Niagara Gazette

December 7, 2008

BILLS: Fans and players share disillusion

By Jay Skurski

TORONTO — The day that lives in infamy took on a second meaning Sunday for some Buffalo Bills fans.

While it was a cold, blustery Pearl Harbor day in Orchard Park, the Bills faced their former arch-rivals, the Miami Dolphins, on Canadian soil — under a roof, no less.

And while the product on the field was little help, the Bills did their best to promote the game’s significance.

A glossy magazine given to media members covering Sunday’s contest had the phrase “history in the making” printed across the cover. Inside, a letter from Buffalo Bills owner Ralph C. Wilson Jr. welcomed fans to the Rogers Centre.

“Our hope is that today’s game becomes an unforgettable experience for you and our team,” Wilson’s letter reads.

In a historical context, the first ever regular-season game in Canada is something that won’t be forgotten. The question that remains, though, is how will Bills fans remember Dec. 7, 2008, aside from the lackluster performance on the field?

“To be honest, I think it’s a little disappointing,” said Craig Merchant of Jamestown, who bought the package for all eight games to be played in Toronto. “It seems like it’s about even between Bills and Dolphins fans, but most people are here just to say they came.”

A walk through the concourse supported Merchant’s theory. Dolphins jerseys at least matched the number of Bills jerseys, while another group of fans huddled around a fuzzy TV to watch the Pittsburgh-Dallas game — while the Bills were on a drive at the beginning of the third quarter.

Merchant was at the game reluctantly.

“We tried selling the tickets, but there wasn’t much of a market, so here we are,” he said.

Again, Merchant seemed on the money. While the game was a sellout and aired locally, there were pockets of empty seats among the announced crowd of 52,134.

By the end of Miami’s 16-3 victory, the Rogers Centre might as well have been Dolphin Stadium, with fans posing for pictures behind the team bench.

“I’m sure we’d love a more home-like crowd,” Bills offensive tackle Langston Walker said.

Cornerback Terrence McGee went a step further, saying his first impression “felt like a Miami crowd.”

Of course, that’s something the Bills will have to get used to, as they’ll play four more regular-season games here over the next four seasons.

Like it or not, the players were resigned to that fact.

“Football is a game. The NFL is a business (and) … numbers speak,” Walker said.

Contact reporter Jay Skurski at 693-1000, ext. 117.