Tuesday, November 07, 2006


The Buffalo Shuffle-Year II

For the second year in a row, I recently took the opportunity to catch a Bills’ game in Buffalo.

The Franklin Coach picked up part of our sorried lot in Belleville between 5:30am and 6:00am, and the rest of us in Trenton. (The Sting fans had dibs on the front seats, Dukes nation were escorted to the rear of the bus.)

From there, it is smooth sailing to the Canadian border. Hamilton Tiger Cat fans were requested to remove their hats, and to place their right hand over their hearts as we passed by Steel Town). At the Peace Bridge in Fort Erie, there is a bottleneck at that point which stretches the limits of credibility.

The first time I travelled with the hoard, I assumed, before reaching the border, that we would follow the somewhat nebulous guidelines of the international import-export business. Unless you are out of the country for 48 hours, don’t even consider the purchase of any goods, especially that demon rum.

Wrong again, Charlie. Our group poured into the Duty Free Emporium, and headed directly to the stacks of beer cans, and to the shelves of Corby’s finest. Half an hour later, all were back on the bus, well stocked for the ten minute drive to Orchard Park, and the game against the Green Bay Packers.

Not your average Duty Free, mind you. The Tim Horton’s and the McDonald’s are at the very back of the shop, as are the washrooms. Head there first, don’t mind the lineups. There were thirty other buses from Canada in the parking lot---as well as countless limos and private vehicles. Be patient. Think football.

That drive might be ten minutes when the Bills are in Cleveland on a December afternoon. When they are at home, expect an hour of stop and stop and stop and go traffic until you reach the parking lot. It is an interesting trip---across middle class America to the Stadium. Most private homes have parking on their yards, for about $15 a pop, to augment the mortgage payments. Evangelical churches waive you in to park, and to eat---dogs and burgers and such to support their missions.

Finally, you arrive to witness the “Tail Gate Adventure”. Fifty thousand revellers psyching up for the game. Truly an event. Wafts of smoke of all description---mainly from barbecue charcoal and from firewood permeating the grounds. Mass consumption of Labatt’s and Coors. Footballs flying everywhere. Red and white and blue of the Buffalo Bills and yellow and green on the Packer supported. Game Day.

Once the game began, the spectacle unfolded. More than seventy thousand human beings plopped into a bowl in the pursuit of happiness on a Sunday afternoon. A beautiful November day, perhaps 65 degrees in the sun.

The fans rise as one every time security guards, in bright yellow jackets hustle out unruly patrons. Several of those removed were shirtless, painted in bright team colours.

“Borat” would really have enjoyed the trip!

After the game, I overheard one Buffalo supporter chortle to his companion: “I can’t believe there is a team worse than we are!” On that day, it was fact.

The Bills were woefully inept, the Packers worse. Turnovers, bad decisions, poor execution. They will kill you on the gridiron. And so it was for Green Bay.
Perennial super star, and Hall of fame shoe-in Brett Favre was at the helm for the Packers all day long. There were moments of genius, and hours of despair.

He had one interception returned for a touchdown. He had another returned for a long distance. He fumbled one snap, and lost the ball. Another snap hit him in the facemask while he was in shotgun formation. Yet another turnover.

Losman’s pass to Lee Evans iced the cake for the Bills. That gave them a 17-10 lead with less than eight minutes remaining. They finished off the Packers with another TD. The game ended when the official told us that he had initiated the forty second rule---some kind of “Mercy Rule”. When a team commits a penalty on defence, with less than forty seconds remaining, the game is over. No gun. No cheers. Just meander off to the dressing room victorious. Only if you are wearing the red, white, and blue.

Another hour journey to the border, and a quick trip through customs. (Our trip escorts rehearsed the drill---keep our yaps shut, no back talk, and have our passports and birth certificates ready.)

More than thirty percent of the fans at the game cross the border. They return home laden with Bills’ memorabilia and souvenirs. We waited in line at the Field House after the game to get in to buy Bills’ items. The loyal Canadian fan would drop a least a hundred bucks on the American side. Do the Math. Good business.

There is a movement afoot to capture that magic, and those dollars, in Toronto, with the establishment of an NFL team in Canada. Horrible idea. Equally as bad as putting CFL teams in Shreveport or in Las Vegas. Truly dumb.

Late November is the time to enjoy the Canadian Football League. The Grey Cup is less than two weeks away. As always, it is up for grabs.

The NFL will soldier on into the New Year. With a few breaks, the Bills could move into playoff contention. Perhaps to another Super Bowl. Someday.

By the way, Monday mornings can be difficult following those excursions. I overheard one of the hoard: “I’m starting a new job next week. The boss told me to be in bright and early Monday morning. I told him I’d start on Tuesday.” Great decision.

I’ll meet you at the bus.

James Hurst

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