Game #87 of 353 24% complete
My snowy weekend in Buffalo comes to an end. On my off day yesterday between games, I was sequestered in the hotel due to a howling blizzard. I do try to schedule northern cities in November or March to avoid this kind of weather but I could not resist the pairing of Canisius and Niagara thereby completing the Buffalo area schools.
With this game, I have also completed seeing all the schools in the MAAC. When I was at the Canisius game, I went through the team banners on the wall checking off each one. It was also a first in that I saw the away team twice in consecutive games (Siena). I also heard the Canada anthem at a college basketball game for the first time.
If I am going by myself and the conditions warrant it, I send an introduction email to the athletic director of the school introducing myself and the mission weeks before the game. I never ask for any free stuff but just a heads up to any pre game event that I could attend. I love talking college basketball to passionate fans. The Niagara athletic director Simon Gray responded with an appreciative reply and asked me to text him when I got to the game. Much to my surprise, he did the following for me: 1) an official Niagara folder with pen and paper 2) a shout out from the public announcer to the crowd about my mission where I stood up and waved to the crowd and 3) an upgraded seat at the scorer’s table. Mr. Gray made me feel very welcome and has earned a lifelong affinity with Niagara from me. One of the fans came up to me at halftime and was asking questions about my journey.
This was an exciting game with Niagara pulling it out at the end. Despite the snowy weather and the kids not back from break, the crowd was surprising large and very loud. One of the walls was adorned with great Niagara players of the past. My eye caught the banner of Calvin Murphy. As a Connecticut native, Murphy from Norwalk CT was idolized in my youth for his shooting and play making. The fan at halftime told me that Murphy as a lark would out race a player down the court dribbling two balls to the player’s one ball.
The crowd was energized with a three piece rock band taking the place of the usual school pep band. These guys were good and had my fingers tapping during the breaks.
I stopped at the casino after the game. I threw a $20 bill into a penny slot machine and maxed out each bet. On the third attempt, I hit a bonus and left with a profit of $59.90. I got out of there quick before that money disappeared. Not a bad way to end the day!
Good bye Buffalo!
Next game : Bryant at Mt. St. Mary (MD) 01/25/2020
Game #86 of 353 24% complete
One of the dredges of this journey is dealing with winter weather in the northern states. I try to mitigate this risk by scheduling schools north of the Mason Dixon line in November or March but this not always possible especially where the cost of travel necessitates at least two schools scheduled back to back or the same day on the trip. It is today on my off day in Buffalo that a winter storm will last all day and sequester me to my hotel room. Fortunately, UCONN is on at noon but my plans for a trip to Niagara Falls followed by a Billy Joel tribute concert may be postponed. I will worry about food at some point.
A pre-game announcement was made that Canisius was one of 27 Jesuit schools in the country. An open prayer before the national anthem was done. The warm up shirts for the Canisius players had the words “St. Peter of Canisius Pray for Us” on the back. Other than the famous nun at the Loyola Chicago school, a religious tint to a basketball game was a first for me on my travels. On a parallel note, I have brought up the Lord’s name a few times while watching some recent UCONN games.
I thought it was strange that the home team was introduced but the Siena players were not. I am not sure if this was a snafu or something that always happens at a Canisisus home game.
I sat with a group of older gentlemen who were obviously regulars and were probably wondering who the hell I was. I am guessing that one of their buddies could not make the game and put the ticket up for sale on Ticketmaster. I always thought it would be fun one game to bring a notepad and pretend to take notes on the players masquerading as an advance scout of perhaps an NBA scout. So the gentlemen argued every call against their beloved Griffs and criticized certain Canisisus payers with comments like “Oh for God sakes do not let him shoot!”. It was very entertaining and perhaps one of the reasons I enjoy the small arenas just as much as the large venues.
I always look for the Connecticut boys when out on the road. Canisius player Jalanni White from New Haven played at Notre-Dame of West Haven. This junior has some serious hops putting down some alley oops and offensive rebounds. He is very athletic but needs work on his outside game. He did finish with 13 point drawing oohs and ahs from the fans.
On the same street of the arena was the home of the original Buffalo wings- the Anchor Bar. As a connoisseur of wings which I know is not good for my health, a stop was necessary. The place was packed with walls adorned with license plates and motorcycles. Were the wings good? Yes. Were the wings the best I ever had? No. Did I hear somebody say Sliders?
Next game: Siena at Niagara 01/19/2020
#41 of 351 12% complete
The plan today was to drive to Boston to see Northeastern play James Madison. The snow storm in Boston led to an adjustment in plans resulting in this game in Albany. WAZE took me on some state roads through the northwest corner of the state saving a few minutes instead of the interstate route of I-84/I-91 and I-90. Sometimes common sense must prevail instead of trusting an app. The roads were dark and slippery as we meandered north.
This was the second year in a row that I had to reschedule Northeastern and then found that there were no more available dates for the rest of the year. My goal of completing the New England states must wait another year. I will be hitting New Hampshire next week leaving Northeastern as the last remaining school in New England.
This was my first trip ever to Albany. The lit up skyline was a sight to see as we proceeded on I-787 entering the city. The Trans Union Center was a short ride off of the exit. It was under some construction but it is your typical “way-too-big” arena for the teams it hosts like Siena and the hockey Albany Ducks. As you enter the arena, you are greeted by large black curtains around the higher elevations.
Kudos to the arena for holding the “Taste of NY Craft Beer Festival” during the game. For $15, you got samples of local craft beers and a place to stand on the floor during the game. Also many types of beer were sold at the concession stands. I have never seen so much promotion of beer at a college game.
The was the first game in my Operation 351 journey where were no band, no cheerleaders, no dance team and no student section. It is not a school break when this might be expected. It was very quiet except for the cheering local fans. However, the attendance was more than expected with many families. Siena has not had much success lately so it was nice to see the local support.
The game was close throughout in this MAAC affair. The old gentleman next me said that Siena lost some close heart breakers over the past couple of weeks so this was a great win for them. I love watching the old guys in the crowd complain about every call and cheer like there is no tomorrow. I see this more with smaller teams and venues vs. the P5 powers.
The player of the game was Marquis Wright of Siena. This craft 6’1″ guard had some nifty moves and made some key shots at the end. One can tell who the team leader is by how they step up to the plate when needed.
Did you ever see a play where you know the coach is going to talk to the player after the game? With Siena leading by two points, Siena grabs the rebound. The player takes off down the court to what looks like an easy layup. Well he gets blocked. The St. Peters’ player grabs the rebound, dribbles up to half court and launches a game tying shot. The ball bounded off the rim. I can hear the Siena coach screaming now about running out the clock!