BY RANDY SCHULTZ –
A plaque with the images of Seymour H. Knox III and his brother Northrup hangs in the tunnel leading to the Buffalo Sabres bench. The plaque has hung there since the arena opened for the 1996-97 National Hockey League season.
For year’s players passing past the plaque would touch it “for luck.” The players seemed to understand who the Knox brothers were and the history they represented.
But in recent times it appears as though the players have gotten away from the practice of “touching the plaque.” Maybe in this 50th anniversary season of Sabres hockey it’s time to look back at the Knox’s, the founding owners of Buffalo’s NHL franchise.
It was nearly a quarter of a century ago when I sat with the Knox brothers in their offices, located on the 37th floor of the Marine Midland Center.
When Seymour H. Knox III occupied his office in downtown Buffalo, he had a view that was breathtaking of the Queen City. Although my plan was to talk hockey with Knox, upon entering his office he immediately took me to the window and provided me with a social studies lesson.
“I have a great view of the past and the future of Buffalo,” commented Knox, looking down on Memorial Auditorium to our right and the newly being build Marine Midland Arena on the left, while also pointing out city landmarks. “There are plans to develop the waterfront once we complete the arena and I see our building as a catalyst for the whole project, one that will pull the rest of downtown Buffalo together.”
Turning back to the office and away from the crystal ball-like window that he saw many great visions from, Knox let out a big sigh.
“It won’t come easy,” cautioned the elder Knox at the time. “There are a lot of people waiting to see how well we do with our arena.
“While there are many of us looking to Buffalo’s potential, unfortunately there are others who area skeptical. Hopefully, with planning, that will change.”
As history has shown, many of Knox’s visions have become a reality over the past two decades, thanks in part to the efforts of the Sabres new owners, Terry and Kim Pegula.
Norty recalled a couple of golf outings in the spring of 1965. He admitted that without them there would be no history of the Sabres or the NHL in Buffalo to talk about today.
“I was talking with a lawyer friend of mind from the Boston Bruins,” said the younger Knox brother. “He casually mentioned the NHL was considering expansion and wondered if we might be interested in a franchise. I didn’t attach any importance to the conversation.
“That same spring Seymour was golfing with Fred Hunt (then GM of the Buffalo Bisons of the American Hockey League) and Fred voiced the same rumor to Seymour. Of course, my brother paid attention and called me.
“That’s when I began to get interested.”
The Knox brothers quest for an NHL franchise began that same year with two qualities they possessed in large amounts: determination and resilience.
“St. Louis knocked us out in ’67,” said Norty. “We were deeply disappointed because St. Louis didn’t have ownership in place and ready to go. We did. Despite our disappointment, we never thought of turning back.”
Although passed over in the first NHL expansion, the Knox brothers continued their quest. They signed a 1968 contract to invest in the Oakland Seals, with the plan being to eventually move the Seals to Buffalo.
Though the franchise shift never materialized, with the Knox brothers having a seat on the NHL’s Board of Governors through the Seals, they secured their own expansion team for 1970.
“Our intention was to make a contribution to the community just as our father had in the arts field,” concluded Seymour. “We made that contribution to the community through the hockey franchise,”
A legacy that continues to this day. The plaque on the wall leading to the Sabres bench tells us that.
Hopefully it will tell the players that as well.