Bye Bye Buffalo Bills…

Yesterday, it was announced with little fanfare (and surprisingly few comments from the peanut gallery) that the Bills in Toronto Series was being “postponed” for 2014.  Yeah, and the last time I “postponed” a date, I never saw her again.  Looks like the writing’s on the wall for the Bills in TO, and as someone who attended every single one of those games–except for last year’s sorry-ass contest–all I hafta say is “It’s not me, it’s you.”

Let’s face it, the Bills haven’t helped themselves by bringing some gawd-awful squads up here.  This franchise hasn’t made the playoffs since Doug Flutie was their QB (that was 14 years ago, in case you’re wondering), and their results weren’t much worse in Toronto than they were at any stadium in America–a mere 1-5 in six regular season contests.  But it’s not just that they lost those games, but how they lost them: 16-3 to Miami, 19-13 to the Jets, 22-19 to Chicago, 50-17 to the Seahawks…  OK, so I quite enjoyed that last loss.  But it’s no secret I was sitting on the visitor’s sideline for that one. ;)

When they announced the 2013 opponent as the Atlanta Falcons, I was a little less enthused.  After all, I did have a bit of a beef with Atlanta–who knocked the Hawks outta the playoffs on a last-second field goal in 2012–but I figured that the reigning NFC South champs would make Buffalo burgers out of the Bills, who had about as much depth and talent at QB as the Calgary Flames have got in goal.  As it turns out, Atlanta’s season went been shitty *inside joke* in a hurry, and they were about as bad as Buffalo coming in…but even with Seattle playing on MNF that week, I opted to sit at home and watch a Broncos game rather than pay money to see that sorry spectacle.

It figures that last season’s game was the highest-scoring Bills contest in Toronto, with the so-called home side losing 34-31 in overtime.  That could actually be considered exciting–if either team had anything to play for.  But the biggest complaint afterwards wasn’t about the Bills giving up a game-tying TD in the last two minutes, or the piss-poor play of EJ Manuel (18-32, 210 yards, 50.3 QBR); it was about all the fans cheering for the Falcons.  Cuz hey, it may be 1,600 km away, but Atlanta’s still on the East Coast, so their fans’ll still travel.  And it’s not like the visitors making more noise was a new thing–any Bills fans who hadn’t left by halftime wanted to puke, not shout, in that Seattle game.  In fact, Bills center Eric Wood went on local radio afterwards and said stuff like “[Toronto]‘s a bad atmosphere for football. I mean, nobody wants to play there.  I guess for opposing teams it beats the hell out of going in somebody else’s stadium and dealing with a bunch of crowd noise.”  Really, he could’ve been talking about any Bills in Toronto Series game there…except maybe their lone win over Washington.

Now, there are some–including The Mayor of This CityTM and his First Brother–who think that as a world-class city, we deserve a world-class team in a world-class football league.  Well, the Bills may play in the NFL, but they haven’t been a world-class team in 20 years.  And as I’ve said before, Toronto’s just not that big into football.  I mean, the Argos haven’t brought a decent crowd out to Rogers Centre since Doug Flutie was their QB.

Speaking of which, it’s probably just as well that I won’t hafta pretend to be a Bills fan once a year anymore.  Even after dropping a lotta weight these past few months, I just barely fit into my Flutie jersey…

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The first time I saw Peyton pass the pigskin in person was anything but Super…

Did I mention that I’m going to the Super Bowl on Sunday?  Well fine, I just said it again.  Obviously, I’m a Seahawks fan and I’ll be there to support my team, but getting to see one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time at the peak of one of his best seasons ever, well, that gives me added incentive to sit outside in below-freezing (Celsius) temperatures for 3+ hours.

Mind you, this wouldn’t be the first time I’ve seen Peyton Manning in person, but it’s a huge step up from the last such occurrence–a preseason game… against the Bills… in Toronto, of all places!  (In case you’re a stickler for detail, this would’ve been August 2010.)  Now, as anyone who’s attended a Bills in Toronto Series game can attest, this dog-and-pony show consistently gives both the NFL and the city of Toronto a bad name.  Just ask Bills center Eric Wood–or, y’know, any of the long-suffering Bills fans who’s ever made the trip up north.  There might actually be a few Bills fans in Toronto, but let’s just say their Jim Kelly jerseys are still in pristine condition.

And did I mention that this was a preseason contest?  To paraphrase a former Colts coach, “Preseason?  Don’t talk about preseason–you kidding me?  Preseason!?”

In any case, I took some time out of my not-so-busy schedule to attend this contest.  Because hey, one quarter of Peyton Manning is better than watching a full season of J.P. Losman/Trent Edwards/Ryan Fitzpatrick/(insert quarterback here), am I right?  Alas, the first quarter of the second preseason game of 2010 was hardly the stuff of legend.  Peyton completed just 8 of 15 passes for a mere 91 yards, and while he tossed a TD to Jacob Tamme, he also had an interception returned for a Buffalo score.  And yes, I stood up and shouted afterwards.

Things got better afterwards, if by better you mean crappy players putting points on the board. As I remarked at the time, “A scoreless third quarter ensued, with the Buffalo third-stringers outplaying the Indy benchwarmers.  They added a couple more scores in the fourth to win by 13, but by then I was already gone, off to the Bovine to see Purple Rhinestone Eagle and company, who were much more entertaining than a buncha future CFLers and Arena League rejects.”

But hey, at least the Bills won.  Whatever happened to Purple Rhinestone Eagle, anyways?

No wonder I’ve been losing weight this season!

A new study in Psychological Science has found that “vicarious defeats experienced by fans when their favorite football team loses lead them to consume less healthy food.”  In case you’re wondering why the average Buffalonian looks like an offensive lineman, well, 13 years of vicarious defeats will do that to you–not to mention those four straight Super Bowls.  As per the study’s abstract, “These effects are greater in cities with the most committed fans, when the opponents are more evenly matched, and when the defeats are narrow.”  Or in other words, Wide Right Into the Extra Large Pizza! ;)

On the flip side, the study’s author, Pierre Chadron, told NPR that “After a victory, people eat better,” to the tune of five-per-cent fewer calories and nine-per-cent less saturated fat.  And hey, I kinda get that.  After Super Bowl XL, my t-shirt size went up to an XL–from a medium–but lately, my weight has been headed in the opposite direction.  As the Seahawks start the season 4-0 for the first time in franchise history, I’m having a hard time finding a pair of pants that fits me in my closet, cuz they’re all too big for me now.

The funny thing is that I actually used to eat more after a Seahawks win.  Since most of their games kick off around 4:30 pm Eastern Time, and I don’t have a personal chef, there’s no way I’m making dinner until the final whistle blows–which means not consuming a full meal until 7:30 or so.  When they won, I’d usually order take-out, but being that I’m no longer next door to Burrito Bandidos and their mouthwatering halibut on white with everything, I’ve had to put a stop to that tradition.  It also doesn’t hurt that the Hawks have only had one 4:25 kickoff thus far this season…

But on the other hand, my calorific intake during games is directly related to negative performance.  Simply put, whenever the Seahawks surrender a touchdown, I crack open a beer.  During a losing season, I’d go through a sixer a game, but lately, the stout SeaFence has me almost stone-cold sober at the end of each contest.  Which certainly does wonders for my calorie count–not that I’m counting, anyways.

Granted, my calorie count isn’t strictly tied to Seattle’s early success this season.  Since moving to my new apartment in April, I’ve actually started using the exercise room, and I also walk to work now.  My diet, on the other hand, remains more-or-less unchanged.  That being said, if Seattle goes to 5-0 this afternoon, I am so eating a queeno tomorrow!

Living in an animal house…

You can’t live here—it’s bat country!  The National Post is reporting that a Saskatoon bachelor apartment has turned into an above-ground Batcave, with rodents the size of Doug Flutie.  As displaced tenant Christina Abbott puts it, “With their wings spread out, they’re maybe about nine inches. They’re about the size of a deck of cards when they’re huddled up. They look like Buffalo Bills quarterback bats.”  At least, I’m assuming she’s referring to Flutie, and not current Bills rookie QB E.J. Manuel, who’s six-foot-five.  I think he might even be bigger than Bruce Wayne…

Meanwhile in Utah, the Mormon enclave whose state flag actually has a beehive on it, a beekeeper needed 10 hours to remove some 80,000 bees from a couple’s bedroom.  As ABC News reports, “Though quiet, the bees had built a virtual village behind the Judd’s bedroom wall, totaling between 70,000 and 80,000 in number, according to [the beekeeper’s] estimate.”  These poor folks apparently had moved in just four months prior.  Aaaaand that’s why you don’t buy your house on Craigslist.

COMMENT OF THE DAY: I guess the other 43,967 just show up to drink, fight and tailgate, eh?

From: http://www.thestar.com/sports/football/nfl/article/1321292–buffalo-bills-rogers-centre-reach-deal-to-continue-playing-one-nfl-game-per-season-in-toronto

Speaking of the (Not-So-)Super Bowl, Rogers announced today that it’s extending the Bills in Toronto Series for another five seasons—twice as long as your typical Rogers contract.  This should probably pay for a pretty good portion of those upgrades to Ralph Wilson Stadium, mind you.  Never mind that players have publicly stated they hate playing at Rogers Centre, bitter Buffalonians don’t take the trip to support their losing team, and your typical Torontoninan couldn’t care less… as a Seahawks fan, I sure enjoyed this season’s contest! ;)

Of course, the official attendance for the Bills and Hawks was listed at 40,770, far from a sell-out, and a far cry from the Ralph’s capacity crowd of 73,967.  But according to this omniscient sometime Bills supporter, the crowd in Buffalo wouldn’t be any bigger if you took away their booze ‘n blue cheese:

cotd129

(Then again, even if the unthinkable were to happen, and the Ralph operated at 40.5586% capacity all season, they’d likely still outdraw the Grey Cup champion Toronto Argonauts.  But don’t get me started on that…)

Hey Wood, it’s not like you would’ve won anyways!

After the 50-17 thumping of the Buffalo Bills by the visiting Seahawks last Sunday, some speculate that this might be the end of the Bills in Toronto Series.  The original agreement between the team and the city was for five years, but according to the Toronto Star, “word is a new deal will soon be announced.”  Just don’t tell that to Bills center Eric Wood, who lashed out at Toronto and its so-called fans on a Buffalo radio station today.  “I think the Toronto series has turned into pretty much a joke,” he said on 97 Rock, as per the Star. “It’s a bad atmosphere for football. I mean, nobody wants to play there.  I guess for opposing teams it beats the hell out of going in somebody else’s stadium and dealing with a bunch of crowd noise.”

The funny thing is, there was a pretty decent crowd—in terms of size and noise—at the 100th Grey Cup a few weeks earlier, although that appears to be an anomaly.  The Argos don’t draw well otherwise, and as for the Bills game, which was reportedly sold out, it had “Only 40,770 fans, the majority cheering for the playoff-bound visiting Seahawks”—Star reporter Bob Mitchell’s words, not mine.  Then again, can you blame Toronto fans for not jumping on the bandwagon of a losing team once a year—or Buffalonians for not taking the cross-border trip to see a team that was all but eliminated from the playoffs by kickoff?  Even in the eyes of someone who only attends one football game a year (someone I can’t really relate to), the choice between the Grey Cup and the Bills game was pretty much a no-brainer.  Of course, I went to both…

Mind you, while most Bills backers have been bashing the team on its website for weeks now, they still show up to the other home games.  Well, most of them, anyways.  When the team’s not winning, there tend to be a few blackouts—which, incidentally, means the Toronto market gets to see different teams on TV.  But when those angry Bills fans do go to the games, at least they show some passion.  As Wood puts it, “I mean, it’s a crucial third down for them in the first quarter, and they’re running just regular snap count, where I don’t care if we have a half-filled Ralph Wilson Stadium, they don’t do that.”

And even if they’re winning (which has only happened once at Rogers Centre, mind you), well… “That game up in Toronto last year worked out in our favour. We got up on them (Washington) early and they pretty much fell asleep with no crowd noise. They gave in quick, too. It’s just not a fun game for us.”

Me, I can’t wait to see what the Daily Buffalo Bills Buzz has to say about this…

Today, I’m heading back into enemy territory (well okay, it’s more of a neutral site…)

At the 100th Grey Cup, I was surprised by all the Argos jerseys in the stands.  I’ve been to quite a few Toronto games over the years, and I’d never seen so many supporters in double blue.  Of course, I was decked out in Stampeder red-and-white…  So much for that, though! :(

However, just a few weeks later, I’ll be heading back to the Rogers Centre, once again wearing enemy colours.  Well, enemy might be a bit of a strong word.  There isn’t much history between the Buffalo Bills and the Seattle Seahawks, and the latter were clearly selected for this year’s installment of the Bills in Toronto Series because they hail from the opposite end of the continent.  Chances are, there’ll be more Bills backers than Seahawks supporters in the stands, which is what the organizers were hoping for.  That being said, I wouldn’t be surprised to see several other teams’ jerseys in the crowd; casual fans drawn to an NFL contest here in Canada, complete with a halftime performance by Mr. Gangnam Style himself, Psy.

And this game will hardly have a championship atmosphere, either.  From what I gather, Cincinnati’s win on Thursday night officially eliminated eight-loss Buffalo from playoff contention; having already lost to the Bengals on the season, there’s no way they could finish ahead of Cincy in the Wild Card race.  (Let’s face it, a team with an 8-8 record probably wasn’t going to make the playoffs, anyways.)  On the other hand, Seattle already has eight wins, and is trying to hold off a few teams for a Wild Card spot in the NFC.  Having beaten the Bears, Cowboys and Vikings, the Seahawks are in pretty good shape should it come down to a tie-breaker scenario–and an NFC West title isn’t even out of the question.

Y’see, while Seattle heads north to Toronto this week, their division-rival San Francisco 49ers are also taking a long trip to meet the New England Patriots on Sunday Night Football.  The 10-3 Pats are coming off a dominating 42-14 home win over a solid Houston Texans squad, have won seven in a row, and have only lost once at Gillette Stadium all season–a fluky 20-18 setback to the Arizona Cardinals all the way back in Week Two.  Considering that they’ve only been held under 29 points twice since then, I wouldn’t expect a repeat of that performance.

And, should Seattle win today, it would set up a meeting between the 9-5 Hawks and the 9-4-1 Niners at CenturyLink Field next week.  Because the only way Seattle loses today’s game is if they look past Buffalo.  I can’t say I see that happening.  C.J. Spiller should get the bulk of the carries for the Bills, but I don’t see Ryan Fitzpatrick putting up big passing numbers, even against a somewhat-depleted Seattle secondary.  And since Buffalo seems to be a pass-first team, despite the lightning in the backfield, they’re bound to have trouble moving the ball.  Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t predict a repeat of last week’s 58-0 shuffling of the Cards–but I don’t think this game will be very close, either.  Seahawks 32, Bills 13.

LET’S GO HAWKS!!!!

COMMENT OF THE DAY: As a Seahawks fan, I approve this message!

From: http://www.thestar.com/sports/football/nfl/article/1299932–buffalo-bills-fans-accept-grudgingly-game-in-toronto

With a few die-hard Buffalo Bills fans grudgingly trudging up to Toronto this weekend for the latest installment of the Bills in Toronto Series, their team all but eliminated from playoff contention, tickets are apparently 85 per cent sold.  Of course, it remains to be seen how many of those seats will be empty after Psy performs at halftime.  That said, any Torontonians with half a brain should be rooting for the Seahawks.  So says this guy:

cotd1210

(And no, I did not post that comment on the Toronto Star…)

GUILTY PLEASURES: Daily Buffalo Bills Buzz

I must say that I’m not really a Bills fan.  Sure, I’ve accepted the fact that their games will always be shown on TV in Toronto (when they’re not blacked out in Buffalo, that is), but I usually spend the 1 o’clock slate flipping between the 3-4 games on digital cable–unless Seattle’s playing an East Coast opponent, of course.  That said, I saw enough of the Bills-Texans game yesterday to know that Buffalo fans didn’t have too much to celebrate.

Now, since I bought the Bills in Toronto Series four-game ticket pack back in ’07, I receive various emails from the team, including the Daily Buffalo Bills Buzz newsletter.  I suppose I could always unsubscribe, but hey, it helps me keep tabs on the team I cheer for once a year when they play at Rogers Centre–although this year will be different, for obvious reasons. ;)  Alas, while the articles are mildly informative, and off-the-field reporter Hannah Buehler is smokin’ hot, in a girl-next-door kinda way, what keeps me coming back for more are the comments from disgruntled Bills fans on every writeup.

Now, I suppose I can see the source of their frustration.  This is a franchise that hasn’t made the playoffs since ’99, when they benched the best CFL player of all-time for some bum named Rob Johnson–who, to his credit, put up some pretty big numbers against somebody’s third-string defense in Week 17–and proceeded to lose on a trick-play kick-return in the dying seconds.  In a way, they’re kinda like the Toronto Maple Leafs of the NFL; y’know, if the Leafs had actually made it to the Stanley Cup final and lost in ’93–as well as ’91, ’92 and ’94.  Okay, maybe a (slightly) more realistic scenario would be if the Seattle Seahawks had gotten screwed not just in Super Bowl 40, but Super Bowls 41, 42 and 43 as well–then proceeded to miss the playoffs for the entire following decade.  Ouch!

While I can’t quite say I feel their pain, there’s no denying that Bills fans are pretty fed up with their franchise.  These are actual comments posted on the Bills Buzz following the loss to Houston.  And yes, these people are all (supposedly) Buffalo Bills fans…

Naturally, you’re bound to get criticism of the head coach…

(Holy run-on sentence, Batman!)

…as well as a hearty helping of vitriol (along with some not-so-creative nicknames) bestowed upon the starting quarterback:

Even when the rare positive comment appears, it’s quickly met with a snide remark:

Meanwhile, you also get much putative purchasing of billboards and extensive Christmas wishlists:

(Hey, I always wondered what happened to Big Shot Bob!!!)

Alas, it seems there must not be any decent furniture stores in Buffalo (or Jacksonville, for that matter), because “ALL OUR COUCHES SUCK”

Again, the following is coming from a Bills fan.  At least, he must be, cuz it says here he’s a Top Commenter:

Another common theme: this is not a real NFL team (or some variation thereof)…

I gotta say, the switch to Facebook commenting before the start of this season has added a whole ‘nother level to these comments.  For instance, the believer that the rapture is coming before the Bills turn things around seems so much more credible once you see it’s a guy with a bandana and a porn stache who lists his profession as “MAFIA WARS.”  On the other hand, this comment is kinda scary, considering the poster’s profession:

(Aaaaand that’s why you don’t put your kids in public schools!)

This guy plays the “us commenters know better than the coaches” card, paired with “these guys make too much money, and I’d do better if you paid me!”  Uh, Go Fish?

Meanwhile, the ghost of this guy’s grandmother could beat the Bills DBs!

(And yes, there are 30 more comments where that came from!)

I think this one pretty much sums it up:

(The Bills aren’t just bad, they’re Major League II bad!)

Mind you, this week’s collection of comments seems pretty tame compared to a couple weeks back, when they blew that game against the Titans.  There were definitely a few fightin’ words exchanged afterwards, to put it mildly!

Stephen Brunt wants to know why Toronto doesn’t much like football. Here’s my theory…

Just got the latest edition of Sportsnet magazine in the mail today and I immediately turned to the back page, enticed by the tagline “Brunt: Why Doesn’t Football Work in Toronto?”.  I myself am I little miffed at the lack of support the CFL sees in this city, what with the uniquely Canadian take on my favourite sport drawing more fans to the stands in nearby Hamilton (population 520,000) than in the Big Smoke (population five-million).  I attended the Argos home opener a couple weeks back–in Calgary colours, mind you, complete with cowboy hat–and was a little bit shocked at the low turnout, reported at 20,682 for a beautiful Saturday-afternoon contest.  Not to mention that, as the game went down to the wire, several people left early–and these weren’t Stamps fans, either!  Mind you, I have seen worse.  Last October, the official attendance for the Flames and Leafs at the ACC surpassed that of the Stamps and Argos at Rogers Centre the night before.  In case you didn’t know, Rogers Centre holds a lot more people than the ACC does.

But it’s not just the Argos that are getting snubbed in this city.  As Brunt writes, the International Bowl, pitting NCAA schools from the Big East against the Mid-American Conference, “died a quick and unlamented death” after four contests, and while the annual Bills in Toronto Series games tend to (eventually) sell out, I’ve seen more enthusiasm in the stands for the Argos–where, as previously stated, there are far fewer people in attendance.  When Brunt says that “Toronto doesn’t much like football,” he certainly has a point.  I can’t dispute that, but I am going to attempt to explain it.  Bear with me here, this could take a while…

First of all, I must say that I am a major exception to this rule.  I do like football, very much so.  In 2008, I didn’t think twice about taking the trip to Montreal for the Grey Cup after the Stamps won the CFL West Division Final, and their ensuing victory was one of my most memorable moments as a sports fan.  A couple years later, after some deliberation, I flew all the way out to Seattle for the Seahawks’ season opener in 2010–hey, it was the beginning of the Pete Carroll era–and it was another amazing weekend, worth every penny.  (I balked at the higher prices for their Wild Card game against the Saints that season–not to mention the cost of a flight booked one week in advance–but went completely nuts watching it on TV.)  But my love of the game extends beyond the two teams I worship.  I estimate that I’ve seen 10 to 12 Argos games at Rogers Centre since I moved here in ’05, including a handful where they weren’t even playing against Calgary.  I’ve also been to every single International Bowl, and have the programs to prove it–as well as every single game of the Bills in Toronto Series, including pre-season contests.  I initially purchased the four-game ticket package at those elevated prices, and when they dropped ‘em this year, I upgraded my 500-level seats to the best non-VIP section on the visitors sideline, without hesitation.  Of course, it helps that the Hawks are coming to town this time around.  (Did I mention that I’ve already got my new Nike 12th man jersey–purchased in person at the Seattle Pro Shop?)

I could go on to mention that I’m the self-proclaimed president of the Seahawks Eastern Canadian fanclub (the team’s unofficial message board won’t even approve my registration cuz I live in the Eastern Timezone–they must think I’m a spy) and that I wear my Seahawks gear to my local sports bar on Sundays when I can’t get the game on Rogers digital cable.  Generally speaking, if there’s more than a handful of people at the bar for the 4 o’clock kickoffs, it’s only because the Leafs or the Raptors are playing a Sunday matinee.  But I think I’ve made my point.  I am not your typical Torontonian–in more ways than one, mind you–because I really, truly love the gridiron game.  Then again, in a city so large and culturally diverse, it’s really hard to call anyone a typical Torontonian.  There are many different ways you could break this city’s population into segments and fit them into neat little boxes, but as a general rule, I’ve found there are three types of people in TO:

1) People who immigrated here from other countries.  Let’s face it, as the biggest city and more-or-less-official cultural capital of Canada, Toronto still sees the lions’ (no, not the BC Lions) share of immigration from other countries.  Vancouver gets a large chunk of new Canadians from Asia, while some of the economically savvy are choosing to head west to Calgary, or even Saskatoon, but if you were to dig up the numbers, you’d surely see that Toronto has the highest proportion of residents that were born outside of this country.

2) People who moved here from other parts of Canada.  I myself fit into this category.  I came here from Calgary for university and never left.  I also know plenty of people living here who grew up in other parts of the country, from Windsor to Chicoutimi to Halifax, Vancouver and small-town Saskatchewan.  Let’s face it, if you aspire to make in in the Canadian entertainment industry, Toronto is the place to be.  It’s also the home of most national English-language magazines, all three national sports networks–not to mention the head offices of the country’s Big Five banks and most of its major insurance companies.  I’ve stated elsewhere on this blog that there isn’t much demand for bilingual jobs in Calgary–but there are enough openings in Toronto’s national head offices that I’ve been able to find employment in the financial industry in my second language in spite of my rough-hewn Alberta accent (which would never fly in Montreal, I’m sure).

3) Born and raised Torontonians. I know these people are out there, but I don’t know too many of them.  A good deal of my co-workers come from other countries, while a lot of my friends are originally from other provinces.  I do know plenty of people who grew up here, mind you, but they came to Toronto from elsewhere, whether it was India, Korea or Yugoslavia, at a young age.  As first-generation Canadians, they grew up amidst our cultural institutions, but with a traditional upbringing from their parents.  Which doesn’t make them any less Canadian, mind you.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for multiculturalism.  On any given week, I can sample cuisine from five different countries on Yonge Street, and I must say, some of my favourite foods are ones I had never even tasted before I left Calgary (case in point: shawarma).  I also find that interacting with people from a variety of backgrounds on a daily basis has greatly expanded my world view; instead of just reading about the Balkans in the newspapers, for instance, I’ve spoken to people who’ve come out of that area, and it’s given me a whole new perspective.  And that brings me to my point: Toronto is not your typical North American city.  It’s no coincidence that the Raptors attract more international free agents than American-born players; this city offers up a little slice of home to them, wherever they come from.  Having lived elsewhere in this country, I know that you’d be hard-pressed to find outstanding Greek cuisine in Calgary, much less Ethiopian or Nepalese.  Let’s face it, there isn’t another city in Canada where the Euro Cup final is a bigger event than Canada Day.  (I’d say maybe Montreal, but replace Canada Day with St. Jean Baptiste, and that’s definitely not the case.)  And that brings me back to football.

In his piece, Brunt makes the case that football is North America’s most popular sport.  There’s no denying that; it’s huge in the States, both college and pro, and has found a niche in every other CFL market except for Toronto–where a good chunk of the population comes from outside of North America.  Don’t get me wrong, football is big in other countries too, except what they call football isn’t played with helmets, pads and yardsticks.  It involves kicking a ball into a goal, and there are no hands allowed.  Up here, we tend to call it soccer, and there’s no doubt that it’s huge in Toronto.  In the past few months, I’ve listened to French and Italian colleagues discussing the state of their country’s sides, chewed my burger in silence as an Irishman and a Ukranian contemplated their teams’ slim chances in the Euro Cup at the pub, even overheard a native New Zealander on the subway mention how he was getting up early to watch the Rugby World Cup on weekends–but I’ll be damned if wearing my Stamps jersey elicits any kind of response anywhere more than 500 feet from Rogers Centre.  Y’see, all these people grew up watching soccer, not football, and they’ve seen no reason to make the switch.

On the other hand, many of my Group 2 friends who came here from other parts of the country do like the CFL.  They may not be as passionate as me (few people are), but they still care about how the Riders or the Bombers or the Als are doing.  In fact, if you go to one of those sparsely-attended Argos games and sit behind the visitors sideline, chances are you’ll be surrounded by fellow fans of the opposing team–even when you’re from Calgary.  But since their teams only come to town once or twice a year, these CFL fans aren’t Argos season’s ticket holders, and often won’t attend more than one game per season.  There have been years when I’ve done this myself; I mean, who wants to watch Cleo Lemon pass the pigskin?  Ugh.

As for the native Torontonians, well, let’s face it, they’ve got a lot more entertainment options than they did back when the Argos were winning all those Grey Cups.  (The only Argos fan I know likes to point out that his team has won it 15 times, to which I counter that while they won all those rings before he was born, most of the Stamps’ Grey Cup wins came during my lifetime.)  In the years since Doug Flutie roamed the Skydome turf, Toronto FC has sprung up in the summertime, attracting an instant fanbase despite their lack of success on the pitch.  Hell, the Raptors franchise was still in its infancy back in ’97; they’ve since established a solid fanbase of their own, starting their season during the CFL’s home stretch.  Then there is, of course, the Leafs.  If you don’t know the impact the Leafs have on this city’s sports scene, you’ve obviously never been to Toronto.  Nuff said.

Alas, while the Raptors and FC appeal to Toronto’s multicultural communities, and the average Toronto sports fan has several choices when it comes to spending his hard-earned cash, the Argos have gotten the short end of the stick.  And it doesn’t help that they haven’t been winning lately, either.  According to the team’s official attendance figures (which, interestingly, they seem to have stopped tracking after 2007), they averaged 31,597 fans a game in 2005, the season following their last Grey Cup victory.  Through two games this season, that number’s closer to 21,000.  Face it, those fairweather fans are a lot less likely to support a losing team when there are other games in town.  Did I mention that the Argos kicked off their 2012 season on Honda Indy weekend?

Likewise, the Bills haven’t made they playoffs since they inexplicably benched Flutie for Rob Johnson in the Music City Miracle way back in 2000, and those International Bowls, aside from the inaugural edition, were all blowouts, the Big East teams making mincemeat out of their MAC opponents.  Hey, if I came to Toronto from, let’s say, Columbia instead of Calgary in ’05, and my exposure to North American football was the Argos, the Bills on local TV and in town once a year, along with the annual bowl-game blowout, I’d probably stick to fútbol, myself.

On that note, I’m actually heading out to Hamilton for a slice of CFL history tomorrow.  I’ve never been to Ivor Wynne, so I figured I’d see a game there before they tear it down at season’s end–and I also plan on visiting the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, which resides in Steeltown as well.  I’ll probably have some pics to post when I get back on Sunday–for all you non-Torontonian Canadian Football fans out there.  (For the record, when I asked the only Argos fan I know if he’d ever been to a Labour Day Classic game in Hamilton, he said, “No way man, who wants to go to Hamilton!?”) ;)