For the first time in the regular season, the Bills Toronto series featured a long-established NFL team in the Chicago Bears. And for the first time in the regular season, the game was aired regionally on FOX.
I happened to be in Canada (much more on that to come) at the same time as the Bears, though I was in Windsor and they were in Toronto. I watched part of the game in my hotel room in-between events. I caught the CTV feed — the Bills usually air on Southwestern Ontario CTV stations. The CTV feed was the FOX feed with Canadian TV commercials.
Despite the winless Bills being the home team, the game drew a respectable crowd of 50,746. Some of those were Chicago fans who made the quest, some of whom I saw up close having made the trip. Those Bear fans were happy on the way back, as Chicago edged out Buffalo 22-19. The Bills are now 0-3 in the regular season in Toronto.
Sam Rosen and Tim Ryan were on the call for FOX, and Rosen spoke very highly of Toronto and Canada. This was Ryan's first visit to Toronto, but it wasn't clear if he had been to Canada before. Rosen wore a poppy on his lapel, a tribute to the upcoming Rememberance Day in Canada (Veterans Day in the United States). Though Rosen never explained the poppy.
The visuals were of the Rogers Centre, the Toronto skyline along with festivities and music. The band Hinder played a 2-song set at halftime, some of which was shown after the fact. The roof was closed in Toronto, so you didn't get to see that great view of the CN Tower from inside the stadium.
The November 7 date is the earliest in the series, occurring on the last day of the CFL season. The Toronto Argonauts, whose home is the Rogers Centre, were in Montréal for the season finale. Rosen mentioned the Argos were in Montréal and the upcoming playoffs, including the Grey Cup.
The spotlight on the field was on Bears defensive end Israel Idonije. While Idonije was born in Lagos, Nigeria, the family emigrated to Brandon, Manitoba, and Idonije starred at the University of Manitoba.
Idonije helped out the script by blocking an extra point, adding a sack, and forced a hold late in the game. The announcers interviewed Idonije after the game: "It's great. Just a great feeling to be here back on Canadian soil, a lot of great years at the University of Manitoba. To come here to Toronto and get a win, it's a great day through and through."
Rosen referred to Toronto as "one of the great cities of North America." When Bills owner Ralph Wilson Jr. was shown on the screen, Ryan spoke well of how the Toronto experiment has gone, especially in financial terms.
Rosen, who also calls hockey for the New York Rangers and for Versus, pointed out a necessary stop in Toronto — the Hockey Hall of Fame. Coincidentally, this was the Hall of Fame weekend in Toronto. Rosen said that for Toronto "hockey is their heartbeat."
FOX also took time to call out the more than 90 Canadians who have played in the NFL. In the first segment, they noted the Hall of Fame careers of Bronko Nagurski, RB, Bears (Rainy River, Ontario) and Arnie Weinmeister, DT, Giants, (Rhein, Saskatchewan). The segment ended on the only Canadian to win the Super Bowl MVP — Mark Rypien (Calgary, AB) who won the Super Bowl XXVI MVP trophy.
The second segment was on Canadian kickers: Mike Vanderjagt (Oakville, ON) of the Indianapolis Colts (and Toronto Argonauts); Steve Christie (Hamilton, ON) of the Buffalo Bills; longtime Detroit Lions kicker Eddie Murray (Halifax, NS); and Minnesota Vikings punter Mitch Berger (Kamloops, BC).
The third and final segment was on quarterbacks who played in the CFL and NFL: Doug Flutie, Warren Moon, and Jeff Garcia.
The NFL is known for being a slower game than the Canadian version. There wasn't much flash within the game itself. The Bears missed a FG and the play ended right there, something that doesn't happen in the CFL. The Bills missed a 2-point conversion, and the Bears made a 2-point conversion, a shovel pass to RB Matt Forte.
Buffalo had a crucial play ruled out of bounds. The Bills receiver would have loved to have had the CFL rules, since he only had one foot in bounds — a catch in the CFL, but not in the NFL. Then again, the Bills would have loved to have a wider field.
Rosen and Ryan were a nice contrast: one had made numerous trips to Toronto over the years (Rosen) and one had never been (Ryan). So we'll leave you with some impressions from Ryan:
"This is a great city. I had never been here before, Sam. This place is impressive."
"I'll be coming back to Toronto. I love this place. Great city."