Bills race clock to clear snow-filled stadium

Matt Kirsch clears snow from the top of the press box at Ralph Wilson Stadium before an NFL football game between the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills in Orchard Park, N.Y., Sunday, Dec. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — The Buffalo Bills are snowed in and it’s unclear whether they’ll be able to clear 4 feet of snow at Ralph Wilson Stadium in time to host the New York Jets on Sunday.

And there’s more snow in the forecast, with projections of between 1 and 2 feet to fall by Thursday night.

It’s hard to tell whether the field will be cleared, Bills Vice President of Operations Andy Major told reporters during a telephone conference call Wednesday.

It usually takes three days to clear a 1-foot snowfall, Major said. The snow removal has begun, and Major hopes to round up 500 people working three shifts around the clock to clear the facility.

The team has stayed in constant contact with the NFL, which will have the final say on whether to postpone the game or have it played elsewhere.

“We are working with the Bills today to determine the status of the stadium,” NFL spokesman Michael Signora said in an email to The Associated Press. “If a change to the schedule needs to be made, the league will make the decision working closely with the club and local authorities.”

Though rare, changing the date or location of a game has happened before.

The most notable switch occurred in 2005, when the New Orleans Saints were forced to split their season playing in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and San Antonio, Texas, after Hurricane Katrina damaged the Louisiana Superdome.

As for the players, the Bills canceled practice Wednesday due to a driving ban in Orchard Park and its surrounding communities. And it’s unclear how many practices the team can get in before Sunday.

Coach Doug Marrone and his staff spent the night at the team’s headquarters going over the game plan and staying in contact with players.

“Us being able to go out and practice is obviously not an option for us,” Marrone said. “This is very challenging. It’s a tough, tough situation.”

The Bills (5-5) have already had an extended break after getting the weekend off since a 22-9 loss at Miami on Thursday night. The Jets (2-8) had a bye weekend off since a 20-13 win over Pittsburgh on Nov. 9.

The team did practice Monday, before players got their regular day off on Tuesday.

Though he grew up in the Bronx and spent five seasons coaching at Syracuse, Marrone had never experienced such a snowfall before.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Marrone said. “It’s very difficult to put into words exactly what’s going on.”

Marrone, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz and defensive line coach Pepper Johnson found themselves in the thick of the storm while attempting to drive to the stadium on Tuesday morning. They required help from a New York State trooper to exit Interstate 90. And they were able to get to within 5 miles of the stadium before they couldn’t get any further.

Marrone did his part by helping push cars out of the snow.

As much as 5 feet of snow hit a narrow region of communities south of Buffalo during a lake-effect storm that began Monday night.

The Bills describe this is an unprecedented snowfall in their 65-year history. They estimate 220,000 tons of snow that need to be cleared from the stadium and surrounding parking lots. That would be enough to fill the team’s practice fieldhouse facility eight times over.

This isn’t the Bills first encounter with the elements.

In mid-December 2007, a severe snowstorm in Cleveland left the Bills stranded overnight following an 8-0 loss to the Browns in a game that was played in near white-out conditions. The following morning, the team’s charter flight home skidded off the runway and got stuck in the mud before arriving at the gate.

That forced the Bills to make the three-plus-hour trip home by bus, which led defensive end Chris Kelsay to say: “It seems like when it rains it pours. But in this case it’s snow.”

___

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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