BUFFALO, N.Y. — A severe lake-effect snowstorm hitting the Buffalo region has prompted the NFL to consider alternatives to the Bills playing their home game against the New York Jets on Nov. 23.
“Public safety is the first priority,” NFL spokesman Greg Aiello wrote in an email Nov. 20. “We have been in discussions regarding potential alternatives.”
Aiello wouldn’t go into detail regarding the options, but added an update was scheduled for later in the day.
One alternative would be pushing back the game a day or two. Another would be relocating the game outside of Orchard Park, which is part of a region south of Buffalo that has already been blanketed by about 5 feet of snow since Nov. 17. Snow continued to fall on Nov. 20, with projected accumulations ranging between 1 and 3 feet.
Earlier in the day, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said it would be difficult for the game to be played on schedule.
“If you ask me today, right now, my sense is it’s impractical to do the game because it would jeopardize public safety,” Cuomo said. “Everybody would love to see a Bills game go forward, but I think even more, everybody wants to make sure public safety comes first.”
Cuomo spoke after spending the past day touring the affected region.
The Bills can’t even hold practices because their players are snowed in, and those that can get out can’t get to the team’s facility because of a driving ban in place in Orchard Park and many of its neighboring communities.
As a result, the Bills canceled practice for a second straight day on Nov. 20.
On Nov. 19, Bills Vice President of Operations Andy Major wasn’t sure whether there was enough time to clear Ralph Wilson Stadium and its surrounding parking lots of the estimated 220,000 tons of snow covering the team’s 200-acre grounds by Nov. 23.
Many roads are impassible and a driving ban remains in place in many of the communities south and east of downtown Buffalo.
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz also cast doubt on whether the game can be played on time. Poloncarz said the county’s emergency services are already stretched thin in dealing with the storm that he can’t commit to them staffing the game.
The county is responsible for providing Sheriff deputies for security at Bills home games.
The Bills (5-5), who last practiced on Nov. 17, are already coming off an extended break. They had last weekend off following a 22-9 loss at Miami on Nov. 13. The Jets (2-8) are coming out of their bye week, and haven’t played since a 20-13 win against Pittsburgh on Nov. 9.
The temperatures are expected to warm into the 40s by Nov. 22, with a high of 47 projected for Nov. 23. But a sudden thaw presents another problem by raising flooding concerns.
Starting guard Kraig Urbik is among the Bills players who are snowed in. “Any chance my street gets plowed today,” Urbik posted on his Twitter account. “Or are we stuck here till Saturday?”
Though rare, changing the date or location of a game has happened before in the NFL.
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.
In 2010, the Minnesota Vikings were forced to play their home game against the New York Giants a day later in Detroit after the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome’s roof tore open.
The last schedule change occurred at Philadelphia in late December of 2010. That’s when the Eagles’ home game against Minnesota on Dec. 26 was pushed back two days as a safety precaution because a storm was expected to drop a more than a foot of snow in Philadelphia.
By John Wawrow, AP Sports Writer. AP writer Chris Carola contributed from Albany