The Steelers-Bills wild card game is scheduled for Sunday afternoon NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on Saturday.After consultation with the New York Governor's Office
But according to a source familiar with the Buffalo Bills, there are still barriers to playing with fans in the arena that day, at that time, on that field.
“Everywhere you turn, there's a trap door,” the source said, explaining the all-too-personal problems of playing the game during a blizzard at Highmark Stadium in Western New York.
Because of the early morning hours on Saturday, the NFL hoped to be able to play the game as scheduled on Monday, according to league sources. But if the weather issues persist into Sunday evening, a second postponement to Tuesday could be in the cards for the NFL.
New York Governor Cathy Hochul has declared a state of emergency and imposed a travel ban for Erie County beginning at 9 p.m. Saturday. The ban will be reassessed at 6am on Sunday based on the forecast. In his Saturday press conference, Hochul urged travelers to get into Buffalo as soon as possible.
“It's time for these truckers in particular,” Governor Hochul said, “whether they're coming over the Peace Bridge, coming from Pennsylvania or coming from the east, make sure they monitor the conditions now. Travel now, not later.”
The Steelers Boarded a plane to Buffalo on Sunday afternoon. The group had originally planned to travel at the same time on Saturday, but adjusted it a day later and wanted to keep the same schedule.
However, Orchard Park received 2-3 inches of snow Sunday morning and another 2-3 inches is expected in the afternoon hours. The travel ban is still in effect and snow continues on its swing bands. The latest forecast suggests the stadium will remain where it is until Sunday night.
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said the region will experience “blizzard-like” conditions, with parts of the county “basically getting over two feet of snow in 36 hours.”
Bills offers volunteers $20 an hour to shovel snow, but because of the ban, there's no ETA on when they can begin that work.
When this happened in the past, snow shovels usually started at the top of the field and removed the snow with chute down to field level. That ice is loaded onto trucks and taken out onto the field through a tunnel at Highmark Stadium. Shovels will work from top to bottom, then clear the field, which is currently covered with tar.
If there is less snow, the stands could be cleared in time for Monday's game, a source said. But if lake-effect snow is heavy, it can create problems cleaning both the stand and the field.
“Now the field is not necessarily clear until Monday,” said Governor Hochul. “It gives us a lot more breathing room to manage the conditions to see if the bands are there and snow falls as expected. We hope the wind has subsided a lot. So we're expecting a very different weather turn. Monday based on today's modeling.”
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If the game is to be played on Monday afternoon, there is a question about the safety of the playing surface. The field is closed, but temperatures have been below freezing since Saturday afternoon, and forecasts show temperatures will remain below freezing through Monday's scheduled game.
The NFL uses a Kleg Impact Tester at different points on a field to determine the roughness of the surface. According to the NFL Players Association, to pass a field test, it must measure below 100 units of gravity. In a 2022 game between the Lions and Panthers in Charlotte, NC, the field was tested at a maximum of 150 grams, and players from both teams complained about the field's hardness.
Highmark Stadium will have to heat the field with heaters — the 50-year-old stadium lacks a complex and expensive underground heating system — to play games. And no doubt players need to adjust their cleats based on the roughness of the field.
There is the question of distribution of public resources. Govt. Hochul and County Executive Poloncarz noted that police officers should be outside and not directing traffic on the grounds in Sunday's blizzard.
A source noted that if the weather is bad in the south towns where the stadium is located, it will be difficult to allocate resources specifically for the game. If the weather is bad in northern cities, resources may have to be diverted there.
Obviously, there is a strong belief — and a strong desire — that this game can be played on Monday as scheduled. If the forecast turns in Western New York's favor, this could be another playoff game in Buffalo.