TORONTO — It started as a sea of green and blue. Green and blue seats, going around and around the Rogers Centre.

The scene before kickoff in Toronto looked scary to say the least. Sure, it’s the preseason, a time undrafted rookies get to become boxscore superheroes. But this is still the NFL, and it’s in Toronto. The presence of the NFL in a foreign country is still kind of a big deal, right?

Then suddenly a bomb went off. Or maybe it was that incessantly loud cannon that went off at every conceivable opportunity. Or perhaps it was the Bills band oddly starting the pre game performance with Auld Lang Syne. But something ignited this crowd.

The empty seats were still there (final attendance was 39,583, compared to the 48,434 who attended the preseason game against Pittsburgh in 2008), but the Rogers Centre sounded alive, and that definitely counts for something. In the middle of the first quarter Bills rookie first-round pick C.J Spiller–now carrying the load in the backfield with both Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson injured–sprinted to the outside for a 31-yard touchdown. The roar came.

Joseph Addai hit the hole hard for a 17-yard score to tie the game. The roar was there again.

Terrence McGee intercepted Peyton Manning for a pick six. And there was the roar once more.

Should this be surprising? No, far from it. It should be commonplace. Here’s the ridiculously simple, borderline intelligence-insulting equation: football is a hard-hitting, fast-paced sport, with quick bursts of action. So it should be exciting. Yet there is a perception amongst some media south of the border that there’s an overwhelming sense of indifference to the Bills Toronto Series.

Emotionally, the crowd is invested. Visually, the crowd is lacking, and that’s the root of the problem. It’s nice and cute when the noise slowly builds on a third and long, and when eyes widen as a deep ball sails through the air, and don’t forget that collective “ohhh!” and stadium-wide wince that follows a solid hit. It’s especially adorable when the wave rolls around the lower bowl amidst the still vacant green and blue seats.

But football is a business, and the Bills Toronto Series is a business endeavour, one that needs quantity to be successful and quality will be worried about later. At the best of times it’s difficult to take two areas with separate identities that are linked by little more than geography, and find some common bond.

For the players, it feels different. But it’s OK to be different. Just ask Trent Edwards.

“I thought the environment was great, I really enjoyed it,” said the Bills quarterback, who threw for 93 yards and a touchdown.

In a small way, this has become a home away from home for Edwards, like the family cottage that’s visited a couple times a year.

“The playing surface, and the stadium is a little different. The fans are on our side though, and I really enjoy playing here.”

Who the fans were supporting Thursday night is debatable, as the cheers for the “home” side nearly equalled those for the Colts. But winning the AFC Championship and going to the Super Bowl will do that for you.

Lee Evans, who caught a 70-yard bomb from Edwards for a first-quarter touchdown, has been around since the beginning of the Bills Toronto Series, and says the atmosphere is getting better with each visit.

“It certainly feels as though we have a lot of support out there, and the fans were a lot more into it than they have been in the past,” said the former first-round pick.

“It is different, but it feels a lot more like a home game now than it did the first time we played here.”

Comments (2)

  1. After 3 poor NFL games in Toronto, finally there was some action. But the second half was not great. Many explain the lack of support of the NFL because they don’t like the Bills. I like to point out; it was the Colts not only the Bills on the field. So the excuse people in Toronto don’t go to watch an NFL game is very poor.

    Many Medias said it was way under 39,000, more like 20,000. Like the other 3 games, many tickets where given away. So far in 4 NFL games in Toronto, no full house yet. The Roger Centre only has 54,000 seats.

    The next day, the game Argonauts-Tiger-Cats brought in the Rogers Centre 24,500 fans. Theses tickets were paid, not free… This crowd is very good, if you conceder the fans that like both leagues, would found it difficult to go to two strait football games. Especially it was week games. So the CFL was disadvantage but did well. The Argos are doing better this year and slowly the crowd is coming back. At the same time the NFL attendance in Toronto was the worst so far.

  2. 1- For an NFL team to survive in a market like Toronto it needs to be the #1 sport and it probably won’t happen.

    2- Football fans are divided between the Canadian league and the powerful foreign country league the NFL. Many football fans will not forgive the NFL for killing the Canadian league.

    3- What proof is there that Toronto will attract a larger crowd? The city can’t get 54,000 NFL fans into the Skydome. To survive it will need to get 65,000 – 70,000 fans on a regular basic. Rogers gave away something like 60,000 tickets so far and still do not have a single NFL full house yet. If fans don’t even bother to go when it’s free, on what basis do some say that the NFL will do well in Toronto? In the end, who’s going to pay for the NFL catastrophe? Rogers customers and Toronto’s citizens. Many say it may not have enough TV revenues anyway.

    4- The 78 million dollar deal to bring the Bills to Toronto is a big flop. This would be nothing compared to the enormous losses if an NFL team would come to Toronto.

    5- After all that money spent, what guarantee is there that Toronto would have a good team? As well, what guarantee would fans have that they will see a high percentage of exciting NFL games? This is in the NFL a very rare thing anyway.

    6- Frankly I do not understand why, but some prefer the NFL. That’s their choice and we have to respect this. Nobody is depriving them of watching NFL games on TV. The CFL can’t compete against a 9 billions League. Why risk depriving the rest of the country who love the Canadian football? 42% of Canadians citizens watched the Grey Cup entirely or partly in 2010. On TSN, the CFL became the #1 sport last year. Still some want to impose the NFL in Toronto (in Canada); can we consider this attitude a little egotistical?

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