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Losing Toronto Playdate Will Hurt Bills

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Steven Jackson of the Atlanta Falcons runs into the end zone for a touchdown to tie the game late in the fourth quarter during an NFL game against the Buffalo Bills at Rogers Centre on Dec. 1, 2013 in Toronto, Ontario. Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images.
Steven Jackson of the Atlanta Falcons runs into the end zone for a touchdown to tie the game late in the fourth quarter during an NFL game against the Buffalo Bills at Rogers Centre on Dec. 1, 2013 in Toronto, Ontario. Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images.

Toronto, Toronto, who likes Toronto? The answer is a mixed bag for the Buffalo Bills for fans, players, coaches, and the bottom line.

Plenty of local Buffalo fans resent missing a home game in the home stadium – the chance to cheer in Bills country where temperatures plummet and snow flies. Players may resent a trip to Canada, too, but they are toeing the company line with support for the Toronto venue – an indoor arena that may favor their southern opponents.

“Do I regret [missing the snow]? Yeah, I hate it. I want to go out there and play in the Ralph this Sunday,” Bills quarterback E.J. Manuel joked before the Altanta Falcons game. “No, I’m just kidding, but, hey! I’m sure it’ll snow again on one of these Sundays, so I’m not worried about that.”

Fans in Southern Ontario love the Toronto Series, and they buy season tickets to Bills games. Bills running back Fred Jackson appreciates the Canadian fans.

“They showed up. They cheered for us,” Jackson said. “You could definitely hear them get loud for us on third down on defense. Anytime you get that kind of support, you can feed off of it and we were able to do so.”

Running back C.J. Spiller was glad for the Toronto fan base.

“The fans are very into it, and that’s what we need,” he said. “Every time we come up here, we need those guys to support us because it’s definitely a different feel from the Ralph [Wilson Stadium]…Today was definitely the loudest since I’ve been coming here,” he said after the game.

Head coach Doug Marrone agreed that fans in Toronto held up their end of the deal. 

“I thought the crowd today was good, they were on our side,” Marrone said. “They were giving us the boost that we needed. I thought the fans of Toronto did a nice job. They were loud.”

However, Marrone came closer to crossing the company line of support for the Toronto Series, saying that fans don’t make the game.

“When you play and you’re out there, and even when you’re coaching, you really don’t know what’s going on,” Marrone said. “People think that the players feed off the crowd and things like that, and that may happen, but, basically, you have to feed off each other.”

Players didn’t feed off each other enough to pull out a win against the Falcons in Toronto last week. Atlanta beat the Bills 34-31 in overtime, leaving Buffalo with a record of 1-5 in Canada.

Not everyone thinks the venue makes a difference for the team in terms of opportunities to score and win. Manuel didn’t stress about a supposed advantage the Falcons may have had, or an advantage the Bills may have lost, by playing at an indoor arena.

“They’re used to playing indoors, but we’re used to practicing inside and playing, so I don’t think it’ll be a benefit on their behalf,” Manuel said.

The biggest benefits short-term are being realized by the franchise, itself. Rogers Communications, the company who brought the Bills to the Rogers Centre in Toronto, paid the Buffalo Bills $78 million for an eight-year agreement to have the Bills play in Canada.

Buffalo Bills President Russ Brandon said this week on WGR-AM radio that revenue from the Toronto Series has increased, but wins have not.

“Nothing comes above winning,” he said. “When I took over the reins on Jan. 1, I said that was the number one focus, and that will be the number one focus. That’s one of the reasons that this will be reviewed in a grand manner.”

Brandon declined to state whether or not the Bills could, or would, opt out of the agreement for the remainder of the series. At this point, why should they? Avoiding Canada won’t make a dent in the Bills’ ability to win a football game. Buffalo ought to avoid casting the nets of blame for a losing record so far north, and focus a little closer to home.­

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