Cohon standing on guard

ROB LONGLEY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:40 AM ET

CFL commissioner Mark Cohon is young, hip and on the ball.

Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson is old and old-school.

Each man is united in one regard -- the recognition that growing interests in bringing the NFL to Toronto aren't going away any time soon.

In other words, both are anxious to cover their assets.

News yesterday that the Bills intend to pursue a pre-season game played in Toronto next summer and a regular-season contest in 2009 created a buzz on both sides of the border.

The idea is perhaps the smartest thing the recently turned 89-year-old owner Wilson has hatched in years.

After crying "small market" to anyone who would listen, Wilson finally is committed to aggressively tapping into the huge one right across the border.

For first-year commish Cohon, it was the chance to make his strongest statement yet, namely that even a sniff of the NFL in Southern Ontario could spell huge trouble for the CFL.

"We have had ongoing discussions with (NFL commissioner Roger Goodell) and the NFL international people and have made the point that a team north of the border would have a profound negative impact on our league," Cohon told Sun Media in a telephone interview from Calgary.

"(The Bills) announcement reinforces that the NFL spending more time north of the border is on our doorstep."

And getting closer, it would seem. The Rogers Communications-Larry Tanenbaum tandem fronted by Blue Jays president Paul Godfrey is well-advanced in that pursuit.

So much so that it may have been the motivation for the Argos ownership to reportedly sniff around at the prospect of owning an NFL team itself.

Since the team refuses to comment on the story, we're left to guess at its reasoning, but here's one possibility:

- If the CFL makes enough noise about threats to its future, perhaps the NFL will back off. With its well-cultivated image, surely the NFL wouldn't want to be seen as the virus that took down its three-down cousin.

Which is where Cohon comes in. The commissioner said yesterday that he already has had discussions with Goodell. If the NFL is going to creep into Canada, Cohon wants to at least have a say into how it might be done.

"From our perspective, we have to look at all what-if scenarios as to what the best option for the league is," Cohon said. "(Goodell) is a fan and a supporter of the CFL and I trust him at his word."

Wilson's emphasis on the Canadian market, meanwhile, may smack of desperation to some in Western New York, but in reality it is long overdue.

"The team hopes to capitalize on the increasing interest of fans in the Canadian market by playing a regular-season game in Toronto," the Bills said in a release.

To make it happen, the Bills would first need league as well as county and state approval to play "home games" outside of Ralph Wilson Stadium. Under the team's current lease, the Bills must play at least half of their games at the Orchard Park Stadium.

For the past several years, the Bills have focused their marketing push on Rochester to some success. As the next logical step in the regionalization of the franchise, Southern Ontario would appear to offer that much more, both in fans and the money they can bring.

The average of 15,000 Canadians crossing the border for each Bills home game is just the start. With more luxury suites scheduled to be added next year, the Bills are after some serious Canadian corporate money as well.

And as the CFL has known for a decade now, the NFL audience here is not shy about cross-border shopping.


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