Is it time for the NFL to come to Canada?

ROB LONGLEY and BILL PIERCE -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:05 AM ET

The CFL is flying high with a new commissioner and strong franchises across the country. But the NFL's Buffalo Bills have announced they will start playing one exhibition game and one regular season game a year in Toronto. They also have an 89-year-old owner. When he dies the team will go on the open market and could end up in Toronto.

Sun Media's NFL columnist Rob Longley and Bill Pierce — a season ticket holder for the Toronto Argonauts, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and the Buffalo Bills — go head-to-head on why the NFL should come to Toronto, and why it must not:

LONGLEY: The question is not should the NFL come to Toronto, but when will it arrive, so deal with it CFL fans, especially the irrational and xenophoic among you. Face it, Toronto already is an NFL market in a CFL town. The number of southern Ontario fans crossing the Peace Bridge for Bills home games suggest it and TV ratings confirm it. And if Toronto CFL fans really cared, they might go to the odd Argos game.

PIERCE: As you know, Rob, I am addicted to football. On any given fall weekend, I'm off to some CFL or NFL stadium (and occasionally Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor to see the mighty Wolverines) to get my fix. Yes, my wife is a gem. And labelling me as anti-American doesn't work here as I would (if I could) vote for George Dubya for four more years. Hey, he's doing a great job. Really! Regarding your opening barrage of taunts, let me just say this. The vast majority of us "CFL fans" also love the NFL. Both leagues, with their unique rules, have their positives and their negatives. But hey, it's football!

We have the best of both worlds. Canadians have their own long-established professional and collegiate football leagues, along with easy access to the American game just across the border. It's a football paradise for anyone in southern Ontario. If Toronto acquired a permanent NFL franchise, it would most probably mean the end of Canadian professional football which dates back to the late 1800s. The people of B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Quebec would all lose their teams. And our college game probably would eventually switch to the four-down game. Twenty years from now, we can all say remember when ....

Rob, if it meant the demise of the CFL and a distinct part of our nation's culture, would you still want the glory of having a NFL franchise in Toronto?

LONGLEY: Bill, Bill, Bill. Decades ago when we were both working late nights on the Sun sports desk we laughed at the "CFL Death Imminent" headlines. The league will never die, that's part of its charm.

And if the Argos can't get 30,000 to the Rogers Centre for the CFL East final a week before the Grey Cup, can we not agree that the indifference is already ingrained in the marketplace? Do you really think the stubble jumpers in Regina will care if the Argos disappear? They hate Toronto already.

I'm all for preserving our nation's culture (though I don't get curling) but I'm all for watching the best of sport in my own backyard. We can do it in baseball, basketball and hockey and soon we'll do it in football.

PIERCE: Yes, there is no denying the CFL went through some difficult times (okay, they had the defibrillators out) in the late '80s and 1990s. But if you study the history of pro sports teams and leagues, there are some really good years and then some horrific ones. And the cause of the bad times can usually be blamed on a lack of leadership, resources and business expertise. In the past five years, the CFL has found that right mix of ownership/management that any sports league needs to flourish. With David Cynamon, Howard Sokolowski, Bob Wettenhall, Bob Young, Lyle Bauer,

Eric Tillman, those rich Calgary guys (aren't they all?), Bobby Ackles, David Braley and the new commish Mark Cohon, to name a few, on board, the CFL has been entering a resurgence period with increased ratings, sponsorship dollars and attendance. Now the league just has to learn how to

stay there.

And regarding the people of Regina, they should care if the Toronto Argonauts and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats are part of the CFL. Because if southern Ontario is not in the league, there is no league. Unfortunately for most Canadians, Toronto really is the Centre Of The Universe with most of

the corporate, advertising and television dollars flowing out of here. And with 25% of the country living in the Golden Horseshoe and no CFL teams located in this area, those dollars will eventually evaporate.

That is why this is an all-or-nothing proposition. An NFL franchise in Toronto means no pro football for the rest of the country.

LONGLEY: I'll say this, your pal Dubya would admonish you for your "protect the meek" mindset. If, as you say, the CFL leadership is so strong, all the more reason to believe it will survive. Cohon won't stop badgering his NFL counterpart, Roger Goodell so at least he's trying. But the Argos ownership knows what end is up and wants in on the NFL as well. As for TV ratings, that worm has also turned. NFL playoff numbers here are off the charts and this year's Super Bowl telecast on CTV will destroy what CBC drew for this year's Grey Cup. Those booming CFL ratings you speak of don't flow out of Toronto, either, but from all points west of Lake Superior. There will always be 25,000 Argos and Ticats fans willing to buy tickets (thanks to the benevolence of fellas like you) and thus protect the current business model.

PIERCE: Rob, you know the ratings for the CFL and the NFL playoffs are comparable over the years. Some years the Grey Cup inches higher and some years the Super Bowl ekes out a win. Both are the biggest televised sporting events every year in Canada. But the interesting thing is that lately the

CFL regular-season numbers are now a decent percentage point higher than the NFL ones. Even when the Argos and Ticats play each other! And actually, the highest CFL ratings per-capita in the country are found in the province of Quebec for their Montreal Alouettes on RDS. I think that’s east of Lake Superior.

LONGLEY: Maybe it’s time for the league to stand up for itself and put out a better product rather than worry about the elephant in the room. The great irony that must burn CFL fans is that the NFL game of today is like the CFL game of a decade ago: More offence, more scoring and more fun.

PIERCE: No doubt it is fun watching Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and J.P. Losman (whoops!) march up and down the field with the new high-powered offensive systems in the NFL. However, I do remember (was it really decades ago, Rob?) that all you cool NFL guys thought the high-powered offences of Doug Flutie, Matt Dunigan and Jeff Garcia were Mickey Mouse because of the

lack of defensive play in the CFL. As I recall from our Sports department days, you were saying the CFL lacked the complex strategic defensive subtly of the NFL. Whatever. Yes, I will admit the NFL is more offensive right now and the CFL has that NFL feel to it of years past. But these things come and go. A John Hufnagel out there will figure out the current tough CFL defences and some future Bill Belichick will learn how to stop the Manning brothers.

LONGLEY: Would that be the same Hufnagel who ran out of second-rate options with NFL teams and was desperate for work? Of course if he's any good up here, he'll just migrate faster than the geese and take a job as water boy or co-ordinator for some struggling U.S. college team a la Mr. Coupe de Grey himself, Kent Austin. Good point about Flutie and Garcia — being the best here proved they were good enough to play in the NFL and like any player on any CFL roster, they couldn't make the move fast enough. Pretty naive to think the sophisticated football fans of southern Ontario of which you speak won't do the same thing when a team arrives here. And can we blame them?

PIERCE: And you wonder why the rest of the country HATES Toronto. Maybe one day the GTA can fulfil its dream of becoming the 51st American state and Toronto will no longer have to be embarrassed from being forced to hang out with the rest of us “nerdy, loser Canadians.” It’s too bad that Torontonians equate a distinct world-class culture with imitating what the people in Cleveland are doing. I’ve been to Cleveland. It ain’t that great.

Long live the CFL!


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