Wilson wins, but his Bills lose

STEVE SIMMONS, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:13 PM ET

TORONTO - These can't be the best times for Ralph Wilson, the 92-year-old owner of the Buffalo Bills.

He came to Toronto this weekend, enjoyed the decadent dining at Harbour Sixty Steakhouse, was paid handsomely for the experience by Rogers Inc. and lost yet another football game.

Three times his Bills have played regular season games at the Rogers Centre and three times they have been defeated. They have yet to score as many as 20 points in a game here. They have managed three touchdowns in three Canadian home games that don't feel much like home games.

And were he not so in love with his football team, the hobby horse he bought for $25,000 and now is valued at 20,000 times that price, he might have been laughing all the way to the bank, laughing at how much Rogers paid for these National Football League games in Toronto, how much they truly overpaid for an event that doesn't necessarily feel like one.

But Wilson's Bills are now 0-and-8, the worst team in all of football, and seem good enough to come close but with no ability to win, and he takes that personally. This is another awful losing season in Buffalo, after an entire decade of awful losing seasons. If Wilson had any intention of going out with a bang as Bills owner, it certainly doesn't seem probably or possible. So instead, the oldest owner in the NFL hired the oldest GM in the league, Buddy Nix (in fairness, when you're 92 years old, a 70-year-old may seem like a kid) and the not-so-funny Sunshine Boys of football suffer together.

And all the wine at Harbour Sixty won't wash that down well in a season of loss after loss. Wilson won't talk about this but his team has become something of a laughing stock, an embarrassment around the league, even if for the third straight week they look like they could win and wound up losing instead: That almost always defines bad football teams. They can be in the game. They can make it seem close. They can lure you into believing.

They just can't finish.

And Mr. Wilson, frankly, sadly really, is running out of next years. And the same may be true for professional football in Buffalo. As much as the NFL belongs in Buffalo, as much as this league fits the city and becomes the focal point for a town that loves nothing better than to play the part of woe is me, the future of the Bills remains tied to Wilson's longevity. The longer he lives, the more there is certainty and confusion about a team in Buffalo. Once he moves on, then, the unanswered questions will begin to get answers.

Whatever this Bills In Toronto Series began as three years ago, it hasn't fulfilled anyone's mandate. The Rogers people paid too much. The Bills, hoping to spread their fan base, haven't managed to accomplish that. The thought that this was Toronto's entrance of some kind into the NFL hasn't taken any form. And the great fear of both the Canadian Football League and the Toronto Argonauts that this would be an enormous detriment to their product, has not, in any way, materialized.

The announced crowd of 50,746 was part Buffalo, part Chicago, part undecided. Chan Gailey, the Bills coach, blames his team for the Toronto indifference. An Argo crowd of less than half that size is more partisan. Gailey believes if the Bills were a better team, more people here would care about them.

He, like the Rogers people, like Wilson, doesn't understand the market.

This is a town that didn't sell tickets for Doug Flutie or Roger Clemens or Jose Bautista. No one is about to get excited or care much about the worst team in the NFL.

"It sucks, man," said emerging receiver, Steve Johnson, talking of all the Bills losing. "We're fighting, dude, I don't know what to say."

Then he professed his love for his teammates. "I'll lose a million games with these guys. There's no quit in this team."

The Bills may not lose a million games in Toronto or anywhere else, but what they've lost in this football sellout is a home crowd, and all that goes along with home-field advantage in the NFL. The owner got his money; The team got nothing.

This series will carry on, for two more years, with more of the same. A football game. A large crowd, partially papered. Atmosphere that Johnson best describes as "kind of neutral."

Ralph Wilson has been well compensated for this Bills In Toronto series: And all of it has come with a price for his football team.


Videos

Photos