Blame Canada: Buffalo blues

Blame Canada … or at least Toronto and Hamilton.
Buffalo fans are passionate about their Bills and Sabres, but used to uncertainty surrounding the team in recent years. ((Rick Stewart/Getty Images))

Blame Canada … or at least Toronto and Hamilton.

If that's the mood in Buffalo this week, who could argue? Start with the Buffalo Bills. It's not just how they let Miami all but eliminate them from playoff contention with a 16-3 win on Sunday. It was where it was done. 

The team played at "home" on the road at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, the first ever NFL game that mattered, played outside the US. It was a game Bills fans could learn to hate. The ones who made the trip from Buffalo weren’t impressed.  

On an all-sports radio station in Buffalo the happy home of the Toronto Argonauts was described as having the atmosphere of a tomb. That’s fitting because it’s in the Rogers Centre that the Bills buried their playoff hopes.

Buffalo fans deserved better. The Bills faithful have filled Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, New York throughout the season. On average more than 71,000 fans made it out to each of the Bills six home games south of the border, the sixth highest in the NFL. When the Bills were down 13-3 in the 4th quarter and they needed a little lift from the stands, they were met with crowd noise that sounded like it was piped in from the first period of a Leafs game at the ACC. 

But wait, it gets worse. There is a report now that the Sabres are for sale. That’s what Jim Kelley of Western New York Hockey magazine writes. He’s been told that Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie has been approached about buying a majority stake in the team and that the Sabres could play some of their home games in Hamilton. The Sabres have denied this. That’s the kind of cross-border shopping that’s enough to make a Buffalonian want to roll tanks over the Peace Bridge.

Last season the Sabres had the second highest average attendance in the NHL, behind only Montreal. This was after losing Daniel Briere and Chris Drury to free agency. Sharing the Sabres might hurt even more than handing over the Bills. While many American NHL franchises struggle to find fans who care enough to watch, it would be cruel punishment in Buffalo if it was their Sabres who were the next to move.

The news is not all bad in Buffalo sports. Long live the Bulls, the remarkable University of Buffalo football team. Three years ago they were one of the worst teams in Division 1 football, with just eight wins in eight years. Former CFL quarterback Turner Gill stepped in as head coach and things changed.

Last Friday they defeated nationally-ranked Ball State, 42-24 to win the University of Buffalo’s  first Mid-American Conference championship. That comes with an invitation to their first bowl game in fifty years. The Bulls play the University of Connecticut in the International Bowl on January 3rd at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, the city that just won’t leave Buffalo alone.