I am delighted that this weekend brings us our first regular-season game across the pond. Hopefully the sheer magic of it all will obscure the fact that America is exporting one of its sorriest products to England –- the Miami Dolphins.
Now, if I was a big 'Fin or Giant fan, I might feel differently. The regular season is planned and regimented to a fair-thee-well, and the disruption of such an epic road trip could have some real fallout. As interesting as the game is, from a clinical point of view it'll be just as fascinating to see how these teams handle such a seismic rhythm breaker in the middle of a season. Granted, there may not be a way to measure the effect on Miami. I don't think they make yardsticks small enough to grade the changes in a winless team ... unless it has the same effect of a Mickey Mantle slump-buster -– go out and get so inebriated you see three balls coming at you at the plate, and then magically go 4-for-4.
In a "winning is everything" world like the NFL, all it will take is for Miami to go on a three-game win streak and every GM will be clamoring to play in the next international game. As they might say in jolly old: Not bloody likely.
Which means we're really just talking about how all this disruption effects the Giants. As the hapless NFC rounds the bend, the Jints are shaping up as a true contender -- partially by default, partially because it appears they survived more than their share of controversy: The loss of Tiki. The divisiveness of his per-announced retirement tour. Eli's mumbling. Strahan's lurid star turn in divorce court. They even seem to have found a way to get Tom Coughlin to lighten up. That may only mean he scowls 98 percent of the time, but hey, it counts, and it's working. So is that Giants defense -– a delight for their fans and all fantasy football owners who most likely grabbed them to plug a bye-week hole, only to see them now entrenched as the starter, week after week. If London manages to bollocks up the Giants, then a true price has been paid.
A lot of people seem upset about the league expanding into the world out there. Newsflash, we aren't exactly popular out there, so why not export something wonderful? I mean, if the world went nuts for jazz, imagine what NFL action might do for our popularity polls? And if, like me, you believe animosity is the lifeblood of football, we are looking at nothing short of a bonanza. Just think of the rivalries -– some of these nations have hated each other for millenniums! Folks, this is a lot bigger than Oakland vs. Denver. I mean, picture a stadium packed to the gills with soccer hooligan energy, ready to tee up hardcore rivalries ripped from the pages of your Social Studies textbook. I can see the MNF promo now: "They bombed the living crap out of each other in the big one, now we'll see if England's explosive, flamboyant offense can contend with Berlin's humorless blitz schemes!"
Hopefully the player union is already doing an in-house study on how the Euro affects signing bonus value.
Speaking of in-house studies
On a different international front, all this talk of my Buffalo Bills moving to Toronto (some chatter even indicates for as many as five home games a year!) has Bills nation worried, and rightfully so. We're talking about sharing a team with a city 90 miles and a border crossing away. So don't buy into those Green Bay/Milwaukee analogies. We're talking about an international sharing plan that not only puts a crimp in the 72-hour tailgating ritual; it creates a deeply schizophrenic fan experience.
Most of you remain tragically indifferent to the NHL, but if you follow hockey, then you know that the Sabres and Maple Leafs are not only archrivals, but Sabre home games against Toronto are traditionally over run with deep pocket Leaf fans who can't get ducats to the games in Toronto. Toronto is a rich, world-class city with lots o' bucks. That is the appeal of this plan –- the Bills can finally score some big numbers in the unshared profit categories –- home ticket prices and corporate box sales. Either way, it means prices will rise and shut out the heart of Buffalo's rabid fan base -– the hard working guy who scrimp and saves and buys a season ticket and lives and dies with his Bills.
Is it better than watching the team move to L.A.? Or Madrid? Yes, but if this is presented as a way to keep the Bills in Buffalo, I think you can do the simple math: Three home games a year. Three. That's a great way to crush your fan base in the name of the unproven premise that people in Toronto give a rat's rump about the team.
Time for the players union to do another study: How those signing bonuses shrink when your quarterback gets paid in Canadian money. And aren't all visiting team paychecks taxed by the laws of home … Province? This could get interesting.
I might as well sip deep from an increasingly shaky cup while I still have a team to root for ...
Last Sunday, the Bills finally held on to a home win against a tough Ravens squad, and along the way they also vanquished one of the nickel cities least favorite sons, Willis McGahee. They even held him to no yards for most of the first half –- including a seminal moment when John (finally getting some return on that first round reach) McCargo knocked him backwards 8 yards deep behind the line of scrimmage.
Gave the fans something to finally cheer about. Of course, nothing in Buffalo comes easy, and we had to watch McGahee break off 46 painful second-half yards on one carry. The kind of run Bills fans waited years for him to achieve, and he gets it thanks to a stiff arm on George Wilson, who happened to be a wide receiver a year ago. That's how injury ravaged the Bills are, and that's why Willis got sprung. He was matched up against a talented kid who is still learning the position.
Then Willis had to leave the game for a long I.V. infusion –- and his team goes on to lose. Classic McGahee -– he dumps all over Buffalo because it isn't Miami, then the Miami kid finds a way to get dehydrated in Buffalo in October. Classic.
The source of the grudge? He called out our nightlife. Oh you can note the tough weather, the tough local economy, and I'll grant you Chippewa ain't South Beach. I've had my fun barhopping my way down Collins and Ocean, too. But only a man-child cloistered in yet another suburban McMansion could miss the boat on Buffalo's nightlife. It goes late, it goes deep, and it goes wild.
I go back home every year for a Sabre charity event, and I have no problems staying out gavel to gavel. I'm talking three days that take three years off my life in the most delightful way! The kind of moveable feast fun that I can't find anywhere else -– and I live in Hollywood, baby! Nobody dast crap on our nightlife -– especially some clown who never had the class to run that hard for us.
If a guy can't find a nice place to drink in Buffalo, N.Y., what makes you think he will ever find the right hole to run through when the game is on the line? Look beyond his stats, and make no mistake about it –- Willis is one of the reasons Baltimore took three steps backwards. Last year they were a serious contender -– no more. You go from Steve McNair and Jamal Lewis to Kyle Boller and Willis "My-idea-of-a-big-night-out-is-Dave-&-Busters" Mcgahee? And now you've got Ray Lewis calling out Brian Billick's play-calling.
The cat's in the bag, the bag's in the river.