May 22 marks the 43rd anniversary of Buffalo officially being granted an NHL franchise for the 1970-71 season. After their two previous attempts at landing an NHL franchise had fallen short, the Knox brothers were rewarded for their patience and perseverance when they – along with Vancouver – were awarded a franchise on December 2, 1969.
But before the team would play a game, the fledgling franchise would need a name. To learn more about the naming process, the following is an excerpt from the book “A Spin of the Wheel,” written in 1975 by best-selling author Ross Brewitt.
“As a first venture into the publicity field, a contest was announced to choose a name for the Buffalo team, with rewarding, if almost, overwhelming results. Mail poured in from as far away as Vancouver; Bangor, Maine; and even an entry from Germany.
The names were as varied as the postmarks, some serious, others obviously tongue-in-cheek. Over 13,000 names were sent in, over 1,000 of them different; as many of the applicants submitted names already in use, or spin-offs on anything and everything connected with buffaloes.
The selection committee was looking for a completely new name, one that wasn’t being used by any team in professional sports – a name that would lend itself to news items (a concession to the newsmen who would have to write the headlines), and particularly a name that would disassociate itself from the usual Buffalo team titles.
From the sublime to the ridiculous, the names poured in. Bees, Mugwumps, Flying Zepplins, Knoxen, Herd, Border Riders, and Comets fell by the wayside. The field was narrowed to a single name very quickly. The more it was repeated, the more it began to fit the image the Buffalo group was trying to establish.
Four people had submitted the name “Sabres” and a draw was held to determine which of the four would receive the first prize of a pair of season tickets. Mayor Sedita performed the honors, and Robert Sonnelitter, Jr. went down in Sabres history as the man who named Buffalo’s NHL team.
The name “Sabres” fitted the specifications to a “T”. As a press release from Chuck Burr’s department would point out, “A sabre is renowned as a clean, sharp, decisive and penetrating weapon on offense, as well as a strong parrying weapon on defense.” While there were sportswriters and sportscasters who would laugh openly at the thought of the infant Sabres being anything decisive or sharp for several years to come, it did open the door for some great lead-ins for the stories they would have to report.
In addition, Sabres was a completely new name in professional sports, and it also got away from the Bisons-Bills-Herd mentality.
So Sabres it was, and would be. The days of referring to the “group” or “team” were over, and through liberal amounts of publicity (and window decals) the name Sabres became almost a household word before the club picked up its first player. Finding the players became the next order of business.”
Click here for more information on author Ross Brewitt and his other books.