Planes, Bills and Snowmobiles
I have covered the NFL for 30 years, and I must say I have never heard an NFL executive say he hoped a snowmobile would come up big for his team in advance of a game with big playoff implications.
That happened Thursday night. The Buffalo Bills quite possibly will need snowmobile rescues to get some of their players (85 percent of the 53-man roster lives in the towns around Orchard Park, which has been hit with five to seven feet of snow during the week) in position to play Monday night when the Bills will face the Jets.
In Detroit. At Ford Field, 272 miles from Ralph Wilson Stadium, 30 hours after when this game was supposed to have been played.
The 53 Buffalo Bills will fly to Detroit sometime around midday today, a trip none of them planned to make. Well, maybe not 53. In fact, almost certainly not 53.
“I don’t think that’s realistic,’’ club CEO Russ Brandon said from the logistics bunker inside One Bills Drive Thursday night.
Brandon told me the team has “geo-targeted" the 53 players on the team, and 85 percent live in the “Southtowns,’’ the areas hit ridiculously hard by the storm. It was still snowing outside, in Orchard Park, when I spoke to Brandon on Thursday evening. More than 60 inches of snow had already fallen.
Brandon was in a room with Bills coach Doug Marrone, in the middle of a logistics meeting just before the league called to tell them the game against the Jets would be held in Detroit on Monday night. He said he wasn’t sure how many players would make the team plane to Detroit today. Those who did not make it, Brandon said, would take commercial flights Friday or Saturday.
I asked if every Bills players who would play Monday night would make it to Detroit sometime Friday, and Brandon said he didn’t think so. By Saturday, yes. But the Bills were planning to have as many players as they could hustle to Detroit by Friday afternoon, and hold a practice at the Lions facility after that. Then the players would meet back at their hotel Friday night.
"When the game kicks off, we are playing for the people of Buffalo," Brandon says. "If we can give them three hours of relief, from whatever they are doing, that’s great."
Here’s where it would get tricky. The Bills would be meeting at the Lions practice facility in Allen Park, about 6 miles west of downtown. And the Lions, who have a big game Sunday at New England, would be using the practice facility Saturday morning. So the Bills would have to run their normal Thursday and Friday practices on Saturday afternoon—after the Lions finish their practice and leave for the game at New England.
Let’s get to the preparation part of this. How have the Bills prepared for a game while snowbound?
The Bills played Thursday night in Miami (eight days ago), lost, and flew home. They had a light conditioning workout Friday, and were off Saturday and Sunday. The players were in Monday for another film review and limited practice, with Tuesday being the normal day off. Each Bills players has a tablet, and each had the weekly game plan downloaded to that tablet by Tuesday evening. Yes … Tuesday evening … that’s when the first blizzard hit the Orchard Park area. Late Tuesday and during the day Wednesday, as the immense snowfall was calculated, the players started to get cabin fever. The strength and conditioning staff sent workout suggestions for players who didn’t have gym facilities in their houses (pushups, running in place mostly), and the players just hoped to get out of their homes soon.
Brandon was in Florida, formulating future plans with the new Bills owners, Terry and Kim Pegula. He got to Buffalo on Thursday mid-morning. “Obviously, it was snowing like hell," Brandon said. He then found his way through the snow to the team facilities just outside the stadium by driving through areas that were supposedly off-limits to normal traffic.
Brandon was communicating with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, about the game. “A football game," said Brandon, with some disgust in his voice. “I felt disingenuous even thinking about it. We’ve got eight deaths in the region already. We’ve got roofs collapsing on houses. We were at a point, quite frankly, where it was not even practical to even consider clearing our parking lot, our field, to think about playing a football game.
"The governor displayed great leadership. Roger [Goodell] displayed great leadership. The focus was on the community, and nothing else."
So this is the football question: The Jets have had a normal week, and now they’ll have an extra day to prepare for this game … will this game in a different city on a different day be a fair fight?
"Coach won't let it be another way," Brandon said, referring to Marrone, “When the game kicks off, we are playing for the people of Buffalo. If we can give them three hours of relief, from whatever they are doing, that’s great."
I don’t know about you. But this is a game between the 2-8 Jets and the 5-5 Bills, who have to win to keep their postseason hope alive. There is something at stake, something big.
About Last Night...
Oakland 24, Kansas City 20. Football is a strange game. Or, as far as the Chiefs are concerned, it’s pretty normal. Kansas City has played four games in the past 40 years against teams with 0-10 records … and lost them all. On Thursday night it was because of the Oakland defense—Sio Moore and Charles Woodson and Justin Tuck and Khalil Mack—holding the Chiefs to only two drives longer than 50 yards. “It’s ridiculous we lost our first 10 games," said Woodson, the ancient safety who does not play like one. “We are a lot better than that." Played like it Thursday night.
Player You Need To Know This Weekend
Josh Robinson, cornerback, Minnesota (number 21). Last week, Jay Cutler nailed Robinson for two touchdown passes and another long completion. Uh, Josh? Aaron Rodgers is better. Hope you’ll use Saturday night in the hotel to study a few more hours for your big exam Sunday afternoon against the Packers in the frigid Minneapolis air.
Bose Sound Bite of the Week
Cardinals coach Bruce Arians on being 9-1, yet still an underdog at 6-4 Seattle:
“I would have anticipated that. You know, going up there, everyone is usually an underdog. It’s another one of those things that we don’t really need any extra motivation to go play them—especially at their place. I mean they’re the world champions. We’re just 9-1. We haven’t done s---. So, until we do something... But this is a big game.”
Regular Old Quote of the Week
Two of them, actually.
"It’s good to hear from ol’ Tiki."
—Eli Manning, on former teammate Tiki Barber saying Tom Coughlin should be removed at the end of the season as Giants coach.
"It depends on your opinion of that player."
—Eli Manning, on whether the team should be concerned with a great former player saying the coach should be gone.
Ten Things I’ll Be Watching For This Weekend
1. Lovie Smith, Josh McCown return to the scene of their prime. Tampa Bay at Chicago. Somehow, I doubt the Soldier Field denizens will care much about sentimentality when Jay Cutler drops backs and throws his first incompletion.
2. Calvin Johnson visits Revis Island. If we could see 15 one-on-ones, Darrelle Revis hand-fighting lightly with Calvin Johnson, that would make our Sunday.
3. Andy Dalton versus his demons. Going home should be fun, right? Well, sort of. Unless you’re Andy Dalton returning to the Houston area to face the team that owns him. Dalton is 35-21-1 against the other 30 teams in the NFL since being drafted in 2011, and 0-3 against Houston. That includes two ugly playoff losses.
4. Welcome back, Josh Gordon. Remember how good this 22-year-old wide receiver was late last season? Last seven games: 52 catches, 1,020 yards, six touchdowns. For the Browns. Here he comes, on the fast turf of the Georgia Dome. Look for him to be worked into the lineup slowly (but not too slowly) by offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. I’d expect about 25 snaps Sunday against the Falcons, many of them third downs. “This game can be taken away from you at any time," Gordon said, returning from a 10-game substance-abuse suspension. “Cherish it."
5. Tony Romo’s aching back, with a big test. Sunday night at the Meadowlands against the nothing-to-lose Giants. Fly three hours back home. Home at 3:30 a.m. Monday. Prepare to play Thursday afternoon against the Eagles at home. Romo’s got two broken bones in his heavily padded, presumably shot-up back.
6. Hank Stram’s Super Bowl championship ring. It’s up for auction. Am I the only one who thinks that’s hugely, horribly sad?
7. Steve Smith versus the team he really dislikes. After playing 23 games against the Saints as a Panther, Steve Smith lines up at wide receiver for the first time against New Orleans as a Baltimore Raven on Monday night. His production has fallen off, but after the bye, he has had 15 days to get his body right for this one. Got him on your fantasy team? Start Steve Smith this weekend.
8. Arizona at Seattle. Only time Seattle lost at home last year: Cards 17, Seahawks 10, on Dec. 22. Drew Stanton wasn’t the quarterback that day. I’m just saying.
9. Miami at Denver. I call this the “Richie Incognito Bowl." Because the Broncos are going to get their offensive front caved in enough for John Elway to reach for his cell phone mid-third quarter, punch in Incognito’s number, and ask, “Can you be on the first plane here in the morning?"
10. Adrian Peterson’s fate. Pack at Vikes on Sunday. Vikes will be out of it with a loss. (Root for a blizzard, Minnesotans!) Peterson wants to play the rest of the way regardless. We’ll have some news about it over the weekend—I’m just not sure if any of that news will have much to do with him getting on the field in December. My only question: Peterson told Tom Pelissero of USA Today he regretted hitting his 4-year-old son with a switch, but why didn't Peterson tell that to Roger Goodell last week, with his season in the balance?
[widget widget_name="SI Newsletter Widget”]