Fourth down, what's next?Owner has left Bills without plan
By STEVE SIMMONS, SUN MEDIA
The great contradiction of Ralph Wilson's Hall of Fame ownership of the Buffalo Bills is on display tonight: He sold out his passionate fans, all in the name of neutral site corporate green.
Oh, he will tell you he was doing nothing more than expanding the forever challenged Buffalo market, but what is clear two years into this Bills In Toronto disaster is that Toronto doesn't give a hoot about the Bills.
We love the National Football League. The television ratings tell us that much.
We just don't love Ralph's team very much or care about it or want the emotional attachment that goes with it.
What is difficult to discern about Wilson and his ownership of his beloved Bills are the mixed messages that are sent out about him. On Hall of Fame weekend in Canton, Ohio, he was praised, and rightly so, as the conscience of the National Football League. He was applauded for being an owner who never once voted for the moving of a franchise. He took bows for keeping the Bills in little Buffalo, against all odds.
What also is true is that Wilson has no succession plan for the Bills. He is 91 years old. As much as he seems to defy time, he will not live forever. He has no plans to will his team to a member of his family. Word is, when he goes, the estate, by law, will auction the team to the highest bidder. In other words: The man who fought against moving franchises is basically leaving his own up for grabs.
The Bills may remain in Buffalo long term. They may not. The future will be out of Wilson's control.
And the assumption had long been that this was where Ted Rogers would enter the picture. Only that never happened because a year ago yesterday, Rogers passed away. He was just the kind of rogue who would throw good money after bad to go after the Bills, when they came up for sale, figuring he would make it work in the long run, just like he made FM radio work. But Wilson happened to outlive Rogers and with the current state of the Rogers corporate world in flux -- people are being let go left right and centre -- who knows if they will ever enter the football world again in any meaningful way?
For now, there are three years left on this awful deal Rogers signed with the Bills.
The Rogers people overestimated Toronto's appetite for NFL football, the public wanting something close to fast food or mid-range prices and getting charged Sotto Sotto prices -- without getting Sotto Sotto quality. The NFL already has declared tonight's game a sellout (Bills fans may agree with that from a different angle) but you could go online yesterday and get all kinds of tickets in different price ranges.
Clearly, this arranged marriage that was supposed to build into love just hasn't happened, trampled in mortgage-sized tickets, circumstance and, frankly, a football team that is awfully hard to love. (And we already have one of those in this city now.)
This has been one strange season for Mr. Wilson, coming off his Pro Football Hall of Fame induction last summer. He has, in no particular order, replaced his offensive coordinator, his head coach, his starting quarterback, his starting running back, and the Bills look like a run-of-the-mill NFL team in a league with far too many of them. So much for the plan. The season has gone so wrong for the Bills that on the Sunday afternoon in which they tried to honour their owner at halftime in the stadium that bears his name, they ended up botching the ceremony and Wilson, not wanting to get booed, didn't bother to show on the field.
The Hall of Fame induction was great theatre in early August. Ralph Wilson, smiling, waving, gushing. Since then, only questions and more questions, for the old man who pays the bills for the Bills.