By JERRY SULLIVAN
Mark Hamister looked and sounded like a defeated, demoralized man
Monday afternoon. His cheeks were sunken, his features drawn. He
seemed in desperate need of an evening by the pool and a good night's
"Physically, I'm fine," he said after announcing the suspension of
his bid for the Sabres. "It's mental. I'm burned out."
Why wouldn't he be? For the past three months, Hamister has spent
virtually all his time in the company of bankers and lawyers,
politicians and reporters, not to mention Gary Bettman and his
cronies at the NHL offices. You'd be toast by now, too.
Hamister has been rejected, reviled and ridiculed. He's been
dismissed as a small-timer with shallow pockets, riding the
taxpayers' backs to ownership of a major sports franchise. When no
one else in the community was willing to take a chance, he tried to
keep the Sabres in town, and he took more grief for it than he ever
"I'm a human being like anyone else," Hamister said. "All of us are
prone from time to time to being passionate about our beliefs. At the
end of the day, we all understand the importance of the Sabres to
You can question Hamister's motives. He was looking to get a
franchise on the cheap and make a profit down the road. What sports
owner doesn't? He wanted to be a hero in town, to be seen as the man
who saved the Sabres. Is that so bad?
The fact is this town needs the Sabres, and it needed someone to save
them. If you're opposed to throwing public money at sports teams, and
if you think we'd be better off with an AHL team, so be it. But if
you treasure your NHL team and can't bear to see it leave town, you
should at least give Hamister credit for giving it his best shot.
There's still a chance Hamister will re-energize himself and re-
emerge with new investors. But if he "quietly fades away," as he
suggested Monday, then Buffalo hockey fans better hope another local
buyer comes to the rescue. If not, there's a good chance the team
could be whisked away to another city or folded altogether.
So it's time for Tom Golisano to prove he's for real. If he's serious
about buying the Sabres - if he has motives more noble than the
tormenting of rival politicians - he needs to show it. The Rochester
businessman has deep pockets. If he's sincere about wanting to buy
the Sabres and keep them here, he has the resources to do it.
Hamister pounded home that message Monday, without naming Golisano.
He "welcomed and encouraged" other interested parties. He made it
clear he's happy to step aside if there's a buyer who can satisfy the
NHL, the various government entities, Adelphia and its creditors -
including all the small local vendors.
"We needed to do the right thing," Hamister said. "That is, if
there's someone else out there who has a better plan than we have, it
was time to allow that to happen. . . . If people genuinely want this
team to stay in Buffalo, I would encourage them to put offers that
work on the table."
Sources close to Hamister question Golisano's sincerity. Golisano
insists otherwise. But if he was that serious about buying the
Sabres, you'd have expected him to make a more emphatic bid well
before this, one that would have made Hamister a spectator.
Last month, Bettman said he would have "grave concerns" for the
franchise if the Hamister bid fell through. He dismissed Golisano at
the time. But he spoke with Golisano on Monday, so the commissioner
apparently has had second thoughts.
We'll find out about Golisano now. In the meantime, it would help if
other local investors got into the action, just in case. If Golisano
isn't the answer, the Sabres could very well be gone. Our lost hockey
team could be Exhibit A when Bettman takes on the players union in
next year's negotiations.
It's not fair, but if it happens Hamister will be seen as the guy who
failed to save them. He is a competitive man, and he does not relish
the idea of failure.
"I still love this town," he said. "I still believe the Buffalo
Sabres are important . . . but I couldn't pull it off."
Hamister's jaw was quaking, and I swear, he was very close to tears.