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The Globe and Mail

Nothing to see at the Rogers Centre but a regular NFL game

It is time for another furtive embrace; time for another delicate stepping around sensibilities.

The Buffalo Bills are playing their annual regular-season NFL game at Rogers Centre on Sunday, against the Atlanta Falcons.

Bills players will be tempted to complain about the lack of crowd support and loss of the advantage that would be gained from playing a dome team outdoors at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Power brokers will bend over backward to ensure nobody thinks the team is for sale or that nobody's going to carpetbag the team out of Western New York. Thank goodness Jon Bon Jovi isn't playing the halftime show.

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By now, smart folks have come to the conclusion this annual game is less a declaration of anybody's intentions than it is a marketing endeavour that must be working for both sides on some level. Why else would it continue?

The Bills have a lease in Orchard Park, N.Y., that runs for 12 years and is iron-clad through seven years. Los Angeles needs a team. London is a more intriguing notion for the NFL than Toronto.

Two plus two does not yet equal four, despite the excited and in some ways prurient dispatches last week about Bon Jovi positioning himself to make a play for the Bills once owner Ralph Wilson dies, bankrolled by Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. chairman Larry Tanenbaum and aided by family ties between Bon Jovi's company and MLSE president and chief executive officer Tim Leiweke.

Indeed, there are rumblings in the Toronto business community that Bon Jovi and Tanenbaum are much further down the road on a new football stadium than either is willing to let on, and that they have in fact been quietly lining things up for two years or more.

The overlap with the Bills in Toronto Series is Rogers Communications Inc., to whom the Bills have leased out the game, has an ownership stake in MLSE and that company executives have long courted an NFL franchise.

Truth is, none of those issues will be solved this weekend. There will be the usual whining about Toronto's lack of tailgating freedom and how it damages the bacchanalian instincts of NFL fans; about how there is no atmosphere in the Rogers Centre and about how many tickets were discounted or comps. In the end, it will matter not one iota because commissioner Roger Goodell and his owners don't give out letter grades for tailgating parties, and if partying's that big an issue anyhow, Toronto has two words for NFL owners: Rob and Ford. End of discussion.

The only reason this game should be a storyline is that the 2-9 Falcons play in a domed stadium and the 4-7 Bills believe their chances of hanging on to their playoff lifeline for one more week would be enhanced outdoors, preferably with 15 feet of snow on the ground and a howling north wind.

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Wide receiver Stevie Johnson's done some whinging, but centre Eric Woods – who was less than kind in his assessment of the benign atmosphere at last year's game – has been all "it is what it is" this time out. Head coach Doug Marrone goes into robot football coach mode when the matter arises: Good teams put up with things and block out distractions. As for rookie quarterback EJ Manuel?

"You want to look for the game clock, that's one thing when you go into a stadium for the first time," he said. "And the first thing you need to do is some drills with the receivers, throwing the ball up and down, so they can kind of get a gist of how the ball is going to come down. For me, it's all the same. The surface is fine, it's still turf, it's still a normal football field."

And it's a football game, folks. A normal game, but with an extra down and one fewer player. Nothing else, not yet.

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