Author’s Note: I wrote this article before the Bills played Atlanta on Sunday, anticipating my schedule wouldn’t allow me to watch the game in enough time to write about it for my normal Tuesday column. Sadly, I did catch most of the latest devastating loss from a bar on Sunday as I hung out prior to the start of a concert . Instead of writing yet another article about a game the Bills should have won but found another way to lose, I’ll stay with my original topic. Not writing about the game will allow me to avoid writing several paragraphs about how infuriating it is to see the Bills try and run a low percentage long fade pass into coverage down the sideline in just about every third and short situation. Seriously? You ran for 195 yards on Sunday and averaged 6.2 ypc and you had to get cute every time on third down instead of running the ball for a couple of yards and continuing the drive? Is it just me or does that make you scream, too?
Bills fans are tough. Listen to just about any Bills fan and you’ll hear stories about sticking with the team through thick and thin – especially when no sane person would have done likewise. You’ll hear stories of sitting in sub-zero conditions watching a team that had nothing to play for and staying until the bitter end. You’ll hear of the heartbreaking losses and the renewal of waking up the next day being just as big of a fan of the boys from Orchard Park. You’ll hear loud and clear that which does not kill you only makes you stronger.
And so it’s rather funny to see how emotionally fragile Bills fans are when a story pops up about the future ownership of the Bills and what that will mean for the team staying in Buffalo. Ralph Wilson is the elephant in the room quickly approaching the century mark – everyone knows his passing will signal a new and unknown era for the Bills and everyone is terrified what that means.
Veteran CBS NFL reporter Jason La Canfora wrote an article last week that set Bills Nation abuzz – it seems that Jon Bon Jovi has interest in being the principal owner of an NFL team and with Buffalo’s sale almost guaranteed to happen in the next decade he’s laying the groundwork for making a run at owning the Bills. You’d have thought a bomb had gone off given the shock wave that rippled through the worldwide network of Bills fans.
There were, of course, the multitude of pun-based comments referencing Bon Jovi’s music – he’s living on a prayer, he’s not a Bill, he’s a cowboy (on a steel horse he rides), but fans seemed shocked and distrusting of the rock front man. La Canfora’s article implied that the Bills future may well lie with Toronto as the Rogers Communication group already has connections to the team, and said that Bon Jovi was taking steps to position himself with forces on both sides of the border.
Bills fans are deeply distrustful of any possible future Bills owner without strong ties to Buffalo – perhaps rightly so. Financially it doesn’t seem to make must sense to insist on the Bills staying in Western New York, so only an owner with strong ties to the area would likely insist on keeping the team in Buffalo. Metro Toronto is approximately 10 times the size of metro Buffalo, so barring a complete relocation to a place like Los Angeles, a move to the closest nearby major city seems possible.
Jon Bon Jovi’s music may mesh well with the working class feel of a town like Buffalo. Indeed, some of our greatest times may have been when Mullets and Zubas defined fashion and Bon Jovi ruled the charts. But nobody sees Jon Bon Jovi as a Buffalo guy – a guy who would keep the team in its current location. That scares the hell out of Bills fans.
The fantasy that many Bills fans dream about in regards to the future of the team involves Jim Kelly riding in on a white horse to lead an ownership group that will keep the Bills in Buffalo. Kelly will somehow become the principal owner, or will broker a deal with a local billionaire to buy the team and keep them put.
Regardless of all the conversation devoted to Bon Jovi or Jim Kelly, neither man is likely to be the next principal owner of the Bills. NFL ownership is the most elite club in the world. To even be considered for ownership your wealth needs to be in the billions and even then that only gets you in the door. The other owners have control over who will be permitted to buy teams in the rare circumstances when they come up and having the money to fund the endeavor doesn’t necessarily dictate the winner.
NFL owners seem to favor people like themselves – extremely wealthy individuals with the ability to pony up several billions of dollars and take an interest keeping the NFL strong. They much prefer a single owner than a large group of several small people pooling money in an ownership group. In short, they are looking for a Robert Kraft or a Dan Snyder – these are who they want to own NFL teams.
Jon Bon Jovi is a rich man, as is Jim Kelly. But one needs to be wealthy, not rich to own an NFL team. Comedian Chris Rock delineated the differences best when he joked that Shaquille O’Neal was rich, but the white guy who signs Shaq’s check is wealthy. Rich people have millions to spend on toys – wealthy people have billions.
Given the wealth requirements and the penchant for billionaire owners to want more of their own kind, I find it hard to see Jon Bon Jovi or Jim Kelly as a principal owner of the Bills. If the NFL has a desire to expand to Toronto it is pretty obvious that they would be interested in seeing Rogers Communications/the Rogers family as new owners. If priorities are elsewhere for the NFL – returning a team to Los Angeles – there will undoubtedly be potential buyers vying for the opportunity to buy the Bills and go build that market as well.
It’s not out of the realm of possibility that the team would stay in Buffalo, at least for the short term after a sale, but economics make it tough for the long term – a geographically diverse fan base and a lack of major companies to buy sponsorships and luxury boxes. Neither the NFL nor a future owner needs to be subject to the relative difficulties of building a profitable franchise in Western New York if they don’t have to, and given how particular they can be in selecting owners, I don’t think they will be. That’s a terrible thought if you’re a Bills fan, which is probably why any talk of future Bills ownership, when presented as some sort of news scoop, stirs the pot so much in Bills Nation.
Deep down I think many realize the days of the Bills in Buffalo are probably numbered which is why the elderly elephant in the room is so roundly ignored. I must admit, I no longer have any ties to Buffalo – I haven’t lived there since high school and my family has since relocated as well. I shouldn’t really care if the Bills play in Orchard Park, Niagara Falls, Toronto or even Los Angeles – to me they’re all places outside of my home. The truth is, I’d be crushed if the Bills left Buffalo. I don’t think I could relocate with them – same team, same players, different town just wouldn’t feel right.
If you’ve lived in Western New York you know what a special place it is. People are real – you don’t meet many phonies or posers – there’s a simple honesty that’s refreshing. Folks are hardworking and genuinely friendly. There is a brutal respect for the truth for the folks in Buffalo – they’re going to tell what’s what and not mince words. You’re not going to find folks like this in Toronto or Los Angeles – they’re different places. Those places are flashy and metropolitan – style over subtance – Buffalo is comfortable and welcoming and real. This is why I think I’d have trouble routing for a relocated Bills team – because they would not be playing for the people I love, but for other people.
So I’m not sure what I’d do if the Bills moved on – I think a lot of fans are in the same boat. I love football too much to give it up. I’m not suddenly going to start routing for my local team (Patriots), although that would be the easy thing to do. I suppose I might try to find a team that plays for people like the people in Buffalo – Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Green Bay but it wouldn’t be the same. It’s something I hate to think about, and judging from all recent conversation, it’s something you probably hate to think about, too.
Sooner or later we’re all going to have to face the reality of the post-Wilson era for the Bills. Somehow I never expected to be reminded of it every time I turned on the radio and heard a Bon Jovi tune. Thank God they don’t play him much on the stations I listen to in the car.