2018 was a big year in local sports

Looking back at some of the biggest moments

Howard Simon
January 04, 2019 - 10:27 am

Photo: Reinhold Matay - USA TODAY Sports

I know I’m a few days late with this, but I was partying too much to mark the end of 2018. After all, it was a pretty big year as far as Buffalo sports were concerned. Short of someone actually winning a championship, 2018 was one of the best years for local sports in a long time.

2018 featured the Buffalo Bills playing their first playoff game in 18 years, more on that in a moment. It saw the Buffalo Sabres win the NHL Draft Lottery for the very first time, meaning wunderkind Rasmus Dahlin would be wearing Sabres' blue and gold. Last year was the best season for college sports in these parts since Bob Lanier, Calvin Murphy and the Little Three. 

2018 kicked off with one of the best weeks we’ve had at WGR in, at least, 10 years. New Year’s Eve had seen the Bills end their playoff drought and we had a whole week to soak it all in. As you know there’s been quite a bit of losing from the Bills since we moved into the 21st century, so that first week of 2018 was somewhat cathartic. Bills fans across Western New York, the country and the globe were all celebrating and the gathering place was WGR. I’ll never forget the emotions we were hearing from the callers. There was relief, excitement and anticipation all wrapped together.

On Friday of that week people were calling our show and tweeting us pictures as they were making their way to Jacksonville. Bills Mafia was on the move and about to take over the home of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

When I woke up on Saturday, I had trouble believing it was Wild Card weekend and the Bills would actually be one of the teams playing.

On Saturday night, every time I checked Twitter there were more pictures and videos of Bills fans partying in Jacksonville bars and proudly displaying their Bills colors.

On Sunday, while hosting Countdown to Kickoff, I kept seeing tweets from the national media who were covering the game in Jacksonville. They couldn’t believe how many Bills fans were tailgating around the stadium.

We did our pre-game show at (716) Food and Sport downtown and at 11 a.m. when the doors opened, there were lines of Bills fans waiting to get in and cheer on their beloved football team. Honestly, the game was house money as far as I was concerned. There’s no doubt our job as sports talk show hosts in Buffalo can be stressful and depressing, but that was a week where it was the job to have so you could experience everything Bills with fans via calls, tweets, emails and texts.

As opposed to the Bills playoff game, I was incredibly stressed and bordering on freaking out a little over three and a half months later. On the night of April 28th, the NHL was holding its Draft Lottery and the Sabres, having finished last overall once again, had the highest-percentage chance of winning the rights to a Swedish defenseman who everyone claimed was destined for greatness. 

As I’m sure you remember, the NHL runs the lottery in two parts. First, they reveal the teams that will draft from fourth overall to 15th overall, so we had to sweat out the Sabres falling not only out of the top draft spot, but out of the top-three. They survived the initial cut, so to speak, but then we had to wait for the second intermission of the San Jose Sharks-Vegas Golden Knight playoff game. 

Once they resumed the countdown, the Montreal Canadiens logo was revealed for the third pick, and it was down to the Sabres and Carolina Hurricanes. Not those freaking Hurricanes. Those guys have our Stanley Cup! The wait for the card on the No. 1 pick to be flipped over was excruciating. I kept saying "Buffalo Sabres, Buffalo Sabres, Buffalo Sabres" as if it would insure their logo would be on the other side of the card. I yelled out so loudly when the Sabres logo was shown that my wife hurried to the basement door to make sure I was okay. Once I explained it was just me reacting to something involving sports, she just shook her head and went back to whatever she was doing.

As much fun as that moment was, it got even better over the next few weeks as we kept getting guest after guest after guest on our show to talk about Dahlin, and everyone raved about how great this kid would be and how lucky Sabres fans were.

What a year 2018 was for WNY college sports as well. It was easily the best year for Big-Four basketball with two teams, UB and St. Bonaventure, going to the NCAA Tournament. UB ends up being the talk of the country the night they not only stunned, but destroyed fourth-seeded Arizona for the program’s first ever NCAA tournament victory. Bona was placed in the first-four, but they gave their fans a fantastic memory when they knocked out UCLA. Canisius ended up with a postseason berth (CBI) as did Niagara (CIT). The four programs combined for 103 wins on the season.

The UB women had a historical season along with the men's team. Coach Felicia Legette-Jack led her Bulls to upset victories over South Florida and Florida State (and they cruised in both games) en route to a spot in the Sweet 16.

The college year also included the best football season at UB since they moved up to the FBS in 1999. The Bulls won the MAC East, earned just their third bowl bid in their FBS history and completed a four-year turnaround that saw them go from 2-10 to 10-2.

We shall see what 2019 brings to us. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for the end of another playoff drought, this one from the Sabres.

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