THE CANADIAN PRESS
Bill Polian has a soft spot for the CFL and for good reason.
The respected Indianapolis Colts president got his start in professional football as a scout with the Montreal Alouettes in the 1970s and later spent time as the player-personnel director of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Polian earned Grey Cup rings with both teams, but more importantly it was during his time in Canada that he worked with former Als coach Marv Levy — who Polian would later hire to be his head coach with the Buffalo Bills — and longtime Winnipeg head coach Cal Murphy, who has been a scout with the Colts for more than a decade.
But Polian’s ties to Canada run much deeper.
His youngest son, Dennis, is currently the assistant to Minnesota head coach Brad Childress but spent two seasons with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. And Polian counts Brian Burke, the general manager of the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs, among his closest friends.
Although Polian is long since removed from the CFL, he remains a big fan of the league and says it shouldn’t feel threatened by the NFL’s Buffalo Bills playing games in Toronto.
"I’ve always believed the CFL has a very special place in Canadian sports and the CFL game is very unique and very special," Polian said during a conference call Wednesday. "I don’t think the introduction of the NFL into Toronto on a limited basis is really going to have any major affect on the CFL.
"The CFL has a special place in the Canadian sports culture and I don’t see that changing."
The Bills will play two games at Rogers Centre this year. They will host the Colts in an exhibition contest at Rogers Centre in August before facing the Chicago Bears in a regular-season showdown Nov. 7.
The Bills-Bears game will be the fifth of eight games Buffalo will play in Toronto through the 2012 season.
The Bills will play a regular-season game in 2011 (assuming the NFL can secure a collective bargaining agreement with its players) before hosting an exhibition and regular-season contest in 2012 to close out the series.
When the Bills Toronto Series was first unveiled, it touched off a whirlwind of speculation that it was the first step in the Buffalo franchise’s relocation to southern Ontario. In turn, that would have a dramatic impact upon both the Toronto Argonauts and Hamilton Tiger-Cats and potentially cripple the eight-team CFL.
Buffalo officials, however, vehemently stated the series was merely a part of the NFL franchise’s plan to expand its regional fanbase and tap into the lucrative Toronto marketplace, a premise Polian agrees with.
"I think the fact that the Bills have decided to more actively pursue the Canadian market is a good thing," Polian said. "It’s a good thing for the NFL, it’s a good thing for the Bills and I hope it’s a good thing for football fans in the city of Toronto."
Polian also downplayed the suggestion the NFL would grant Toronto an expansion franchise.
"People who are far more knowledgeable than I on the subject say expansion is not on the horizon and I would tend to think that is a reasonable statement," he said. "I read the same conjecture that you do but it is just that, conjecture.
"I’ve heard from a lot of people more in the know than I, that expansion is not in the immediate future."
Polian, who built the Buffalo teams that made four straight Super Bowl appearances in the 1990s, said he agreed to have the Colts play in Toronto after a conversation with Bills owner Ralph Wilson Jr. this off-season.
"Mr. Wilson said he had a favour to ask of me and I said, `What’s that?"’ He said, "Would you come to Toronto and play us in the pre-season and I said, `We’d be honoured to do so,"’ said Polian. "It will be fun and I know our team is looking forward to it."
Having a team of the Colts’ calibre at Rogers Centre is a boon for Toronto organizers considering the club’s roster features superstar quarterback Peyton Manning, one of the NFL’s biggest names. However, the problem with exhibition games is traditionally a team’s star players spend more time on the sidelines wearing a baseball cap than making plays on the field.
However, Polian expects Manning and many of Indianapolis’s other big stars to see more action than they would normally in the club’s second game of the exhibition season. That’s because the Colts play their preseason opener Aug. 15 against the San Francisco 49ers.
With only three days of practice before the game in Toronto, Polian could see his starters getting more playing time than normal at Rogers Centre.
"They might get one series in the 49ers game, but that first game is usually where you want to get a good look at young guys," Polian said. "With it being a short week, my guess is the starters will play more than usual (against Bills).
"It won’t be into the third quarter like they usually do in the third exhibition game but I suspect they’ll be in there a bit longer than normal."