The Buffalo Bills thrilling 23-20 overtime victory over the Chicago Bears last Sunday has fans in Toronto feeling positive after last year’s tough season.
The Bills are currently mired in a 14-season playoff drought, the longest streak in the NFL. The win during opening week has changed fans’ outlook on the season to be more optimistic.
“After [the win over Chicago, my views changed] pretty heavily,” said Adam Kimel, a Bills fan from Toronto. “It all depends on [Bills quarterback EJ Manuel] and if he can be confident and healthy. I thought he didn’t have a chance and the team might go 6-10, but if he plays like he did [against the Bears], who’s saying we can’t go 9-7 or 10-6 and make the playoffs. They need to win at home and I really think they will.”
Paul Sidhu is one of the Toronto chapter leaders of the Bills Backers Club, the official designation given by the Bills to its fan groups across the world. The Backers have close to 200 chapters across 41 states and 11 countries, including two others in Ontario and one in Quebec. Located at 52nd Street Tap and Grill in Brampton, Sidhu hopes to become the spot in the Greater Toronto Area for Bills fans to gather and cheer on the team.
“It went from needing a team to really understanding what it means to be a Bills fan. It is less about the on field performance… it’s about the history and the fans. A day in Orchard Park is the best experience in sports.”
“There are a lot of Buffalo fans in Brampton,” said Sidhu. “We’re reaching out to them to try and get them to come out here.”
Toronto football fans have only been able to dabble in the NFL experience. The city partnered with Buffalo for the Bills Toronto Series that ran for six seasons, allowing Bills fans from north of the border an opportunity to watch their favourite team play regular-season home games at the Rogers Centre. The team struggled, posting a 1-5 record, and this year’s game has been jointly postponed by Rogers and the Bills.
Trip to Ralph Wilson Stadium
A Bills fan himself, Sidhu always watches the game at 52nd Street. He says he usually tries to make the trip to Ralph Wilson Stadium every two years. Approximately 15,000 Canadian fans make the trek to Buffalo to watch the Bills each season.
“Last time we went, my friends and I organized a party bus of 50 people,” Sidhu said. “We are trying to do that again this year. When we spoke to the Bills about the Thanksgiving game, one bus is guaranteed to go down but we might end up taking two bus loads.”
Going to a Bills game is the best experience in sports, according to Kimel. Already a Sabres fan, Kimel says the team’s close proximity to Toronto made the Bills a no-brainer to be ‘his team’ when he needed a club to cheer for.
“I ended up going to a game my first year of interest,” Kimel said. “It was 2006 and they played Jacksonville and won on a game winning field goal. From then on out, I’ve loved the team more than anything, way more than the Sabres. It went from needing a team to really understanding what it means to be a Bills fan. It is less about the on field performance… it’s about the history and the fans. A day in Orchard Park is the best experience in sports.”
The Bills home opener is on Sunday against the division rival Miami Dolphins, and Kimel can’t wait to be there.
“I’m beyond excited,” he said. “I’ve been waiting four years for this and the stadium will be rocking.”