Death of Ralph Wilson opens Toronto's NFL door

Posted By: Mike Toth · 3/26/2014 9:41:00 AM

The Leafs lose their 6th straight; the Raptors got beat by the lousy Cleveland Cavaliers; and the Jays were embarrassed 22-5 by the Pirates down at spring training.

But hey! if you though Toronto sports fans had a terrible Tuesday, what about the poor folks just over the border in Buffalo?

Their last-place hockey club, the woeful Sabres, lost again, 2-0 to Montreal; It was revealed that former Buffalo Bills hero Jim Kelly's cancer battle is getting worse, as the disease begins to spread; and the Bills founding father, the only owner the NFL team has ever known, passed away at the age of 95.

There's obviously a Kelly connection to Wilson's death, as the hall of fame quarterback led the Bill's to four straight Super Bowls in the early-90's. Unfortunately, the Bills lost every single one of those championship tilts, denying Wilson his ultimate reward for bringing the Bills into existence way back in 1960. Kelly has also been connected with a plan to rally local interests to keep the Bills in Buffalo when Wilson passed away. However, with Kelly fighting for his life, his part in that plan will have to take a back seat.

Meanwhile, with Wilson's death, the Toronto connection to the Bills is already being bandied about once again. (Just what Toronto needs, right? Another struggling sports franchise.) But be that as it may, the usual T.O. suspects are getting tossed into the mix when it comes to buying the Bills. The Rogers family, Larry Tanenbaum, and New Jersey rocker Jon Bon Jovi, who loves performing in Toronto and is apparently pumped about owning an NFL team that plays in Toronto.

Of course, there are lots of fish to fry before Toronto ever lands an NFL franchise; not to mention the fact that poor old Ralph hasn't even been laid to rest yet. 

Among the many potential hurdles?

• The Wilson family (who now own the team in trust) selling the Bills to a big-pocket American owner who agrees to keep the team in Buffalo. Sabres owner Terry Pegula, for instance, has money to burn and would be a logical hero to slap on his white hat and rescue the Bills.

• The lack of an NFL stadium in Toronto. This is a big chunk of the $2 billion or so it will take to land a team in Toronto, as Rogers Centre just doesn't cut it in terms of seating capacity or parking lot space for tail gate bashes that are such a huge part of the NFL experience.

• The NFL's reluctance to be the bad guy and kill the Toronto Argonauts, putting the entire CFL at risk.

Despite these stumbling blocks, however, the Bills jumping the border is a distinct possibility. Pegula and other American cash kings, for instance,  might look at small market Buffalo as a lost cause. MLSE has already been poking its nose around the stadium building business, and they're also pondering a move to safeguard the Argos by purchasing the team and moving them to the cozy confines of BMO Field.

But could the "Toronto" Bills and the Toronto Argonauts co-exist?

With smart promotion, it's definitely doable. Football, remember, is a once-a-week deal, so it's not as if the market would be saturated. For example, you could see the Argos playing their home games on Friday, a perfect fit for TSN's "Friday Night Football" package, and the Bills playing at their future "Big House" on Sunday afternoon. Marketed properly, it would make for a cool weekend experience and it's conceivable a lot of people would buy tickets for both games.

First things first, though, as football fans in Buffalo pay their respects to Wilson, the man who brought NFL football to their city.

But in the days ahead, Buffalo fans will be watching to see if they'll eventually have to cross the border every week to watch their beloved Bills, while Toronto fans wonder if their NFL dream will finally come true. 

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  1. StephenS_5505 posted on 03/27/2014 11:05 AM
    You are dreaming. There is no upside to the NFL for the NFl to come to Toronto, no extra TV rights or marketing opps. They need a team in LA first. and they have a stadium and a new site picked out for another new one. But hey keep those embers alive
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