Thursday, October 18, 2007

We don't know the first thing about circling the wagons!

Yesterday the Bills announced that they are looking to play a regular season game in Toronto next season. This is quite possibly the first step in a permanent move by the franchise. I am of two minds about this. While it will be much more convenient to have the team I support in the same country I live in, the Toronto Bills may not be the same team as the one I currently support. Much of my connection to this team comes from it's Buffalo-ness - the crappy old stadium, the tailgate parties and the passion of the Western New York fans. Watching the Bills in Toronto would be like seeing your favorite band, but instead of a small club their playing at some kid's 16th birthday at the Carlu. Sure its the same set but the environment and the crowd changes the dynamic altogether. Let me illustrate with a real life example. Last year Marty and I went down to the Bills game in early December against the Chargers. We started our day by walking into the gas station, bought a six pack of Blue and then proceeded to drink it on the bench in front of said gas station. We then bought a pair of scalped tickets around the 50 yard line for $50 each. We had a great time at the game and even made friends with many of the people in our section. Here's what the Toronto equivalent will look like. Marty will be replaced by some douche wearing a blazer with some embroidery on it. Let's call him Chazz. We will spend our pre-game in the SKYY Vodka hospitality tent drinking $16 crantinis. Our tickets will be procured by Chazz's investment banker buddy which means we won't have to pay the $275 face but we will have to sit with him as he spends the game throwing out suggestions as to where we should go post-game (except for the first half of each quarter where I will be the only person actually in my seat in our entire section as the rest of the "fans" mingle in the heated concourse). The only contact with the other patrons will be when I'm told to sit down during a touchdown celebration.

Football will be transformed from a passion to a status symbol. The fan base that lives and dies with this team will be gradually replaced by a group that lives and dies with the quality of their blackberry reception. The Bills will go from the emotional center of a community to just another entertainment option. Once the novelty wears off in a couple years the team could be nothing more than an afterthought where a bit of a breeze could convince the fans to stay at home.

In the end though, this may be the best option. Unless some mystery local billionaire emerges it appears as though the Bills will be sold to the highest bidder, regardless of their intentions, upon the death of their octogenarian owner, Ralph Wilson. If Toronto would wreck the character of the Bills, Los Angeles would pull a complete Phil Spector on it. At least it's cold in Toronto and, initially, you would have some of the existing fan base coming to games (before they're priced out by MLSE/Rogers - who, by the way, are planning on calling the team the Inflated Cable Bills). A Bills game in Los Angeles would be an entirely different species altogether. You wouldn't even recognize it as the same sport. Quite clearly, Toronto will be the lesser of two evils.

The new owners may start with a split schedule between Toronto and Buffalo but they'll eventually will have to move all their games to Toronto given the superior economics. I'll be there with my over-priced tickets, though a large piece of me will be yearning for a less comfortable seat and the smell of bus fumes mixed with burning charcoal. Here is an artist's rendition of Charlie and I at the 2010 opener.

Dear God, the next three years are going to be terrible to me. What could have happened that possibly made me think a goatee would look good? There is no one in the history of civilization who has ever looked better with a goatee than without (with the possible exception of chinless guys like Paul Giamatti). It does nothing to hide the 45 pounds I've put on. I can only imagine what little hair lies beneath that cap. The future is a scary, scary place.

All I can ask is that the Toronto owners make some attempt to keep the spirit of the team alive. Keep the team name, maybe even give it a regional name like the Great Lake Bills. That name admittedly sucks but there are no wrong answer in brainstorming so leave me alone. Please throw us old fans a bone before you completely sell out the franchise to the bandwagon jumpers.

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