The AFC Wild Card playoff game between the Buffalo Bills and Pittsburgh Steelers, originally scheduled for Sunday, has been postponed to Monday evening due to a severe winter storm battering Western New York. After initial plans to play the game on Sunday as scheduled, the NFL made the decision on Friday evening to move kickoff to Monday at 7:15 pm EST.
Treacherous weather slams Buffalo area
A powerful lake-effect snowstorm has pummeled the Buffalo region since Thursday night, dumping over two feet of snow in some areas and creating treacherous travel conditions. Wind gusts of 40-50 mph have also led to intense blowing and drifting of snow.
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz issued a driving ban beginning Friday evening, threatening $375 fines for violators. The ban was lifted Sunday morning, but many roads remain nearly impassable. Governor Kathy Hochul declared a state of emergency for the affected regions.
Poloncarz stated Sunday morning:
“This is the worst storm in our lifetime. There are drifts as high as your waist or even chest.”
Herculean stadium cleanup effort
In anticipation of Monday’s game, an army of hundreds of snow shovelers worked through the weekend to clear massive piles of snow from parking lots and access areas around Highmark Stadium. A viral video showed a shirtless Bills fan shoveling snow in frigid temperatures.
|Orchard Park (Stadium location)
|Natural cover near stadium
|Drift heights near stadium
Bills staff offered $20 per hour plus game tickets to incentivize shovelers. Some fans traveled from hours away despite the travel ban, feeling duty-bound to enable the game. Safety precautions included frequent breaks and hot meals.
The Bills requested additional shovelers Sunday night and Monday morning to assist with final cleanup ahead of kickoff.
Steelers delayed but determined
The Steelers landed safely in Buffalo Saturday afternoon after some anxious moments, as their initial flight was turned back to Pittsburgh due to poor visibility. The team dressed for snowy conditions and appeared upbeat during weekend walkthroughs.
Players insist they are blocking out any talk that they face longer odds as a No. 7 seed playing in adverse conditions. Safety Minkah Fitzpatrick boldly pronounced:
“We’re built for this, we’re Pittsburgh, this is kind of our weather.”
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin declined to complain about the schedule disruption:
“We’re excited about prime time football. We’re used to having prime time football games on the weekends and Monday nights.”
If the Steelers somehow manage to upset the Bills, they would regain a share of the NFL record for most postseason victories.
Gameday forecast improves but remains frigid
Monday’s hour-by-hour forecast for Orchard Park calls for cold temperatures near 10 degrees but mercifully light winds and no snow. The arctic blast will challenge fans hardy enough to attend and players not accustomed to these extremes.
Highmark Stadium has a heated field to prevent freezing and is exposed to winds less than Buffalo’s former stadium. League officials signed off on player safety assurances.
This will be the NFL’s first playoff game with a temperature below 20 degrees since last year’s Bills vs Patriots wild card contest, also held in Buffalo.
Beyond expected antidepressant and alcohol sales spikes across Western New York if the Bills fail to advance, the forecast looks sunnier. Temperatures should rebound to near 40 by next weekend, allowing quicker cleanup from this paralyzing storm.
The Bills or Steelers will fly immediately after Monday’s game to face the #1 seed Kansas City Chiefs next Sunday, weather permitting. League executives have discussed contingency sites if air travel remains difficult from Buffalo, but Governor Hochul promised teams would have safe passage.
With the Bills heavily favored by oddsmakers in their playoff opener, fans cling tightly to hope this postponement merely delays a special playoff run. The injustice of Sunday’s cancellation should summon strength that converts to three hours of inspired, focused football.
The team’s motto this year proclaims “Time is Now.” The Bills must translate preparation and talent into seizing the long-awaited moment their beleaguered fanbase so desperately craves.
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