Number of blackouts in 2012: Two
The new coach was last seen on the Syracuse Orangemen's sideline during the Pinstripe Bowl. Recently acquired quarterback Kevin Kolb -- brought in to help close the woeful Ryan Fitzpatrick era -- nearly handed the starting job to rookie E.J. Manuel after tweaking his knee by slipping on a mat. Manuel thanked him by having his knee swell up so badly that he had to sit out the rest of the preseason. Bills offensive coordinator Nathan Hackett, meanwhile, says the team will keep handing running back C.J. Spiller the ball "until he throws up."
In Buffalo, these all rate as minor concerns compared with questions about the Bills' future.The team just concluded the latest in a string of non-playoff seasons dating back to 1999 -- during which it had only one winning season, a 9-7 campaign in 2004 -- and finished at the bottom of the AFC East. One of its "home" games has been played in Toronto for each of the past four years and last year's game couldn't draw more than 40,000 people, even with Psy singing Gangnam Style at halftime. The Bills declined the NFL's offer to lift blackouts at 85% capacity, largely because doing so would require it to pay $90,000 per home game into the league's anti-blackout revenue pool. They needed a local restaurant owner to buy up remaining tickets to prevent a third blackout. Yet, despite all of this, folks in Erie County and New York State are going to shell out $226 million in tax dollars combined to renovate the Bills' Ralph Wilson Stadium. The Bills will kick in a scant $44 million. This is a team that regularly asks Buffalo to fill its 73,000-seat-stadium with nearly a third of its population -- a tough task in late winter by Lake Erie -- just to keep games on television; the Chicago Bears require just 62,000 of that city's 2.7 million residents to do the same. It's a team that wouldn't commit to a future in the city beyond 94-year-old owner Ralph Wilson's lifespan. It's a team that celebrated its new stadium deal by blacking out the Bills' last home game of the season. It's a team that's giving Buffalo only eight more years for its investment. That's $28.3 million a year for a team paying only $800,000 a year in rent on its stadium. Oh, and the new deal still allows the team to play one home game a year in Toronto, which means the issue of a possible move there still isn't settled. We held off on calling the Bills a team that should just move already because its fans and the surrounding community are putting so much into keeping them around. Still, the Bills' relationship with Buffalo remains as shaky as Kolb's knee and Spiller's stomach.