The Rob Ford show stumbled into section 133 of the Rogers Centre midway through the first quarter, minutes after the Buffalo Bills put their first points on the scoreboard.
I know that for sure, because I was standing in line for a beer as a loud throng of football fans moved slowly and loudly past me and toward the stairs leading to my seats. I thought they were just trying to do a sneaky upgrade, but realized something was up when the usher put her hand on my chest and demanded to see my ticket before letting me back down.
“Are you here for a picture?” she asked. “He’s not doing pictures.”
I wasn’t, but he was. Mr. Ford sat at the end of a row of seats, a bucket of chicken wings in his lap, and entertained dozens of football fans who demanded a photo. This despite the pleas of security staff to leave the man alone and the presence of at least four police officers who kept warning that photos weren’t allowed.
But still they came, one after another. And as his entourage protested, the mayor greeted each new face with a variation of the same question – can I count on your vote in the coming election?
He may be disappointed come election time. All around me, football fans scrambled to get their phones ready. The couple beside me was from Hamilton – they wanted a picture to show their friends. The guys behind me thought it would be a funny thing to pass around at work. Another woman told me she wanted a photograph with the mayor because she’s never met a celebrity before.
A teenager – probably not old enough to drive, let alone vote – asked his father to get his phone ready to take a photo of them together when they walked past (his father scowled and said “don’t be an idiot”).
As halftime approached, Mr. Ford left his seat and made his way to the concourse. There, back against a pillar, he smiled and waved as an aggressive crowd pushed toward him chanting his name and laughing at their proximity to one of the biggest news stories we’ve ever seen.
It seems a waste of space to even bother to explain why Mr. Ford drew the large crowds. There’s the crack, his drinking, the comments about his sex life. If you really don’t know, you’re not reading right now.
But through it all, the Fords have said that Rob’s popularity remains intact. Just look at the crowds, they say, the people love him. But that’s where they may be wrong, if Sunday night was any indication.
Photographs don’t equal respect any more than apologies equal absolution – and the crowds pushing for Ford’s attention were nothing more than crows feasting on political road kill.
“That’s hilarious,” one guy said as he showed me a photo of him sticking out his tongue as the mayor smiled beside him. “Look at how ridiculous this is.”
The whole visit was bizarre, and like many things Ford it was even more bizarre than it first appeared. Not only did he ruin the first half for dozens of people who had to contend with the gawkers and groupies that blocked their view, he did it in a $225 seat that wasn’t even his own.
The seat he occupied was actually picked up by musician Matt Mays earlier in the day. He took to Twitter when he realized what happened, and managed to get it back when Ford left at halftime for wherever it was he went. Which is good, because he couldn’t work up the nerve to toss the mayor out of the seat in front of the large crowd.
“Sixty thousand seats,” he said. “And he ends up in mine.”
Mr. Mays didn’t use any sneaky tricks to get Ford to give up his seat, he just waited him out. Residents of Toronto may want to take notes.