Monday, August 18, 2008

Bills in Toronto: Well, that certainly sucked... what you're saying is that in order to be stigmata it needs to be from your hands and/or ankles...and it has to be blood? Never mind, then.

I remember the advice my father-in-law gave to my wife-to-be just before we were engaged: "have low expectations and you can only be disappointed so much". Thankfully she listened and we're well into our fifth year of marital bliss. With this sage advice in mind, I strolled into the Rogers Centre for Thursday's Bills game expecting something awful. I imagined one endzone bigger than the other, scads of tickets handed to Christian school groups, breakdancers on the field at every break in play (a constant at Rogers Centre for some inexplicable reason), Katherine Humphreys doing the in-game announcing and the concessions exclusively selling vegan fare. Presumably they would have also invited the Steelers mascot and had him walk out with Billy Buffalo hand-in-hand. That level of crappiness was about where I set my over/under.

Steely McBeam made his first solo Toronto appearance since leaving the Village People

Having had a couple days to evaluate the event I'd say it was a push. I pretty much got what I expected. Most importantly the first team offence looked unstoppable against a real defence. This outweighs anything the Rogers Centre and the crowd could do to annoy me. Trent looked comfortable, the line held in reasonably well in the absence of Jason Peters (stop f-ing around. this isn't funny anymore, Peters) and no one made any drive-killing mistakes. There was very little else Bills fans could ask for from the starters on offense or, the slightly less-impressive, defense. Throw in an ankle-breaking return by Leodis (who should clearly just switch to one name like a Brazilian soccer player) and all's looking good at this stage of training camp.

That being said, there are plenty of Bills fans but only one Bills in Toronto Ombudsman so I should focus on that role in this context and leave the team analysis for those more qualified. Here's what needs to be addressed if we're to make the regular season game against the Dolphins look and feel like an NFL football game. To be fair I have also interspersed a few thumbs up. Luckily, its not all bad:

Use of the word "Historic": I'm all for hyperbole but the constant reference to the game as the first in the "Historic" series was a bit of a stretch. The surrender of the Japanese aboard the USS Missouri was historic. Jackie Robinson breaking the colour barrier could be referred to as such. Anything that involves a second-string punter cannot legitimately be called historic, regardless of how many touchdown passes Robert Royal catches. Let's tone it down a bit for the December game.

Beer prices and policies: While exorbitant by all logical precedents at least they didn't goose the prices to Leafs levels. It's amazing what living in this city can do to your standards for what is an acceptable price for beer. Shockingly I'm commending the Rogers Centre for selling me a bottle of Blue for what I paid for a pitcher back in University. At 10 PM it was kudos to the fact that beer was being served until the beginning of the fourth quarter. By 10 AM Friday I was changing my tune. In terms of tailgating, there's nothing that can be done. Blame the politicians. I doubt local bars will be much help pre-game in December either as they'll be only a brief window between wen they start serving and kickoff. Do like we did and put something together in your backyard.

Paint the endzones: Marshawn didn't score a touchdown, albeit in limited action. You want to know why? The endzones weren't painted. He had no idea where to run to. Give the man a big red target, people. At least they wrote Bills in the endzones but for Beast Mode to happen we need a big splash of red. Let me know if you need me to run by Home Depot and grab some paint.

Where's Gurtler?: John Gurtler, the regular Bills in-game announcer was nowhere to be seen or, more importantly, heard. There was nothing the replacement guy said that produced the warm, familiar feeling that the dulcet tones of Gurtler's voice would have. Plus, whoever it was told 48,000 people that Lee Evans went to LSU. Americans are quite attached to their Alma Maters. I imagine this would be akin to introducing Martin Brodeur as a former member of the Barrie Colts. Presumably Gurtler's legal issues prevented him from coming north. Hey, New York State Legal System! Let's get this cleared up in time for "Squish the Fish".

Why close the roof?: This one's all on Coach Jauron. I'll assume that Rogers has no role in this. He wanted the roof closed to simulate the exact experience of what the team will face in December. Fair enough, although an easier way to simulate the experience of playing in front of the Toronto crowd is to tell your real fans to show up in business casual, hand out blackberries and then pump a powerful sedative through the ventilation system. The more important question is, why will the December game be played with the roof closed? You are the Buffalo Bills. They are the Miami Dolphins. It'll be mid-December. The Bills are 6-2 all-time when hosting Miami in December including shellackings the last two seasons. Why make them comfortable? They'll already feel too much at home given the prominence of our transgendered community and the abundance of pilates studios situated around Toronto. Why not whip up a fresh batch of mojitos for their arrival and pump salsa music through the city?!

The least we can do is let the elements in and give ourselves some advantage. Sure players come from all over the country but where you play most seems to be where you play best. Brett Favre, better in the cold than warm, is from Mississippi. Dolphin "legend" Dan Marino is from Pittsburgh, but became quite mediocre outside of Miami's tropical climate. How many of Hall of Famer Dan's last five games in Buffalo did he win? (Hint: it rhymes with sweet buck all). Late season games in Buffalo come with two decided advantages for the home team. The first is the 12th man (wake up people, that's you) with the second being the inclement weather. Both are being significantly neutralized by having the game in the indifferent confines of the ex-Skydome with the lid on.

Regardless of the sport, the Rogers Centre is much more palatable with the roof open. A football game, specifically, will take on more of an authentic feel if played outdoors. If people complain about the cold or wet then send them home. They're not the sorts you want anyways if you're trying to create an event that feels even remotely like an actual football game. Thursday's game was about as authentic as Suri Cruise (it's an animatronic puppet, so I've heard). Opening the roof would be a step in the right direction for both the team and the experience.

Tickets handed out to Servicemen:
This is a big thumbs up. Our men and women don't get near the credit they deserve particularly given the danger of their current mission in Afghanistan. A couple free tickets to a pre-season game is a nice start. It's also something that would happen at a real NFL game. Seeing people in uniform says four-down football much more than VPs from the mobile phone division with their ties slightly loosened.

People wearing random jerseys: The Bills were playing the Steelers, so why would I see a handful of Tomlinson, Brady and Owens jerseys? Because people are idiots, that's why. This is not "wear your jersey" to the office day. It's an actual game. Pick a team or face the catcalls of the actual fans. In a related matter its time to upgrade those Bledsoe, Flutie and McGahee jerseys people. I'm looking at you, Mom and Dad. I'll refrain from beating a dead horse by critiquing the wardrobe choices made by the vast swaths of douchery that filled much of the stadium. I just hope that the December weather will keep the sleeveless shirts and giant sunglasses at home. You douchebags are embarrassing your city, not to mention your country.

Be a fan, not a spectator: For Trent's sake people, loosen up a bit. When the home team does something good stand up and make a bit of noise. A sporting event is meant to be a release from your mundane workaday world. Most of the attendees probably display more passion discussing cottage traffic than they did during the game. Trying losing yourself in the game. When Poz starts gesturing with his arms trick yourself into thinking he absolutely needs your help on third down. When he breaks free on a blitz and breaks the QBs ribs give yourself a big pat on the back. Sure its ridiculous but where else do you get the chance to be a part of something that is this big, even if it isn't that big and you may not actually be a part of it. It doesn't matter either way. I know that Torontonians have been taught from the time they were young that its not cool to act like you care about something but I'm here to tell you it is. Project if you need to. Tell yourself that the Bills are Radiohead, the Jonas Brothers, the cast of Design Inc. or whatever the hell you're into. Pretend its the fuckin' Antique Roadshow. I really couldn't care less what your motivations are just get up and sing along with "The Bills Make me Want to Shout" after they score and give some random guy a high five. Your douchebag buddies may turn their noses up at you but forget them. They'll leave you and the game in a heartbeat once something cooler comes along anyways. The Bills, for all their faults, with always be there for you.

Those that showed any sort of passion were the sprinkling of actual fans (there were as many players' parents as there were unrelated fans, much like a little league game) or those that used their free tickets as an excuse to get stupid drunk. Here's another piece of advice from a seasoned football fan, getting loud and drunk does not immediately make you "a fan". This is a common misconception held by many who don't actually attend NFL games. If you're a sloppy drunk you're still acting like an asshole, regardless of whether the field is 100 or 110 yards long. Enjoy a few, but try to keep some control. There's a game being played and you're team needs you to at least be in some condition to follow along.

Well that's about it for now. It was a pre-season game which may justify some, but not all, of the apathy. Calling it a complete disaster would be a bit harsh but we've certainly got a long way to go if we're to do our job and create a proper home field advantage. Luckily there's almost four months to get our act together for when it really counts. Rogers, you should pay attention too. While you'll be getting our Bills over my, Luke Russert's, Jim Kelly's, The Goo Goo Dolls' and Chuck Shumer's dead bodies you may still have a chance to convince the NFL to steal another team or hand you an expansion franchise. If you're to maintain any hope of this happening you'll need to put on a much better show than you did on Thursday so listen to what I've told you. We can work together here to both our advantage. (Pssst, don't worry NFL fans I highly doubt any of this happens but Rogers people can be easily tricked, just ask Ralph).

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