A View from Calico Jack’s – 12/23/08

Give me something for the pain/Give me something for the blues /Give me something for the pain when/I feel Ive been danglin from a hang-man’s noose
-Bon Jovi

What does a Bills’ columnist write about when he knows his readers would rather read about pretty much anything else, even after what might sadly qualify as the team’s best win of the year?

How do you deal with the pain?

You indulge in another History of Buffalo Sports digression – a brief one, given the holiday week – saving the end-of-season wrap up for next week.

What to write about? After seeing Mickey Rourke’s amazing performance in the new movie, The Wrestler, I’d love to write about the rich history of Buffalo-area professional wrestling (Local boy Tony Parisi! Johnny Powers! The Shiek!), but I’m afraid interest would be limited to me and fellow NYCBBB old f-ck Ron Rampino. I’ve also considered delving into the history of Buffalo bowling, but that’s too obscure.

Which happily leaves me with a group of professional athletes who I’d argue have the most locally famous nickname in Buffalo sports history, although you might argue for OJ’s O-Line, The Electric Company; the Sabres’ “French Connection” triumvirate of Gilbert Perreault, Rick Martin and Rene Robert – three electrifying forwards who nearly led the team to Stanley Cup glory (the word “nearly” almost always pops up in conjunction with Buffalo sports).

But, first, a digression from the digression: Reader Paul, in Richmond, Virginia, of all places, was dismayed that I didn’t reference Moses Malone or Nate “Tiny” Archibald in my Buffalo Braves column. Of course, I’ve known Reader Paul since high school, so I no doubt have dismayed him before.

Briefly: Hall-of-Famer Moses Malone, in true Braves fashion, was acquired by the team for a first-round draft pick. In truer Braves fashion, he was traded after only two games, albeit for two future first round picks. But, Mo is a Braves legend compared to Tiny Archibald, another Hall-of-Famer. Tiny was traded to the Braves prior to the 1977 season, promptly tore his Achilles tendon and never played for the team. He was traded to the Celtics before the following season, and ultimately won a championship in Boston.

The story had to end that way, right?

Back to the real subject of this week’s column. How popular – and good – was The French Connection? Let me put it this way: I’m not especially a hockey fan, but I remember The French Connection vividly, as well as most of the other members of the mid-1970s Sabres. For some people, the names Perreault, Martin and Robert to this day elicit a similar response as the names Kelly, Bruce and Thurman do for so many Bills fans.

Perreault is a Hall-of-Famer, while Martin and Robert were both all stars. All three were French Canadian, hence the shared name with a hugely popular movie of the time. Perreault was the team’s first-ever draft pick; Martin was the first pick the following year, in 1971; Robert was picked up in a trade the year after that.

It’s hard to describe just how exciting these guys were. Perreault was a great skater, Martin was known for his wicked slap shot (more on that later), and Robert was arguably the most diversely skilled of the three, who usually did the checking and other dirty work. They played on the same line for most of the 1970s, set numerous team scoring records that still stand, and led the team on a glorious playoff run in 1975 that took them all the way to the finals, which they lost against the Flyers.

That series included the infamous Fog Game, during which the Aud’s air conditioning failed, creating inside conditions that matched the 90-degree weather outside – in turn creating a massive fog in the arena. That game ended in overtime when, on cue, the Connection teamed up to score the winning goal.

The Sabres of that era were so popular they inspired to truly horrible song that only a Sabres fan could love: Me and The Buffalo Sabres (“You know we’re going to win that cup/Me and the Buffalo Sabres, yeah, yeah, yeah!”) Imagine if Obama Girl did a Sabres tribute song and you’ll get the idea.

Alas, the line broke up for good in 1979, and didn’t reunite until each player had his jersey retired by the Sabres. But, so most the 1970s, the French Connection was the biggest thing in Buffalo sports not named OJ. Whatever happened to that guy, anyway?

Happy holidays, everyone!