Columns For The Impatient Reader, Vol. 1, Part XXV
A friend of mine was painting his deck on Sunday in a quiet Buffalo neighbourhood, up near the zoo. It was the middle of the afternoon. Nothing much was going on. He painted away. He had the Bills game playing on the radio.
And then, the radio practically exploded — “Bills touchdown! Bills touchdown! Bills touchdown! Bills touchdown!” — and a cheer rose up through the dead Sunday afternoon air, distant and close, all at once. In the Buffalo suburb of Orchard Park, the Bills had just scored their third touchdown of the fourth quarter to take a 38-35 lead over the Oakland Raiders. Those Buffalonians not watching in person — and not, say, painting their decks — exploded at once all over town, including in the quiet neighbourhood near the zoo.
That night, one of the local television affiliates led with the Bills victory, followed by a feature about how the new restrictions on tailgating would hurt the city’s equivalent to cavemen huddling around their primitive fires. (The answer, per my colleague Eric Koreen who attended the game, was not a lot, at least as it pertained to getting drunk. These people know what they’re doing.)
The third story was about a 13-year-old who was orphaned when a car crashed into a restaurant. Now, that sounds macabre, and in real terms, it is. But that’s Buffalo, and that’s the Bills. This city bled nearly 11% of its population in the past decade, and can feel like it is being hollowed out. It is not as bad as Detroit – whose football team is also 2-0, by the way — but it’s a hard place. And while sports don’t fix a thing, they can make people feel better, just enough. It’s trite, but it’s true. The air can feel less dead, the cold less oppressive, the hollowness more full. But only if the team wins. Buffalo — and post-industrial sister cities Detroit and Cleveland, for that matter — could use the lift.
Of course, the good feelings seem unlikely to last. Tom Brady and the New England Patriots are coming this weekend. Brady has thrown for a record 940 yards in his first two games, along with seven touchdowns; by comparison, he threw for 576 yards and six touchdowns in the first two weeks of the 2007 season, which he finished with 4,806 yards and a record 50 touchdown passes. It seems inevitable that the Patriots will come to town and deaden the Sunday afternoon air. The Bills started 4-1 in 2008, too. Ask the locals how that went.
But, hey, Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has thrown for seven touchdowns in two weeks, too. The cheers can echo until Sunday. Enjoy it while it lasts, Buffalo.
• Stung by the Game 7 riot, Vancouver is working to put an anti-riot plan in place for the Grey Cup in November. On the surface, this sounds rather preposterous. The Grey Cup is great, but it is not the Canucks in a make-or-break game in front of a city ready for a nervous breakdown; it is traditionally the most earnest, down-home party in Canada, in a city that doesn’t exactly live or die with the CFL. Your first thought might be that if Vancouver manages to find a way to riot during the Grey Cup, then it’s time to take away the city’s right to hold a major sporting event for good.
And then you check your history. Over to you, Vancouver Sun archives.
“Vancouver police arrested more than 300 screaming, bottle-throwing rioters on the eve of the November 1966 Grey Cup game between the Saskatchewan Roughriders and the Ottawa Rough Riders at Empire Stadium. Charges of drunkenness and malicious damage were laid after windows were broken, street signs uprooted and ornamental garbage cans ripped from their posts.”
Oh, dear. Well, surely that was an isolated incident. Nobody riots over a Grey Cu …
“Similarly, Vancouver police arrested 171 rioters after the Hamilton Tiger Cats beat the B.C. Lions in the 1963 Grey Cup game at Empire Stadium.”
Oh, my. OK, then. Plan away, Vancouver. Keep a careful eye out for any suspicious-looking 70-year-olds hanging around. Especially — and this cannot be emphasized enough — if they have bottles.
• “I’m sorry. We live in a society and there are lots of things in a society.” That was how Quebec mayor Régis Labeaume defended himself from charges that it was irresponsible, perhaps, for a city to assume half the cost of a $400-million hockey arena in a province that, while assuming the other half of the cost, seems to have a rather serious problem with its infrastructure. It was a pithy line. There are, as Toronto mayor Rob Ford is very slowly finding out, a lot of things in a society.
Well, that price tag — and the risk involved — seems a little more acute now that a 72-page report on corruption in the Quebec construction industry has been leaked to the press. As this newspaper wrote, “Without naming names, the report describes the influence of the Mafia and biker gangs in the industry, the millions of taxpayers’ dollars drained through fraudulent schemes and the complicity of some government employees, [and] kickback schemes that fund political parties.”
There are some who believe that, had an arena been in place this summer, it would be Quebec obsessing over Dustin Byfuglien’s weight, rather than Winnipeg; either way, it seems assured that La Belle Province will get a second NHL team eventually, as they are willing to pay for one. Good for them. Now, anyone care to bet the project will come in on time, and on budget?
• Atlanta’s Dunta Robinson threw the season’s dirtiest hit Sunday, launching his helmet into the jaw of Philadelphia’s Jeremy Maclin. Robinson was fined US$40,000 Monday and dodged a suspension, but why wasn’t he ejected from the game, too? … The NCAA is blowing up its conference system, with teams scrambling to find better, wealthier arrangements. I’ve got an admittedly lazy thesis that the NCAA is America, at its heart. It might even be true … Jason Gay of the Wall Street Journal pointed this out, but it bears repeating: if you are a Boston Red Sox fan and do not understand the feeling of fear gripping your heart like a great icy hand, you should perhaps ask your parents. They’ll know.