By: Chris Dagonas
You may have heard that Rob Ford will probably have some spare time on his hands soon. However you may happen to feel about the judge’s decision in his conflict of interest case, surely we can all agree on one thing: Ford loves his football.
One of his mandates back in 2010 when he was running for office was to try and bring an NFL franchise to the Big Smoke. Critics laughed it off as overzealous, but something about it struck me. Perhaps a mayor has no business sticking his nose into the sports arena, particularly when it involves a foreign league. But, now that he will probably become a private citizen again rather shortly, he can perhaps leave his greatest, and most positive, mark on the city. He can be part of a team that brings an NFL franchise to Toronto. Here’s how:
1) Bring that passion for football and fundraising (you know, those passions that had him removed from office in the first place) to a struggling franchise like the Jacksonville Jaguars or Buffalo Bills. He’s got some financial support in his own family, and will likely receive more from interested businessmen around town. They can make a move for total ownership of one of the above franchises, or a majority stake.
2) Once that’s done, Ford and Co. can begin to expand the current international series of football events. There is already one NFL game a year here, but it generally does poorly, attendance wise, because a) it’s the Bills, b) ticket pricing is completely out of whack with comparable events, and c) there is never anything really at stake by the time the Bills are playing in December. What if the Bills were not the only team to do business here? Who’s to say that the Detroit Lions, Chicago Bears, or even the Jets or Giants, couldn’t host a game here? (One team a year is forced to host a regular season game in London, England! The idea of London getting a team before Toronto, or even Los Angeles, is downright insane). The Grey Cup was just held in Toronto this past weekend, won by the hometown Argos, and the Rogers Centre was sold out. Granted, fans flocked in from all over Canada for the event, but an NFL matchup between elite franchises like the Packers, Cowboys, or Ravens would be sure to draw crowds from all over the golden horseshoe.
3) There is a market for NFL football in Toronto, there is no doubt in my mind. I can’t even count the number of guys I know that play fantasy football, follow the scores, and spend their Sundays glued to the couch. All this, in Toronto, for a league that has maybe 10 Canadian players, and no Canadian teams. And fandom is widespread; this is not necessarily a Buffalo Bills town. I know people that root for the Bills, Dolphins, Giants, Chiefs, Jets, Packers, Bears, Cowboys and others. Based on what connection, exactly? Nothing more than the colour of the jersey, or which team won the first time they watched a game on TV. It is a shame to deflect all that Toronto passion to 32 other teams, when one local team could absorb it all. Remember when Toronto FC first took to the turf at BMO Field? That kind of passion. Which brings me to my last point…
4) Toronto FC is a mismanaged piece of shit franchise. But not even Ford’s biggest critics could argue with his ability to run a football program successfully. He continues to churn out championship teams at my old secondary school stomping grounds, Don Bosco, and with his amateur teams. He hires coaches and motivates players as well as anyone in the city could. So if the title Rob Ford, Mayor, made you a little queasy, consider this one; Rob Ford, Director of Football Operations, Toronto Sasquatches (or whatever). I think I’ve found a public trust that suits Ford’s unique abilities.
There are a couple of issues that may hold back this whole scheme:
1) The Rogers Centre is too small for the NFL. Currently, the smallest stadium in the league is Chicago’s Soldier Field, which holds over 60,000 drunken Illinoisans (?) on a Sunday afternoon. The capacity for football at the Rogers Centre is just over 50,000, and that stadium doesn’t exactly suit itself to adding seats, being made of solid concrete and all.
Solution: Ford and co. solicit some taxpayer funding (hopefully, no more than half the total cost) for a new stadium at Downsview Park, or at the Port Lands. This can become an NFL stadium, and also be used for the 2015 Pan-Am games, and the eventual Olympic Games that we might win if we are competing against Makhachkala and Mogadishu. Caveat: This may only work if Toronto’s mayor is an ally to Ford, or a huge NFL fan.
2) The Toronto Argonauts. Ownership may not be too thrilled at the prospect of getting the boot by a bigger, more flashy, richer older cousin. The market may not support both franchises, since Argonauts’ attendance is hardly the picture of stability now, even without the NFL in town.
Solution: The Toronto Light Rapid Transits (or whatever) use the Argonauts as a sort of feeder system, or practice roster extension. A running back on the Argos has been on a hot streak? Maybe he gets a chance at some NFL punt returns. Banged up offensive line? No worries, pull one or two from the Argos for a short while, until the unit is healthy again. Additionally, this system could pave the way for more Canadians to make their way onto NFL rosters, which would mean that not only would more people want to watch the Argos play, for the chance at seeing a future NFL superstar, but more young Canadian football players might actually wish to play for the Argonauts some day! Imagine that!
If that seems unfair to the other 31 NFL teams, let me propose this: The CFL becomes a sort of D-League, where groups of NFL teams can pull from the CFL to plug holes. BC Lions belong to the AFC West, Calgary to the NFC West, Edmonton to the AFC North, Saskatchewan to the NFC North, Winnipeg to the AFC South, Hamilton to the NFC South, Toronto to the AFC East, and Montreal to the NFC East. Each division of the NFL gets one CFL team to pull from. More Canadians in the NFL, and the Argonauts don’t have to perish to let the NFL into Toronto.
This might seem far-fetched at this point, but so did the prospect of a city councilor from the outskirts of Toronto being voted in as mayor. Ford has the passion and commitment for this undertaking, as we have all witnessed from his devotion to his football players, and if he truly wishes to do some good public service for his city, this may be his last chance. Mr. Ford, the ball is in your hands.