Former Argos’ receiver Tori Gurley believes fans would support NFL in Toronto

American and Canadian flags are presented during the national anthems during an NFL football game between the Atlanta Falcons and the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, Dec. 1, 2013, in Toronto. (AP Photo/Todd Parmington)

Former CFL receiver turned NFL analyst Tori Gurley has played his fair share of football on both sides of the 49th parallel and he believes an NFL franchise could excel on the northern side of the border.

Gurley, who spent time with eight NFL teams before playing three years in the CFL with the Toronto Argonauts, Winnipeg Blue Bombers, and Ottawa Redblacks, is the latest to back the idea of an NFL franchise in Toronto.

Drawing on his experience with the Argos, the analyst for Fox Sports, ESPN and the NFL Network told The Rod Pedersen Show that the NFL would thrive in Canada’s largest population centre.

“I think the fans would love it,” Gurley said. “I’ll never forget that opportunity when we opened up at BMO field. We played against Hamilton, it was a sell out crowd and that was for a CFL game.”

Toronto was among four cities that were recently floated as potential homes for expansion franchises at the NFL owners’ meeting, a prospect that many believe would put the future of the CFL in jeopardy.

A recent national survey done at the University of Lethbridge indicated that only 11 percent of Canadians would support the arrival of the NFL if it meant the demise of the CFL. 16 percent of respondents stated they wouldn’t support an NFL team under any circumstance, but the lure of big name stars can be too big to resist.

“If you can bring in an NFL team and you bring in the Aaron Rodgers, the Patrick Mahomes, the Russell Wilsons of the world, the people in Toronto and all across North America would show up to participate because it’s a great event,” Gurley explained. “The fans in Canada are just amazing.”

Rumours circulated last summer that Argos’ ownership group Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment was enthusiastically pursuing talks with the XFL in the hopes of leveraging an NFL franchise for the city down the line. That has long been a goal of MLSE chairman Larry Tanenbaum, despite the continuing marketing and attendance issues with his existing CFL franchise.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has stated that he would ‘love to see’ games played in Toronto and the city had been pegged as the potential destination for a new international series game in 2022. However, Canada was passed over in favour of games in England, Mexico and Germany.

The Buffalo Bills played the role of home team for the only regular season games ever put on in Canada, which all came during the Bills in Toronto series. Buffalo played one regular season game per year from 2008 to 2013 at Rogers Centre. Toronto mayor John Tory has been ‘open to the idea’ of a similar arrangement returning, but the NFL requires a single deep-pocketed owner to emerge and the construction of a state-of-the-art stadium before a full-time franchise would even be considered.

Goodell agrees with Gurley that Toronto would be “a great city for an NFL team,” but  dreams of NFL expansion are still a long ways from manifesting.