Bills prove even home has a price


Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

Some of the details are hazy, but Steve Tasker clearly remembers how he felt walking off the frozen Rich Stadium carpet a loser in mid-December 1989.

The woebegone New Orleans Saints, they of the cozy Superdome and flaccid regular-season finishes, were coming to Orchard Park, N.Y., in December for a game against an organization one year away from four straight Super Bowl appearances.

Tasker, the Bills' special-teams missile, admitted he and his boys essentially had chalked up a victory during pregame exercises. We can't call them warm-ups -- not for that time of year in Western New York.

"There was snow on the field in the first half," Tasker said, "and they beat us. I think that had more to do with us expecting the weather to help us than them being good enough to beat us.

"That team came in and thought it was awesome to play a game outside in the snow in Buffalo. We thought 'They're going to fold their tents up and go home and the weather is going to kill them.' They went out and had fun, played their best game and beat us."

The point Tasker was trying to make is that weather conditions don't always favor the home team.

But that the Bills have allowed the Miami Dolphins to circumvent Ralph Wilson Stadium for Sunday's critical AFC East showdown certainly doesn't bother the road team either.

The Bills technically will be the host team when they play the Miami Dolphins in the Rogers Centre, the comfy, climate-controlled venue formerly known as SkyDome.

Dolphins coach Tony Sparano last week called the indoor game "a lucky draw."

The retractable roof will be sealed shut. The inside temperature will allow for golf shirts and loafers. The only breeze will emanate from the air-conditioning ducts.

Who knows what conditions will be like in Orchard Park. The wind almost certainly will be bone-chillingly cold and swirling. There might be snow or rain or a motorist's nightmare combination of the two.

The Dolphins are 7-5 and still have a shot to win the division. They control their own destiny. They're one game behind the first-place New York Jets and will meet them Dec. 28 in the season finale.

Buffalo is also in dire need of a victory. The Bills are mathematically alive at 6-6, but their playoff hopes are dimmer than that closet flashlight you haven't checked in four years.

The Bills have three teams ahead of them in the division standings and two other teams ahead of them in the wild-card race. Bills head coach Dick Jauron might need this game to save his job.

Every edge, no matter how seemingly trifling, is significant. The Bills have forfeited a biggie.

"At the end of the day," said former NFL head coach Jim Fassel, "you tell your players 'The field is 100 yards long, 53 yards wide and the rules are the same and we've got to go win. I don't care if it's at a high school stadium, in Buffalo or somebody's back yard, we've got get ready to play.'

"But if it turns out the Dolphins win this game by less than seven points, if they had played outdoors in Buffalo, Buffalo probably wins the game."

For $78 million, the Bills sold off eight home games through 2012 to Toronto multibillionaire Ted Rogers, who passed away Tuesday morning. Rogers longed to permanently bring the NFL to Toronto. Luring the Bills is supposed to be the initial steps.

The Bills couldn't ignore the cash grab, but in the process they sacrificed a part of what makes them who they are.

Local weather is a huge part of a team's personality. Some warm-weather opponents can't deal with wintry conditions. The Dolphins are 2-7, including losing two playoff games, when they visit Orchard Park in December.

The Bills certainly didn't take advantage of their home field in Sunday's brutal 10-3 loss to the San Francisco 49ers in Ralph Wilson Stadium. Temperature at kickoff was 38 degrees, with 15 mph winds and a wind chill of 29 degrees.

So playing indoors in front of about 50,000 people, many of whom won't even be Bills fans, rather than 70,988 of your hardiest supporters?

"It can't hurt us," defensive end Chris Kelsay told the Globe & Mail in the Bills' locker room. "We aren't winning here."

Sunday's pregame preparations won't be foreign to the Bills. They used a preseason exhibition against the Pittsburgh Steelers as a dry run.

They will ride charter buses up the 90-mile stretch of Queen Elizabeth's Way from Buffalo to Toronto the day before the game. Other than that, their routine will remain quite similar to when they play in Ralph Wilson Stadium.

Despite fears the game wouldn't sell out, at least the Bills won't play in front of empty seats.

Adrian Montgomery, general manager for Rogers Communications and the chief organizer of the Bills in Toronto series, said the event is "down to the bare minimum" in available tickets. There won't be a blackout.

"The place is going to be rammed," Montgomery said. "We've sold out corporate suites. We've gotten great support, particularly in these strange economic times."

That the Dolphins have become competitive after a 1-15 season has helped ticket sales, but Montgomery claimed the crowd won't be bipartisan.

"This will be a Bills crowd," Montgomery said. "I suspect there will be a number of Miami Dolphins fans. I can't estimate how many, but the Bills will have 12 men on the field."