Toronto Flop Continues

Two regular-season games in, it's clear. The Bills' marketing endeavor up north is failing. Forget the $78 million in added revenue. Toronto's fan base has been dispassionate and Buffalo is depriving itself of valuable winter home games, BFR's Tyler Dunne explains...

Terrell Owens looked into the crowd and saw plenty of fans sporting jerseys. Only, they weren't merely donning Bills and Jets garb. This was odd. This was a sporadic color wheel of allegiance.

"I saw an array of jerseys from all across the league so I don't think either team had an advantage but there was definitely some excitement."

Hold the excitement, T.O. Thursday night was a carbon copy of Buffalo's loss to Miami at the Rogers Centre last year. Lifeless football in a lifeless environment. If nothing else, the game was further confirmation that the "Toronto Series" — from a football perspective — has failed. Only 51,000 attended the game. And even that was after many tickets were given away as free stocking stuffers.

For $78 million, the Bills are depriving themselves home-field advantage, depriving themselves of wins. Sure, this excess dough could come in handy if owner Ralph Wilson sheds his Scrooge-management style. Otherwise, it's senseless. Forced, failed marketing.

The contrast between Buffalo's last two games was painful evidence. One day, The Ralph is roaring. Booming cheers and jeers flustered Miami into a flurry of errors that snowballed into a 31-14 win. Four days later, a Bills "home game" suddenly permeates a WNBA-atmosphere. Any energy — see: T.O. player introduction — is artificial.

We're quickly realizing that Toronto sports fans may be frontrunners by nature. Look at the Raptors this season. Paranoid over Chris Bosh's eventual exit and fed up with their team's disinterested defense, fans are already bailing on the Raptors. For years, the Rogers Centre has been one Roy Halladay defection away from becoming a ghost town.

No way could a mediocre Bills team colonize a new fan base here. If winning is what truly matters, this Toronto Series is worthless.

Imagine if the Bills were actually in the playoff race. Good God. A key positioning game against a division opponent…season on the line…in need of deafening cheers on third downs…and the Jets are showered with golf claps on third down? There'd be an uproar two hours south to "No-Goal"-proportions.

For years — check that, decades — Rich Stadium has been the purest form of homefield advantage. By November, it's surprisingly cold. By December, it's a snow globe. By January, every tailgate party needs to be accompanied by a fire. Rare, icicles-hanging-from-your-earlobes weather. Plainly, Bills players adapted better to such frigid conditions better than Southern visitors.

For the great Buffalo teams of the 90s, it was an indisputable edge. It's what made the Bills, the Bills. A fear factor was fortified in Western New York.

Hopefully, Thursday's clunker serves as a reminder that home games must be savored, not outsourced. The final three Toronto Series games can't fly by soon enough. An already-hurting organization only suffers more because of it.

Yes, there's another side to the issue here. Would Canadians turn out in larger (and louder) numbers if Buffalo was winning? Maybe. But a fan base's truest colors come out in dire straits. The Bills are bad. Toronto is turning the other cheek. Western New Yorkers are still packing The Ralph.

If Toronto was a realistic gold mine to tap into, fans would be cherishing any and every chance they can to see the Bills. Regardless of their record. Regardless of the circumstance. Instead, they could care less.

Bryan Scott said it best after the game. Of course, the starting linebacker needs to tread carefully. He can't McGahee fans away. He can't sound off. Still, it was hard to ignore the obvious.

The atmosphere was dead. And the Bills did little to help. That's a deadly combination.

"You notice that on third-down plays, it didn't get that loud, as loud as it would at The Ralph," Scott said. "Then again, I thought the Toronto fans were great. They came out to support it. There were a lot of people out here today. We just wish we could have put on a better show for them."

thdunne@gmail.com

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