ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – Marshawn Lynch won’t have to prepare for a frosty reception Sunday in his Buffalo Bills homecoming.
The veteran running back will face Buffalo for the first time since being dealt to the Seattle Seahawks in 2010. But the Bills’ 2007 first-round pick will do so in the relative comfort of Rogers Centre and not the cold, rainy conditions that are forecast for Western New York.
“We won’t miss that day at (Ralph Wilson Stadium),” Seattle head coach Pete Carroll said with a chuckle during a conference call Wednesday. “We’ll be just fine.”
The game is the last under the inaugural Bills Toronto Series agreement which saw Rogers Communication Inc. pay the Buffalo club a whopping US$78 million to stage three exhibition and five regular-season games at Rogers Centre. Although no formal announcement has been made, the deal is expected to be extended through 2017 once Buffalo finalizes a new lease agreement for Ralph Wilson Stadium after the present one expires at season’s end.
Buffalo dealt Lynch to Seattle in October 2010 following two off-field incidents, including one that resulted in a three-game suspension. But the former University of California star is apt to receive more cheers than jeers when introduced at Rogers Centre on Sunday.
Since 2008, Bills players have complained while Buffalo is the home team at Rogers Centre, the atmosphere in the domed facility doesn’t come close to replicating the loud, ear-splitting support the team gets at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Toronto fans have often been as boisterous in their support of the visiting teams as they have for the Bills and playing indoors has removed two of the biggest challenges of playing in Orchard Park, N.Y., at this time of year — the cold weather and swirling winds.
“The atmosphere is different and I think everybody knows that,” Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said. “It’s much different than the Ralph in terms of the noise and intensity and all that.
“But we’re going to have more fans there than they will and we have to be able to take advantage of that.”
Buffalo has also struggled to establish home-field advantage at Rogers Centre, having posted a 1-3 record in regular-season games there during the series. The Bills did win two exhibition games there, with a third scheduled for earlier this year being cancelled due to scheduling conflicts.
When told of the advantage visiting teams have playing in Toronto, Carroll acknowledged the difficulty Buffalo faces at Rogers Centre.
“If we had to play somewhere else at a different site and were playing up in Vancouver I would think that would be different,” Carroll said. “It’s going to be (a) different makeup in the crowd.
“But it’s not going to factor into anything that we’re doing or anything that we approach unless it does. If it does, we’ll hopefully be a beneficiary of it. It’s kind of like a bowl game, you go play in somebody else’s place and see what happens.”
Seattle will have a Canadian on its roster Sunday.
Punter Jon Ryan, 31, of Regina, is in his fifth season with the Seahawks and seventh in the NFL (2006-’07 with Green Bay). The former University of Regina star began his pro career with the CFL’s Winnipeg Blue Bomber (2004-’05).
Former Calgary Stampeder Brandon Browner, a Pro Bowl cornerback, is in his second season with Seattle but won’t play Sunday. The six-foot-four, 221-pound Browner is serving a four-game suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs and will miss the rest of the regular season.
Buffalo’s lone regular-season win in the series was a convincing 23-0 decision over the Washington Redskins last year before 51,579 spectators. Fortunately for the Bills, they were clearly the team of choice with the Toronto fans.
“Last year it felt like a home game,” said Bills head coach Chan Gailey. “That’s what you hope to create and continue to develop where that becomes like a game right here.
“If we can get that, that would be great.”
Buffalo’s win over Washington proved to be the club’s high-water mark. After improving to 5-2, the Bills recorded just one more win the rest of the way to miss the playoffs for a 12th straight year, the longest drought in the NFL.
Buffalo’s plight hasn’t improved much this season — at 5-8 the Bills’ playoff hopes are paper thin. The club is coming off a disappointing 15-12 home loss to the St. Louis Rams and will need plenty of help to make the playoffs.
Much more was expected this season after Buffalo reached into the vault to sign free-agent defensive linemen Mario Williams and Mark Anderson while re-signing receiver Stevie Johnson. Buffalo lured Williams from the Houston Texans with a six-year, US$100-million contract.
Seattle (8-5) remains in the thick of the NFC playoff race and is coming off a lopsided 58-0 victory over Arizona. Rookie quarterback Russell Wilson will make only his second trip to Canada — the first was a visit to Vancouver — and first to Toronto.
“I’m excited to go there and play there in a cool venue,” he said. “I can’t wait.”
Wilson also downplayed the advantage the visiting team has in Toronto.
“I don’t think it has an affect on us either way,” he said. “We have to play our best game against a Buffalo Bills team that has some tremendous player and we have so much respect for them.
“One-hundred yards is 100 yards no matter where we play.”
However Gailey said the Bills aren’t frustrated with losing a true home date for a game that has the feel of a neutral-site affair.
“Frustrating is not winning, frustrating is not where you play,” he said. “You have to win wherever you are.
“You’d rather be at home, everybody would rather be at home but you can’t play 16 at home. You play the way it’s scheduled.”
None of the Series’ previous games has been a sellout at Rogers Centre, which has a seating capacity of about 54,000 for football. A big reason for that has been controversy surrounding ticket prices.
The first year of the deal, the average ticket price was over $185, compared to US$51 at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Event organizers reduced tickets for Sunday’s game up to 51 per cent, resulting in more than 55 per cent of tickets being available for less than $100 and over 85 per cent for less than $150.