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NO-FRILLS VENUE, NO-FRILLS TOWN : BUFFALO AUDITORIUM TO CLOSE AFTER YEARS OF UNDISTINGUISHED SERVICE.

Byline: Bucky Gleason Associated Press

Nobody will ever confuse Memorial Auditorium with the Boston Garden or Madison Square. It is not the Montreal Forum or even the Great Western.

The Aud had character. It just never had the mystique possessed by the other famed arenas, which is why fans will shed few tears when the 56-year-old building closes its doors to sports.

``I've been to the Boston Garden. I've been to Chicago Stadium. I've been to the Forum,'' said George Gould, manager of the Aud from 1981-94. ``The Aud wasn't the same mainly because we didn't have any championship banners.''

The Buffalo Sabres finish a miserable, final season at the Aud against the Hartford Whalers today. The Sabres begin play at Marine Midland Arena this fall.

Fans leaving the Aud for the last time will raise one hand to their lips and kiss goodbye - and for some, good riddance - to another Great Depression project. One columnist referred to the building as ``The Fraud,'' and many believe with good reason.

The eight banners that hang from its rafters bear no titles for the Sabres or the former NBA Braves. The only hometown champions to play in the building have been the Buffalo Bandits, a Major Indoor Lacrosse League team.

The two greatest moments in Aud history belong to visitors: the Philadelphia Flyers winning the Stanley Cup in 1975 and Wayne Gretzky breaking the single-season scoring record in 1982.

``There's really no true history here,'' season-ticket holder Dan Kij said. ``You really don't have that aura. It's always been the visitors who have done the celebrating.''

Perhaps the Sabres' biggest Aud highlight came when Brad May's overtime goal gave them a 6-5 victory over Boston in April 1993. It marked the first time they had reached the second round of the postseason in 10 years. They were swept by Montreal in the next round.

Among other Aud highlights:

-Democrats put together the financing for the building before it was built in 1940. The first public event there was a rally for Republican presidential candidate Wendell Wilkie. He went on to lose the election to Franklin Roosevelt.

-Boxer Ray ``Boom Boom'' Mancini was 23 years old and atop the boxing world when he came to Buffalo in 1984. He was knocked out in the 14th round by lesser-known Livingstone Bramble, lost the lightweight belt and never really regained his edge.

-Jo Jo White sank two free throws with no time remaining to lift the Boston Celtics to a 106-104 victory that eliminated the Buffalo Braves from the playoffs in 1974. The Braves left town four years later.

-Dave Hannan gave the Sabres a 1-0 victory with a goal in the fourth overtime of Game 6 against New Jersey in the 1994 playoffs. Buffalo was eliminated in Game 7.

-In the 1975 Stanley Cup playoff series against Philadelphia, former Sabre and current color commentator Jim Lorentz swung his stick and killed a bat that was flying over the ice.

-Gilbert Perreault scored his 500th NHL goal against New Jersey in March 1986. He retired after the next season.

Minor-league hockey and college basketball were the main shows for many years before the Sabres joined the NHL in 1970.

Although fans adored the Aud's exceptional sight lines, visiting teams for years have complained about the small, slow ice surface and poor dressing-room conditions.

``I can hardly wait to get to the Marine Midland Arena,'' longtime Sabres play-by-play man Rick Jeanneret said. ``I say that unabashedly. I want to go tonight. I don't want to wait. It won't bother me at all to leave the Aud.''

The Aud has three banners for the Sabres' Adams Division titles. Others include Canisius College's appearances - not championships - in postseason basketball tournaments and the fact that Buffalo hosted the World University Games in 1993.

Three other banners are for retired jersey numbers worn by the French Connection line that included Perreault, Rick Martin and Rene Robert. Another is for late defenseman Tim Horton, who played 24 seasons in the NHL and two with Buffalo. His number was never reissued because he died in a car accident while playing for the Sabres.

How true is the glory for the other three?

Perreault denies it now, but he felt snubbed by the team upon his retirement after he received a weak offer to remain in the organization. Martin sued the team in an injury dispute, and Robert once flashed his bare rear end to owner Seymour Knox after an old-timers game. The sour feelings have since been straightened out.

``If the walls could talk, even though there's no championships, there would still be tons of stories,'' said Wayne Redshaw, who covered nearly 1,200 Sabres' games for the Welland (Ontario) Tribune. ``They're only patching up the differences now.''

The Sabres and the rest of Buffalo's indoor sports teams will move into the $127 million Marine Midland Arena, which will seat 19,500 for hockey and includes 80 luxury suites and an eight-sided video scoreboard.

No longer will stories be told about how people actually had to walk DOWN a ramp, then up another to reach their seats in the upper levels of the Aud.

``You'd walk into walls and go down stairs looking for your seats,'' former Aud manager Gould said. ``We put a lot of ushers to work. The building was like, `Use me, abuse me. I'll be ready for the next event.' But it always was.''
COPYRIGHT 1996 Daily News
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:SPORTS
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Apr 14, 1996
Words:906
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