It's the tailgating, stupid
Buffalo can offer NFL fans one thing Toronto can't
Toronto, be careful what you wish for.
You say you want an NFL team? Well, you took one out for a test drive Sunday and it turned out to be a real lemon.
Buffalo's drab 16-3 loss to the Miami Dolphins in the first of five regular season appearances through 2012 at Rogers Centre should teach you what we Bills fans already knew: if someday you're able to lure the team to Toronto on a permanent basis, you won't get your money's worth.
Unless you happen to own the team, in which case you'll be able to make boatloads more loonies than you ever could in economically trampled Buffalo.
But what would a fan of the Toronto Bills get? You found out Sunday.
Arm-and-a-leg ticket prices (upwards of $180 plus taxes for the average ducat).
J.P. Losman (a vintage performance by the hapless former No. 1 quarterback: 13-of-27 passing with an interception and three fumbles).
Coach Dick Jauron (the kind of guy who wouldn't double down with an 11 against a six).
Left tackle Jason Peters (the new world-record holder for the fastest transition from most underrated to most overrated player in football).
There's one thing you won't get, though. And it might just be the thing that keeps Buffalo fans flocking to suburban Orchard Park despite the perennially mediocre roster, the 10 consecutive seasons without a playoff berth and the four straight Super Bowl losses (we all totally miss those days, by the way).
To borrow from an old Bill Clinton campaign mantra, It's the tailgating, stupid.
Strolling the area around the Rogers Centre before Sunday's game was to witness Toronto at its corporate, capitalistic, conservative lamest. Three hours before kickoff — a time when the air outside Ralph Wilson Stadium is thick with the smell of barbecued meat and the sound of drunken revelry — the streets were only slightly busier than on a normal church day.
Thanks to Ontario's strict liquor laws and a lack of plentiful, affordable outdoor parking, the former SkyDome is woefully unequipped to offer anything remotely resembling even a serviceable NFL game-day experience.
So instead of cracking open the trunk and pulling out the lawn chairs, portable grill and cooler of Duty Free beer for a full day of tailgating festivities, you're forced to make do with something called the Budweiser "Tailgate" Party (quotation marks are mine, and they should be around "party" as well).
Set up on a vacant lot at a semi-out of the way street corner a couple blocks north of the Rogers Centre, this glorified beer garden's main attraction was an impossibly irritating Jim Kelly. The hall of fame quarterback — who the Bills still haven't replaced, and yes, I'm looking at you, Trent Edwards — was perched on one of those hastily constructed concert stages attempting to jack up the sparse gathering of onlookers with some sort of ill-conceived trivia contest.
From what I could gather, the answer to every question was "Jim Kelly."
The makeshift setup, shivering spectators and general lack of intoxication was reminiscent of those tedious alcohol-free outdoor New Year's Eve shows I attended as a youngster in my hometown of Niagara Falls, Ont., and always hated (except for that year when Glass Tiger totally rocked it).
Clearly, I was out of my element. Ah, but ice-cold Budweiser was on sale. How bad could it be? Well, it got worse when the girl working the fridge informed me cans of Bud were going for a wildly un-American six bucks a pop.
Not that there weren't signs of a real Bills tailgate. The bone-chilling temperature (–20 C when you factored in the chill from the whipping wind) was so Western New York, and plenty of fans walked around in Bills jerseys — including the requisite blockhead sporting a "Simpson 32" in spite of (or maybe because of) O.J.'s recent prison sentence.
But the pluses fell far short of the minuses, including the abundance of smug Miami fans (they actually have a shot at the playoffs) strutting around in Dolphins gear without fear of reprisal.
Was it enough to bring a lifelong Buffalo fan to tears? I swear that was the wind in my eyes, but I know one thing: this was a sad day in the history of the Bills, no matter where they end up.
Jesse Campigotto was born and raised in Niagara Falls, Ont., and now lives in Toronto, where friends continue to insist he lose the Cheektowaga accent.