie and who wants be inside on a crisp fall day anyway? College football, as we’ve seen in recent years is becoming more and more corporate but watching Buffalo State-Utica is a throwback to simpler times. . And, being Division III, there are no athletic scholarships to be had; these guys are playing for the love of the game.
Sure, it’s easy to call your friends and say that you’re getting tickets to Bills-Dolphins, and I’m sure if you called them and suggested Buffalo-State-Alfred, they may look at you funny, but why not do the sales job and give it a chance? The game will start at noon and because there is no major network broadcasting it, you’ll be done by 3:00, which gives you enough time to head to a sports bar to sip a few brews and watch the 3:30 games on the flat screens. The best thing is you can get up Sunday, do some yard work and take your kids apple picking, on a hayride or bowling and not to have to worry about the 12 hour day that is a Buffalo Bills game. My hunch is that you’ll enjoy yourself and might even want to go to another game, perhaps the October 25 game against the high powered offense that is the Utica College Pioneers.
Wake up Western New York, there are plenty of sports in the area and if the Bills ever did leave, these sports will still be here for you to enjoy. As they say, you don’t often realize what’s right under your nose and there is a lot to choose from, and that’s just the fall. Wait until winter, it gets even better.