BUFFALO -- It's hard to figure out exactly what inspired a Toronto politician to toss a figurative grenade into cyberspace that caused just enough of a bang to grab some NFL attention.
Whitner wants to remain a Bill
Perhaps he understood the desperate need on this side of the border for anything that even remotely resembles football news as the pause button remains pushed on the offseason.
Whatever the motives (and some might not be quite as obvious as others) Toronto councillor Doug Ford told Brad Gagnon of TheScore.com that the city is targeting one of two NFL teams -- the Jacksonville Jaguars, first; the New Orleans Saints, second -- for relocation after the league places a team in Los Angeles.
There's a lot to digest in this so-called plan.
For one thing, although there has been plenty of discussion about a team relocating to a state-of-the-art stadium that will be built in L.A., there still is no definitive timetable on construction and no club has been earmarked to fill it. Given the uncertainty of how the league's economic picture will look whenever the labor situation is resolved, L.A. could be in for a long wait for an NFL team. Therefore, Toronto presumably would be in for a longer one.
Another obstacle for Toronto is that, as Commissioner Roger Goodell pointed out during his pre-Super Bowl press conference, the seating capacity of Rogers Centre is small by NFL standards. Ford, whose brother is Toronto mayor Rob Ford, brought up the possibility of a new stadium being built along the shores of Lake Ontario.
Although the Jaguars are often mentioned for potential relocation because they play in a small market that has mostly struggled to support them, it's curious why they would be listed as the top possibility for Toronto when they presumably still would be in play for Los Angeles. Doug Ford's remarks imply that he either knows something about which team will end up in L.A., or he's merely guessing it won't be the Jaguars or Saints.
And why are the Saints even in this conversation? It's true that there was legitimate talk of their moving to San Antonio after Hurricane Katrina, but they now look pretty well entrenched in New Orleans. The Saints are sensitive to their fans' lingering fears that the team will abandon the community. That is undoubtedly what prompted Saints vice president of communications Greg Bensel to release the following statement Thursday: "Reports about the Saints as a potential team moving to Toronto are completely false. The New Orleans Saints are committed to the city of New Orleans."
Finally, there is the question of why the Buffalo Bills, who actually have played three regular-season games (plus two preseason contests) in Toronto since 2008, aren't one of the teams Toronto would pursue. Doug Ford said something about the city wanting its "own team" as opposed to sharing the Bills, as it does now as part of a five-year agreement that runs through the 2012 season.
But if something ever were to transpire from Toronto's pursuit of a team outside of Buffalo, the Bills obviously would do everything in their power to fight it. Southern Ontario is home to a significant portion of their fan base. They would argue that it is challenging enough to draw from their international region without competition from another NFL team that is a two-hour drive away.
The Jaguars-or-Saints-to-Toronto story also could have something to do with the fact the Bills' financial benefit from their agreement to play games in Toronto has been far greater than that of their partners north of the border. If Toronto truly is interested in wanting an NFL team all to itself, it would make sense to at least give the impression they are ready to welcome a club other than the Bills in hopes of motivating the Bills to beat someone else to the Canadian punch.