Archive for the ‘Bills Toronto Series’ Category

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And now the postmortem so we can all move on.

Sun Media’s Steve Simmons sums up what appears to be a consensus thought in most Toronto columns today: “One of the real problems with this Bills In Toronto series, aside from all the obvious problems, is that it features the Bills. The truth is, we already have enough lousy teams in Toronto.”

+ The Toronto Star’s Garth Woolsey has some interesting comments from Bills Toronto Series general manager Adrian Montgomery, who spent the early part of this week avoiding yours truly like the plague.

1) “Montgomery estimated that only three per cent of fans (or roughly 1,500) at last year’s Toronto game came from [the Western New York fan] base; ‘the predominant fan base for this event is in the Greater Toronto Area.’”

2) “Over time, a lot has been written about Toronto not being a Buffalo Bills town, this not being `our’ team,” said Montgomery. “That’s something that may have been true but it’s certainly less true (now) than it ever was. Building a fan base for the Buffalo Bills is taking a bit of time.”

Obviously Montgomery has to say certain things, regardless of what he may or may not believe inside. Regardless, I think it would be difficult to find many sane Toronto football fans who would agree that there’s been any progress at all when it comes to expanding the Bills’ fan base in Toronto. It’s just not happening.

+ A pair of Buffalo News reporters spent time in the “tailgating” area and couldn’t find a sole who claimed to be from the Buffalo area.

There are no spacious parking lots around the stadium, like there are for tailgating purposes around Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park. So officials here staged an “official tailgate” of their own, complete with plenty of beverages, Hooters waitresses serving and ear-splitting music. It also came with mud. A lot of it. The area was grassy and folks were left to try to tip-toe through the bog. Large sod patches simply sank and created more of an obstacle course.

“This is embarrassing,” said a Bills fan wearing a Fred Jackson jersey who said he was from Lancaster but declined to give his name. “It’s a mess. Terrible.”

+ Jerry Sullivan of the Buffalo News claims the poor performance and tame atmosphere won’t help the Bills attract a marquee head coach.

+ Stephen Brunt of The Globe and Mail has a wide-ranging column on the game and the status of the series itself. He notes that the crowd took a step in the right direction:

It felt like a far more engaged crowd, involved in the game from the opening kickoff, cheering in the right places, groaning in the right places, with a clear rooting interest. Last year, there were more Dolphins than Bills jerseys in evidence, and there certainly wasn’t much sign of a pro-Buffalo bias – not that the Bills did much to encourage it. Ambivalence ruled, with the ‘Fins a close second.

This time, the “home” team was at least obviously the home team, (albeit the Toronto version thereof, so the support wasn’t as loud and rough around the edges as what the Bills experienced back in their regular digs).

+ Sun Media’s Steve Simmons counts the improvements from last year.

If last year was dismal failure, this was moderate success.

If last year a was game devoid of action and emotion, this game offered a whole lot of everything, highlighted by a heavyweight matchup between Terrell Owens and Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis, with defensive player winning on the judge’s scorecards.

If last year was overpriced, the price came down. If last year was a once-in-a-lifetime I’m never going to waste my money on this crap, this year was reason to consider next year’s game.

+ Bruce Arthur of the National Post notes that Blue Jays season-ticket holders were given free tickets to Thursday’s game.

+ Apparently someone tossed a gay slur Mark Sanchez’s way, and it’s getting some press.

+ Using a pretty cool gauge, Buffalo Business First concludes that Los Angeles and Toronto are easily the top two North American markets without NFL franchises.

+ Results of a CTV.ca poll: 54 percent of voters say Toronto could not support an NFL team. Just ridiculous.

We’ll revisit all this craziness in August, when Rogers will be trying to do the impossible: sell out a preseason game.

Toronto — And so ends one of the best six-day runs Canadian football has ever seen, right?

Saturday: Queens completes an incredible comeback to beat Calgary in the highest-rated Vanier Cup of all time.

Sunday: Montreal battles to beat Saskatchewan in one of the wildest Grey Cup finishes of all time. Crazy enough, in fact, to make ESPN’s famous “C’mon Man!” segment.

Thursday: The second-ever NFL regular-season game to grace our nation with its presence is played in prime time at Rogers Centre … and the Bills actually score a touchdown this time.

I guess it’s debatable whether Canadian football in general would have preferred for this game to have been a complete train wreck or an unbridled success.

I hate to be “that guy” who doesn’t take sides, but it was neither. It was something in the middle. It wasn’t a Buffalo Bills home game — far from it — but it’s probably safe to say the atmosphere at Thursday night’s game took last year’s atmosphere to the woodshed.

And while most Bills players have seemingly been trained like Pavlov’s dog to resort to the party line on all things Bills in Toronto, neither the Bills nor Rogers Communications, which paid $78 million to bring eight games here over a five-year span — could be happy with Terrell Owens’ post-game assessment.

11:15 – Thanks for following. Watch for a column in this spot in a little bit.

11:10 – I called that Darrelle Revis pick before the snap, I swear. Fine, don’t believe me.

11:10 – The crowd reached its Bills Toronto Series peak on that last Jets third down play. Here comes Buffalo.

10:55 – Some serious tilts in the crowd. Brad James is picking them out left and right. The guy must have an eye for fights.

10:50 – Ben Roethlisberger wasn’t happy with the turf when he played here last August and other players have complained since. I wonder what Sanchez will have to say after suffering that injury.

10:35 – Can the Bills overcome a nine-point deficit? I’m thinking no.

10:30 – The crowd is much louder again on a New York third down. Man, does it ever sound like they’re pumping noise into here. Are Toronto football crowds really this smart?

10:25 – Mark Sanchez has a knee injury. His return is questionable.

10:20 – Two poor series to start the second half for the Buffalo offence. Boos aren’t raining down, but they’re drizzling.

10:15 – It was probably time for Kellen Clemems anyway. Injury just gets him in there for the Jets. Mark Sanchez had only seven completions.

10:10 – The crowd has chilled out big time. Buffalo’s offence needed to do something with good field position on that first drive of the half. Right now it feels like the start of the second or third period at a Leafs home game.

9:45 – Some boos as the Bills leave the field at halftime. Good first half, with some excitement exciting plays and easily the best dropped pass of the year. The crowd is much more enthusiastic than it was last year.

9:35 – United States ambassador to Canada David Jacobson was just introduced to the crowd. The reception was not warm.

9:15 – The crowd is pro Bills, just not unanimously. They go nuts for Marshawn Lynch’s touchdown, which is the first Buffalo regular-season touchdown of the Bills Toronto Series.

9:00 – I don’t see a lot of empty seats.

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8:45 – The outfield restaurants at this place have long been deserted. Not tonight:

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8:35 – Crowd was fired up on that last third down for New York. If Buffalo can kick things into gear, this might not be a trainwreck, atmosphere-wise.

8:25 – Gotta say, I was impressed by the roar from the crowd after that Lee Evans catch. Not sure if it comes across through the TV.

8:20 – This year: much better. And cool flags to boot!

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8:15 – Canadian anthem was a disaster last year, forcing the whole crowd to drain out the performer.

8:15 – Terrell Owens introduced last. Crowd goes insane (in relative terms).

8:00 – Fellow Score man and press box-mate Brad James tells me Corey Mace will lead the Bills onto the field. Mace is the only Canadian on Buffalo’s roster. If they really want to do this thing up, he should have a Canadian flag in his hand. Imagine that?

7:55 – I’m also updating some stuff on my Twitter.

7:40 – Here’s a look at Rogers Centre right now. I can tell you that the atmosphere isn’t too bad. Still kills an Argos game or a Jays game. Maybe I’m no longer a huge pessimist, I don’t know.

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7:30 – Rogers has pulled out all the stops. “The Ending” is performing pre-game at Rogers Centre. Guitarist Jesse Stull used to be with “Platinum Blonde,” but I’m sure you already knew that.

7:20 – Always good stuff in the program for these games. Like last year, they have Canadian trivia for Bills players. Favourite Canadian athlete?

Geoff Hangartner: Mike Weir
Josh Reed: Steve Nash
Rian Lindell: Danny Briere
Chris Kelsay and Fred Jackson: Wayne Gretzky

7:15 – Good news for the Buffalo secondary. Jairus Byrd and Terrence McGee are both in the lineup. Fred Jackson starting in place of Marshawn Lynch, as expected. Mark Sanchez is starting for New York.

7:05 – Well, here we are. Game No. 3 of the eight-game Bills Toronto Series. Mark Sanchez and the New York Jets come to town. This live blog won’t be as intense as it was last year, partly because my readership has increased by 300 percent (just saying) since then, and I don’t want to get the boot for “documenting the game too closely,” and also because there’s just not as much to discuss this time around. Last year was a novelty, this year we know what to expect.

* This is not a play-by-play account of the game itself, only a blog continually updating the events of the evening.

In about an hour, the Bills Toronto Series will hit chapter two (or three, if you count the preseason). Here’s what’s being said about the series on game day:

+ ESPN’s Adam Schefter offers his take on the NFL’s future in Toronto:

The NFL is not looking to expand now, or anytime in the near future. If it ever does, my guess is Canada and Europe would be on the radar. Until then, it might take a team to relocate there, and any team that moves now is going to be targeting Los Angeles. All of which leaves Canada out in the cold, at least temporarily, and forces us to turn our attention back to the team that is playing there Thursday night, the Bills. They’re Canada’s unofficial team, and it looks like it will be that way for a while.

+ The Globe and Mail’s Stephen Brunt says Rogers has hitched itself to the wrong team. Maybe I’m dense, but I’m actually not too sure which team he’s implying the organization should have hitched itself to. It looks like the Blue Jays, but I can’t be sure. Seriously.

+ Gene Warner of The Buffalo News notes that the game is “sold out in name only.” Warner also has an interesting take from series general manager (for lack of a better title) Adrian Montgomery:

Montgomery said he expects the Rogers Centre to be “electric” tonight, as Toronto fans have become more familiar with the Bills, and the team has spent more time getting known in the community.

And, he added, the game’s great marketing slogan has turned to reality: “T. O. is in TO.”

+ Another take from CBC.ca.

Buffalo shocked the Jets last time the two met, and you can probably argue that the two teams have gone in opposite directions (only slightly) since then. The Bills have played with an added spark under interim head coach Perry Fewell, while quarterback Mark Sanchez continues to struggle desperately for the sliding Jets.

Neither team is good — let’s get that out of the way right now. Though the Jets do have a more talented roster, are more healthy, and won’t have to deal with the Buffalo elements in what won’t feel like much of a home game for the Bills.

Something tells me we get more offence this time around (last year’s Toronto game was a dud), and, in familiar fashion, the Bills lose a late heartbreaker.

New York Jets 27, Buffalo 24 (OT)

T-minus 24 hours. Here’s the latest:

+ The New York Times has jumped into the fray with a story on what the annual Toronto game is doing to Buffalo businesses.

One very interesting tidbit from the story: “Showcasing the team in Canada seems to have worked. The number of season-ticket holders from Canada rose 48 percent this year. As a result, the Bills sold more than 55,000 season tickets, their third-best total ever. Overall ticket sales have dipped only 1.5 percent, despite the recession.”

+ Stephen Brunt of The Globe and Mail says the Bills have “absolutely failed to make an impression in the country’s largest metropolis.”

Without a buy-in, without a rooting interest, without passion, empty spectacle only takes you so far.

Even the chance to see the most popular league in North America, up close and indoors, is of limited attraction without some kind of attachment, without at least the carrot that buying in now will deliver something else later on.

Unless Southern Ontario is different than every other place in North America, it is safe to assume that there are plenty of football fans among the five million or so souls who live between St. Catharines and Oshawa. The Argos have their constituency, which seems to have a natural ceiling of about 30,000 fans a game, and upward of 15,000 cross the border and head for Orchard Park when the Bills are at home.

But the Bills aren’t Toronto’s team, never were, and for those in the area who are Buffalo fans, the true experience involves the drive, the tailgating, and the cheapest tickets in the entire NFL.

+ The Toronto Star’s Chris Young has a feature on Terrell Owens.

The Buffalo Bills are here! (Hooray?) The Bills arrived in Toronto on Wednesday and held a walk-through in advance of Wednesday night’s “home” game against the New York Jets. I wasn’t able to make it to speak to players, but I wasn’t too broken up about that because I was there last year and didn’t miss much excitement.

TheScore.com’s Brad James was there and told me that the vibe at Rogers Centre “equalled the high school game I saw there last week … except the stands were empty.”

Last year I pointed out that the players didn’t appear to feel any added excitement or importance surrounding the game, despite the fact it was the first-ever NFL game played in Canada. Brad confirmed that things were similar on Wednesday. “Seemed like it was business as usual for the players,” he said.

T.O. in T.O.

Terrell Owens was obviously the media’s primary focus after practice. Owens has played up the whole “T.O. in T.O.” thing from Day 1, and he continued down that road on Wednesday.

“Here I am. It feels good,” Owens said. “Looking forward to the game tomorrow and all of the Canadians out here in Toronto — you all come out and support the game tomorrow, it’s going to be a good one.”

When asked if he thought Toronto could handle a full-time team, Owens actually provided an insightful and well thought-out answer: “Yeah definitely. I think once a team is established — just say a team was established here in Toronto — I’m sure the fans would definitely gravitate to the team and support it and winning obviously gets people into the seats so it’s all about how you market the team and the NFL is marketing the game.”

But safety George Wilson takes the cake for Most Insightful Comment of the Day. Asked about the game and the series, Wilson was proud of the “great opportunity” the players have been granted “to be ambassadors for our game.”

“We’re trying to expand our game globally as a league and regionally as an organization,” Wilson said. “A lot of our fan base and a large percentage of our season-ticket holders come from here in Canada. I think it’s a great opportunity for us to sell our game abroad, bring our brand of football here to downtown Toronto, and for the whole country of Canada to see. It’s a great opportunity for our organization as well as our league.”

Right place, right time for Mace

Signed off the practice squad last week, Canadian defensive lineman Corey Mace will get a chance to play in front of his home nation.

“I always seem to find my way up here in Toronto before a game,” he said. “Last year I got the opportunity [but] didn’t get to play much. Maybe this time, but either way it’s always great to be out here in Canada representing the Buffalo Bills.”