For National basketball Association referee Joe Gushue and his 12-year-old daughter, a routine trip from his home in Philadelphia to this snowbound city turned into a scary seven-hour bus ride from Rochester to Buffalo and an adventurous night in a suburban fire house.
Gushue never did make it to the Municipal Auditorium hard by Lake Erie for a Jan. 28 game between Buffalo and Cleveland, but then, the Cavaliers didn't show up either. They were snowbound in Ohio and canceled the trip.
The experiences of people and teams like Gushue and Buffalo's Braves and Sabres reflect the athletic side of the weather crisis that gripped this city, starting with that Jan. 28 snow. The instances of canceled contests, marooned players and near disasters are many.
For Randy Smith, the Braves' starting guard, a walk around the block to a grocery store very nearly turned into a nightmare. "When I left, I laughed about challenging the blizzard," he recalled the other day. "When I got back, I was almost crying."
For Sabre wing Gary McAdam, a normal 15-minute drive from the practice rink to his apartment turned into a symphony of screeching metal and shattering of glass. He was involved in four separate accidents that day.
Going to practice, McAdam was sideswiped by a skidding car coming from the opposite direction. After the workout, with conditions deteriorating badly, he smacked one car from the rear, very nearly was run over when he went out to inspect the damage (he jumped on a truck to avoid getting hit) then was bashed twice more from behind.
McAdam now has a new nickname. His teammates call him Crash.
The people of Buffalo get pounded by the elements every year, but this has been the most severe winter in the city's history. Already, 177 inches of snow have fallen, and a cheery fellow in the U.S. Weather Service said today. "We've still got six more weeks of potential snow weather."
But nothing will equal that frightful Friday of Jan. 28.
Only 4 1/2 inches of snow fell that day, but the temperature dropped from 26 to 4 in less than an hour that afternoon and winds clocked at 70 miles per hour whipped drifts reaching 25 feet high.
The wind chill factor was 60 at one point and at least 14 deaths were attributed to the Blizzard, seven of them victim of heart attacks or carbon monoxide poisoning in snow bound cars.
When the Washington Bullets come here to play the Braves Tuesday night, even their tallest players will be dwarfed by the plowed snow lining every curb in town.
The snow is filthy gray now after a weekend thaw and all but the most remote country roads are accessible by car.
But the memory of that nightmarish week of snow and wind and sub-zero temperatures will not long be forgotten by the people who play games here for a living.
The front-office staffs of the Braves and Sabres spent two nights living in their own arena along with 400 other people who came in out of the cold and wound up staying as long as 72 hours.
They were sheltered in the arena's Aud Club, eating the food that was supposed to have been used for a game between the Braves and Cavaliers, and sleeping on tables or on the floor.
"People just keep wandering in with no place to go," said Sabre publicity director Paul Wieland, one of the trapped hundreds. "We had two infants and had to use napkins for diapers. We had one diabetic and one schizoid who drove everybody kind of nuts."
At the height of the storm, a group of volunteers linked arms and formed a human chain to the parking lot to make sure no one had tried to weather the storm in a car. They linked arms because visibility was next to zero.
A Brave equipment man found one fellow incoherently wandering in the parking lot, his face almost blue. "Just let me die here," he told his rescuers.
The storm also blew a 5-by-50 foot hole in the arena's ceiling that weekend, sending water, snow and ice cascading to the floor and costing some $25,000 in repair and cleanup bills.
The Braves had to cancel four home games and one on the road and practices were called off for an entire week.
"We've got something like 30 games left to play in 50 days," said coach Bob MacKinnon. "We're going to be playing a lot of those six-games-in-seven-nights kinds of weeks. When this is all over, we're going to be one tired basketball team."
The Sabres were a little luckier with only two postponements on the Saturday after the big storm, 16 players and coach Floyd Smith somehow managed to get to the airport for a charter flight to Montreal. Smith followed a snowplow to the airport.
"A couple of guys had four-wheel drive cars so they picked up anyone they could," said Sabre wing Danny Gare. "At every stop we had to dig our way in to get to the guys. And you couldn't believe the plane they took. It actually had propellers. If you saw it, you wouldn't believe they could fly it. But they made it."
Four players were buried so deep they never did catch the flight, but the Sabres still managed to tie the Montreal Canadiens, 3-3. They flew back to Buffalo the next day, a tactical mistake because the team had to leave again on Monday for a game Tuesday with the New York Islanders in Uniondale, N.Y.
When high winds canceled the Monday flight, the players boarded a bus and drove to Long Island, a 12-hour trip. "It reminded all of us about the good old days in the juniors," said Gare. "Yeah, we lost, but I guess you could call it a moral victory because at least we showed up."
While the Sabres were battling to get away, most of the basketball Braves stayed home. "I spent a lot time just looking out the window," said Smith. "I couldn't believe what I was seeing."
"I tried to run in place and do some exercises," added Adrian Dantley." The only place I went for four days was the Safeway across the street, and that was a trip. I never minded snow, but this was ridiculous."
A few days after the initial storm, a driving ban was put into effect by the mayor for all but essential services. Smith and teammate John Shumate were driving to a practice when they were stopped by a policeman and ordered to go back home. They did. Had they disobeyed, the penalty would have been 90 days in jail and a $5,000 fine, an awfully stiff technical foul.
Shumate apparently was snowbound in his apartment for 2 1/2 days and one Buffalo newspaper reported that he ran out of food and lost several pounds. "Aw, man, I don't even want to talk about it," Shumate said over the phone. "That was kind of exaggerated. But, hey, that storm was everything they said."
"I've lived here since 1967," added Smith, "and the only thing I could compare it to is a nuclear attack - cars abandaned everywhere, no people on the street. It was scary. We got one guy on the team, Bird Averitt, who grew up in California. He saw this snow and he wanted to retire.
"This wasn't Buffalo man it was Antarctica."