Not your average preseason for the Buffalo Bills

Paul Jannace

The game did not count in the standings, but it was far from meaningless.

The Buffalo Bills began its eight-game, five-year Toronto series on Thursday night with a 24-21 exhibition victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers, but the experience included a pep rally, protesters outside the stadium, inflated ticket prices and the thought that the game served as foreshadowing to the team s eventual move out of Orchard Park.

The team’s status in Orchard Park would not be decided on Thursday night and likely will not really become an issue until the end of this five-year series or perhaps with the passing of current owner Ralph Wilson and what happens with his estate.

“The atmosphere in there was electric, people were into it and there was a lot of excitement,” said Bills’ chief operating officer Russ Brandon. “It was loud and our guys really responded.”

Brandon said the team is “very pleased” with its partnership with Toronto and Rogers Communications.

“We were overwhelmed with the support when we came up here throughout the week,” Brandon said.

The only slight negative might be the attendance figures, which were announced as 48,434, about 5,000 shy of capacity.

Ticket prices went as high as almost $600 and there were scalpers littered around the Rogers Centre prior to kick-off, but even they had to bring their prices way down to make a sale.

Of course, part of that could be that it was only an exhibition game and the truer gauge on the popularity might be when the Bills come back to play a regular season game Dec. 7 against the Miami Dolphins.

The game did come down to the final play, when Pittsburgh’s third-string quarterback, rookie Dennis Dixon, tossed up a Hail Mary to the end zone which would have won the game, but fellow rookie Micah Rucker could not handle the pass.

“The fans had a great time, they were in it the entire game and it went down to the last play,” Brandon said. “They definitely got their money’s worth for a preseason game.”

The experience also got two thumbs up from the players, but Bills’ quarterback Trent Edwards said the game did not really feel like a home game.

“We took a three-hour bus ride up here, so you’re not used to that,” Edwards said. “We’re wearing the home jerseys, but you’re not used to the area and the stadium.”

However, he said that fact did not really impact how he or the rest of the team played.

“I kind of just see them all the same,” Edwards said. “It probab ly just wasn’t as loud on third down when we were on the offensive side.”

Edwards also said he enjoyed the pep rally on Wednesday and is looking forward to the trip back in December.

“There was a ton of support and there was a ton of media coverage for this game,” Edwards said. “It’s huge for this organization to get the popularity, to get the notoriety that we need.”

Bills’ safety Donte Whitner said they need to get the crowd more into the game, but thinks that will happen with time.

“When the regular season comes it’ll be different because the first team will be out there the whole game,” Whitner said.

Buffalo defensive end Chris Kelsay called the Canadian fan support has been “phenomenal.”

“It feels great to know we have fans all around our country and in Canada as well,” Kelsay said.

There were plenty of Pittsburgh fans and the Steelers got plenty of cheers as they took the field and when they scored.

“The fans know their football,” said Steelers’ defensive tackle Casey Hampton. “They like football. It’s nice to have a game up here.”

Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger did say the turf at the Rogers Centre, “left a lot to be desired,” but still called the whole experience, “awesome.”

“The fans have been supportive of both teams,” said Pittsburgh wide receiver Santonio Holmes. “Overall, it has been a good atmosphere. ”

Daily Reporter