Bills C Eric Wood on Monday said the Bills in Toronto Series "has turned into pretty much a joke," according to Tim Grahamof the BUFFALO NEWS. Wood: "I don't think it's turned out the way we wanted, and I hope we don't renew it." He added Rogers Centre is "a bad atmosphere for football," and "nobody wants to play there." Wood: "You're making a team from out west travel, and then you give them the comfort [of] a dome, and you don't make them play in our stadium. We have no home-field advantage allowed. We travel, too. I just think it's a joke" (BUFFALONEWS.com, 12/19). Wood yesterday stood by his remarks, saying, "Yeah, I did call it a joke. It stunk that we were up there. And I was heated when I said it was a joke. And I’m not going to sit here and retract all my statements because that’s what I meant and what I felt." Wood added, "I understand the benefits of the Toronto game. I understand we have a small market and we have a huge market just north of the border. I love the city of Toronto ... but the game just has a different feel.” He continued, "I don't think that many people from Seattle made the trip, but I think the non-Bills [fans] that go to the game are just cheering for plays as opposed to cheering for a team, and that kills you." Bills DT Kyle Williams "expressed similar sentiments." Williams: "It's very similar to a road game, but also I understand the business side of things. I don’t think you’d find a guy in here that wouldn’t agree that they would much rather be in Ralph Wilson Stadium” (GLOBE & MAIL, 12/20).
GUY ON A BUFFALO: ESPN.com's James Walker wrote the Toronto series was "a business move by Bills ownership that hasn't been great in terms of fan turnout." But an "extended agreement is in place until 2017." Bills players need to "get their minds off Toronto and focus on playing better football" (ESPN.com, 12/19). The AP's John Wawrownoted Wood expressed his complaints "despite not making the trip to Toronto." Wood stayed home because he is "recovering from a sprained right knee," but he saw "enough on TV and also heard from teammates to appreciate how familiar the atmosphere was to the two games he's played in Toronto." Wood said he does not "blame" Bills CEO Russ Brandon for the Bills in Toronto series. Wood: "I respect the decisions that he makes to keep us in this market and provide a good business plan. But from a playing standpoint, unless it improves, it's not a whole lot of fun to play there" (AP, 12/19). In Buffalo, Jerry Sullivan writes, "For once, an athlete spoke from his heart and didn’t backpedal later. I was afraid management might take him to the Wood-shed and order him to walk back his comments." Bills players "generally mouth the company line about the Toronto games being good for business." It is "about time a player stood up against a shameless money-grab that takes away a true home game and compromises the team’s competitive advantage once every season" (BUFFALO NEWS, 12/20).
STAY A WHILE: In Buffalo, Tom Precious noted Erie County (New York) Exec Mark Poloncarz yesterday "was sounding confident ... after what he described as 'significant talks' Tuesday night by representatives of the county, state and Buffalo Bills about keeping the team from leaving town." Poloncarz said that all sides are "focused on a multiyear effort that would include public financing -- including capital and some operating costs -- for the team in return for a commitment to stay" (BUFFALONEWS.com, 12/19).
The Capitals' production staff is “bringing a professional touch to high school hockey games" in the DC area, "watering the grass roots of the sport during a season in which the professional version is withering,” according to Preston Williams of the WASHINGTON POST. On Friday night at the Ashburn Ice House in Ashburn, Va., the PA announcer for a local high school game was “the dramatic voice from the Caps’ games at Verizon Center,” with the Capitals' Slapshot mascot and Red Rockers cheerleading squad also in attendance. The Caps' involvement in high school games “brings welcome attention to the sport and attracted a standing-room-only crowd of about 900" to a game with a 9:20pm ET start time. The game was “a production” for the Caps. The team “wrote a preview” of the game for its website and sent PA announcer Wes Johnson, radio play-by-play announcer John Walton and website reporter Mike Vogel, "among others, to the rink." The team later "posted highlight and interview packages on their site as well as Monumental Sports," a sports website launched by Capitals Owner Ted Leonsis. Walton and Vogel discussed the players “just as they would” Caps players such as LW Alex Ovechkin or D Mike Green. Capitals Assistant Manager/Amateur Hockey & Fan Development Peter Robinson said, “We want to cover it just like we would an NHL game” (WASHINGTON POST, 12/20).
In New Orleans, Jimmy Smith reported NBA Properties VP & Senior Intellectual Property Counsel Anil George "filed trademark paperwork regarding five possible nicknames" on behalf of the Hornets: Pelicans, Rougarou, Mosquitos, Swamp Dogs and Bullsharks. It remains possible that the league "could seek trademarks on additional potential names, as well." The procedural movement is "aimed to protect the nickname possibilities from poaching by other sources." Pelicans and Mosquitos "are clearly associated with New Orleans and Louisiana," while a Rougarou "refers to a beast from state folklore, from the werewolf genre." Swamp Dog is "synonymous with alligators while bullsharks inhabit the Gulf of Mexico" (NOLA.com, 12/19). NBA TV’s Vince Cellini said, “Sorry, they all look like minor league baseball names to me" ("NBA GameTime," NBA TV, 12/19).
NO EASY ANSWER: In Ft. Worth, Carlos Mendez noted Cowboys DE Jason Hatcher yesterday said of teammate DT Josh Brent's presence on the sideline during Sunday's Steelers-Cowboys game, "Was it kind of right or kind of wrong? It was good to see him out there on the sideline. It put a little spark in us to see him upbeat and smiling." Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones "stopped short of saying Josh Brent could no longer be on the sideline." Jones: "There's not a bright line." He added that the NFL "contacted the team after Brent's presence on the sideline on Sunday prompted national criticism." Jones: "We had a good visit about it. And we all agreed we would let this evolve and just see how it is. They were assured of what our situation is, and that his teammates wanted to support him" (STAR-TELEGRAM.com, 12/19).
SOUTHPAW STAYS IN THE 'PEN: In San Diego, Matt Calkins writes of golfer Phil Mickelson deciding against an ownership stake in the Padres, "The decision erases one of the country’s most recognizable athletes from the Padres’ new-look front office. But if you think this serves as a blow to the organization, then you, my friend, have misread the green." With Mickelson involved, Padres ownership "would be about as low-profile as a full moon" (SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE, 12/20).
PENS' STATION: Penguins VP/Communications Tom McMillan yesterday said that the team "has had 45 season-ticket holders cancel plans because of the lockout." He added that the Penguins "have a waiting list of about 9,500 for season tickets." In Pittsburgh, Dave Molinari reports replacements for those who gave up their season tickets "will come from that list, although that isn't expected until the lockout is over." Whether the number of cancellations will rise significantly if the lockout drags on is "impossible to predict, although it's hardly out of the question if the NHL remains shuttered for the entire winter" (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 12/20).