ORCHARD PARK — We call him “The Senator” partly because his comments are invariably bright and introspective and partly because his answers can be filibuster-length.
And George Wilson, having a career-year as the Bills’ strong safety, clearly is an “elder statesman” on the Buffalo roster.
Only defensive end/outside linebacker Chris Kelsay, cornerback Terrence McGee, place-kicker Rian Lindell and punter Brian Moorman have been with the franchise longer among active players.
Wilson fits right in with the Bills’ “No-Name” persona, an undrafted free agent signed by Detroit, waived, then picked up by Buffalo, spending two of his first three seasons on the practice squad.
What earned him a spot in the league, was that the former Arkansas receiving star was switched to defense before the ‘07 season.
Now 30, Wilson, who graduated on time with a degree in business management, became a media go-to guy as soon as he started playing regularly.
But this year, many of the visits to his locker stall have been due to performance.
He leads the Bills in tackles by a wide margin (55 in six games) and has more than twice the total of any defender other than inside linebacker Nick Barnett and free safety Jairus Byrd.
Wilson also tops the team in interceptions (three) and defensed passes (tied with cornerback Drayton Florence).
BUT ON Wednesday, during the media’s lockerroom access, he got way more questions about playing in Toronto than he did about Washington, Sunday’s foe at the Rogers Centre.
It’s Game 6 of the eight-game contract — three of them exhibitions — with the Bills earning $9.75 million per start, or more than double the revenue Buffalo generates for a game at “The Ralph.”
In the first three regular-season games of the deal, the Bills have lost: 16-3 to the Dolphins (’08), 19-13 to the Jets (’09) and 22-19 to the Bears (’10).
So on the subject of playing in Canada, Wilson had plenty to say.
“It’s definitely not the same hostile environment that teams have to deal with coming into ‘The Ralph’,” he said. “But that’s where the game is being played and we have to just adapt and adjust.
“The fan support in Toronto is night-and-day difference than what we have in Buffalo. For the most part (at the Rogers Centre) it’s a show. You see just as many jerseys for the opposing teams as you do for the Bills. They cheer for any big play regardless whichever team makes it.”
He added, “I’ve played in each of the games in Toronto, and anybody who’s played up there has that expectation there’s going to be just as many cheers for the (opponent).
“It’s not a home game, we’re playing an international game that counts as a home game because it’s relatively close to Buffalo. We’re ambassadors of the game, trying to globalize the sport. We understand that, but at the same time it’s certainly not the same environment we have here at Ralph Wilson Stadium.”
But Wilson was quick to point out, “(It’s) no knock on the citizens of Toronto, we know a large percentage of our fan base comes from Canada, and we’re very appreciative of their support. But at the same time the environment is just not the same, that’s just facts.
“Whoever makes the big plays they’re going to cheer and that’s why I call it more of a show than anything. They’re just excited to see the game being played in their city in their local stadium.”
And even for the Buffalo faithful who make the trip to Toronto, Wilson knows, with no tailgating permitted in the area around the stadium, the experience can never duplicate “The Ralph.”
“It’s not possible, first and foremost I don’t think Bills’ fans would respond well to them not allowing open containers around the stadium and in the parking lots ,” he said. “With the stadium being in the heart of downtown, there’s not much space for (them) to spread out their set-ups.”
THEN, OF COURSE, there’s the aspect of playing indoors.
“A couple of years ago we were in the playoff hunt (6-6 record), had the Dolphins coming in and that weekend it was snowing and icing in Buffalo (but) we went up north (to play indoors),” Wilson recalled, adding, “it’s never going to be the most ideal situation because there’s such a strong connection between our organization and the people here in Buffalo. “You take away one of those eight home games and the local fans really have a hard time giving (it) up to go across the border and play.”
So how do the Bills get Sunday’s Rogers Centre crown on their side?
“We’ve got to make sure we’re the ones making big plays so they’re cheering for us and there are no cheers for the other team,” Wilson contended. “We need to get our first win in the Toronto series ... it’s a home game (even though) we still have to travel on the road.”
Yet, he realizes why the Bills are playing in Toronto.
“I know if we win the team makes more money in the long run and I know this is a business venture to broaden our fan base into Canada so I understand why we’re doing it,” he said, but added with a chuckle, “all I know is my paycheck is a little shorter (after the game) because we have to pay Canadian taxes as well as U.S. taxes.”
(Chuck Pollock, the Times Herald sports editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)