by Tim Wendel
Beginning of a new era or the beginning of the end? That’s where another Buffalo sports franchise finds itself as the Bills head north for a “home game” against the Miami Dolphins in Toronto this weekend.
Thirty years ago, the Buffalo Braves were in a remarkably similar situation. The team had played an increasing number of “home games” in Toronto. In essence, they planted the seeds for NBA to expand there in 1995 with the Raptors.
The parallels between the old Braves and the current Bills go well beyond traveling north in an effort to balance the books, though. The Braves proved that Toronto, despite being first and foremost a hockey town, could support an NBA franchise. The Bills are doing the same by playing there. This weekend’s contest is part of an agreement in which the Bills will play one regular-season game in Toronto each season over the next five years. Rather conveniently that situation dovetails into the Bills’ lease expiring in 2013.
As my friend Budd Bailey points out, the Bills have become the NFL’s top candidate to move to another city. The NFL franchise would be worth $250 million or more in someplace like Toronto or Los Angeles.
More importantly, though, Bills owner Ralph Wilson has no heir apparent to take over his team. That side of the equation became more blurred with the recent death of Toronto media mogul Ted Rogers, the guy who lured the Bills north of the border.
Back in the 1970s, Braves owner Paul Snyder was desperate for an heir apparent, too. So desperate that he eventually turned to ex-Kentucky Colonels owner John Y. Brown. At first, Brown was brought in to help balance the books. But he soon took over the club, trading away such stars as Bob McAdoo and Moses Malone, and eventually swapping the entire franchise for the Boston Celtics. In the aftermath, Western New York was left without a team and a whole bunch of rich guys got even richer.
Pinch me, please, because I see the same nightmare beginning to unfold again with the Bills.