It used to be the honey and now it’s the money. Truth is, Toronto has always been a booty call for the Buffalo Bills, back to their halcyon days when a limo north was – for some of the ardent, practising heterosexuals on Marv Levy’s teams – a means of escaping a local fishbowl.
That’s why it’s time to see the Bills Toronto Series for what it really is: a business relationship in which the Rogers empire pays the Bills $78-million (U.S.) for a package of games at the Rogers Centre. Soulless? What do you expect when accountants get together.
It’s pointless to blather on about the lousy atmosphere in the stadium. Newsflash: Rogers Centre is a 50,000-odd seat facility that has been known to suck the life out of events when its roof is closed, and – yes – we know that Ontario liquor laws make it difficult for groups of misbehaving males to get falling-down, snot-puking drunk in public before game-time like they can in Buffalo. Since when was tailgating a mark of civilization?
The Rogers Centre is not going to be Ralph Wilson Stadium; it won’t be snowing or blowing and the only time you’ll find a 12th Man up here is when the Argonauts are playing. But since both sides seem to think there’s something of value in the deal, the guess here is the Bills Toronto Series isn’t going to go away. The suits won’t let it.
The best thing any of us can do, then, is adopt the approach the Bills were given by head coach Chan Gailey in the team’s 23-0 Bills win over the Washington Redskins Sunday. Shut up, suck it up and play. “We talked about dominating the guy across from us, about making plays and getting the fans in the game,” safety George Wilson said.
The Bills (5-2) did that. True, the Redskins (3-4) were a hurting group, with the absence of left tackle Trent Williams and left guard Kory Lichtensteiger (out for the season with torn knee ligaments) explaining some of the Bills’ nine sacks. Depth in the backfield and at wide receiver was depleted and linebacker London Fletcher played despite a hamstring injury that kept him questionable all week and made him easy pickings for Bills tight end Scott Chandler, who had two touchdown catches including one of 15 yards four minutes into the third quarter that effectively sealed the win.
Fletcher trailed him by yards, and threw his arms open wide as he walked off the field after being beaten. “It wasn’t the hamstring,” Chandler said, later. “I just have a lot of height on him, and we felt if we could exploit that, then great.”
There are media fan-boys up here who drool at the possibility of an NFL team in Toronto, but most of the conjecture in that regard seems to come from Western New York. That’s understandable, given concerns about who takes over the team after 93-year-old Ralph Wilson passes and how on earth Ralph Wilson Stadium can be revamped in an economy that’s in the toilet. Forget Toronto. You want to fear some city? Fear Los Angeles – a bigger market more capable of building a football-only facility and an easier sell politically. And spare us the whole drivel about the NFL wanting to expand its international footprint. It captured Canada a long time ago. Playing a game in Europe or Asia or Mexico enlarges your international footprint. Canada? Not so much.
If the fans of Western New York really think about it, it is obvious that more than anything Toronto is part of the solution to keeping the Bills in Buffalo. Moving beyond that, could this be the game that lets us all get along? The Bills even dodged a bad karmic moment when quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was slammed on the ribs by a blitzing Fletcher and took a knee. Nice sight, a couple of days after signing a six-year, $59-million contract. Fred Jackson took the pass 46 yards and Fitzpatrick joked later he was miffed at the crowd for cheering the hit until he realized Jackson had rattled off a big play. Fitzpatrick stayed in the game, and the Bills storybook season continues, with Toronto just another happy chapter.