I have to admit, it's been a relaxing and enjoyable three months away from the sports-writing world. I played some of the best golf of my life (followed by some of the worst, of course), did a lot of yard work, and spent three weeks in Rhode Island preparing for the sale of the 130-year-old family homestead in Rhode Island.
There was a certain relief in waking up without the pressure of a column weighing on my mind for the first time in 30 years. But part of me has missed being in the game, serving as a critical and — I'd like to think — respected voice in Western New York sports. I think that the people who really matter, the good fans, don't want people serving up cupcake commentary.
Bucky Gleason and I didn't always tell fans what they wanted to hear, but what they needed to know. But the Buffalo News felt we were bad for business and took our columns away on the same day. If that's bad for business, it's a sad state of affairs in modern journalism. The News won't decide when I retire. I will, and I'm far from ready.
Well, we're back. Bucky and I will be covering the Bills and the overall sports scene as part of themaven.net, an on-line venture that's powered by The Sports Xchange, a 30-year-old national powerhouse in the world of digital sports coverage.
The notion that critical sports writing has no place in Buffalo was insulting to its passionate fan base. A good fan doesn't recoil from honest, harsh criticism. They rely on it, which isn’t to say they always agree. Smart, insightful fans don't go to the bar when the team is losing and talk about how great things are. They talk about who's stealing a paycheck, who should be fired or traded. Often, they repeat what they read from well-informed and objective sports writers.
There's a place for what Bucky and I do -- a balanced, unflinching and well-written commentary. At times, I’ve been accused of being too kind, of giving too much benefit of the doubt to the likes of Tom Donahoe and Rex Ryan, Trent Edwards and Donte Whitner, Ryan Miller and Lindy Ruff. There was truth to that. I've never lost sight of the fact that fans are eternal optimists who start off assuming the best. You try to be fair and reflect that hope when it's fresh in the public's mind.
As writers, we're often at our best when we're not being "negative", a characterization I despise. Go back and read my stuff from the Super Bowl years, or the FitzMagic run in 2011. Re-read Bucky's columns about the Sabres back when they were going to the conference finals, on the St. Bonaventure basketball team in recent years, his encouraging work about Sean McDermott's first year, or the human interest stories he's done through the years.
But we need to be there for fans when the teams they support -- and pay good money to watch -- are letting them down and being led by incompetent people who should be held to account. For a period of time under the Pegulas, Buffalo's teams were the most unsuccessful in professional sports. That's not an opinion, but a statement of fact.
I don't believe that the good fans in Buffalo are afraid of the truth. When teams are suffering from bad decision-making, that's when tough media are an asset to a community. I'd like to think Bucky and I have been that over years. I think real fans understand that and know the difference between a columnist and a cheerleader.
So I'm happy to say Bucky and I will again be holding the teams to a high standard, on-line and in other platforms. We'll also be praising them just as much when warranted. I think we've been missed by the good fans, whether they always agreed with us or not (and I always say anyone who agrees with me 90 percent of the time should be institutionalized).
We've heard from countless readers who say they liked that we tell it like it is, and that's something that has been missing. Hopefully, we can fill some of that void.