Bills call on fans to help dig out stadium for playoff game vs. Steelers

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Logan Eschrich came to Buffalo to witness the snowstorm, and he stayed for the shoveling on Sunday.

Once the professional storm chaser saw the Buffalo Bills invite fans to help dig out a snow-filled Highmark Stadium for their delayed playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, now scheduled for Monday, Eschrich couldn’t resist.

Sniffling and shivering from the cold, Eschrich detailed the seemingly impossible task he and the estimated 85-person shovel crew faced while being compensated $20 an hour. Winds whipped at 30 mph (48 kph), and snow was falling at a rate of 2 inches (5 centimeters) per hour at what was supposed to be the game’s 1 p.m. EST kickoff, which has been pushed back to Monday at 4:30 p.m.

“It would have been absolutely impossible (to play). We could barely see the next row down from us. And unfortunately, it’s still that way,” Eschrich told The Associated Press by phone in the mid-afternoon. “We made progress shoveling, but not much at all.”

He said bleacher seats were entirely buried by snow, adding that it was treacherous to travel the mere two blocks to the stadium from where he camped overnight.

“I’m very happy they put the travel ban into effect,” said Eschrich, who works for Live Storms Media, and made the 16-hour trip north from Alabama, where he had planned to get video of tornadoes. “Nobody should be out here.”

The Buffalo region, which includes the Bills’ home in Orchard Park, was mostly at a standstill, with a travel ban in place due to a dangerous lake-effect storm that began on Saturday and was expected to last through Sunday night.

The storm was projected to dump up between 1 and 3 feet of snow, with the heaviest accumulation around Orchard Park.

With the storm’s brunt expected to wane by Sunday night, the National Weather Service’s forecast for Monday called for a chance of snow showers in the morning and a high of 19 degrees Fahrenheit (minus-7 Celsius), but with strong wind making it feel like minus-5 (minus-21).

On Sunday, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said she expected the game to kick off as scheduled, with the end of the storm allowing time for roads and the stadium to be cleared of snow. A day earlier, Hochul and the NFL cited public safety concerns as the reason to push the game back to Monday.

Bills players and staff spent Sunday at home. The Steelers arrived Sunday afternoon with travel restrictions having been lifted at Buffalo Niagara International Airport and northern parts of Erie County.

Former Bills center Eric Wood recalled his first time experiencing a lake-effect storm in Buffalo in November 2014, which has since been dubbed “Snowvember.” The storm dumped nearly 7 feet (2.1 meters) of snow on Orchard Park over a four-day stretch and led to Buffalo’s home game against the New York Jets being moved to Detroit.

Wood was among seven Bills players in his neighborhood who had to be picked up by snowmobile and transported to the team’s facility before being bused to the airport.

“The whiteout conditions are like nothing I had ever experienced,” said Wood, who’s from Cincinnati. “Until you experience this snow and understand its effect, it’s hard to appreciate what can truly happen in such a short amount of time, and often without notice.”

Wood’s next experience with lake-effect snow happened in December 2017, when a storm hit an hour before kickoff and caused whiteout conditions inside the stadium during a game against Indianapolis. Stadium crews were unable to keep up with the falling snow, using blowers to uncover the yard lines.

Their field was so blanketed by snow that Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri lost his footing and missed a 43-yard field-goal attempt as time expired, and Buffalo won 13-7 in overtime on LeSean McCoy’s 21-yard touchdown run. Bills players celebrated by making snow angels and throwing snowballs.

“Fans had a ton of fun watching us slip and slide over the field, but it wasn’t always fun to play in, not being able to move, and you’re freezing and all that,” Wood recalled with a laugh.

Today, it’s a cherished memory for Wood, in part because the win helped the Bills snap a 17-season playoff drought.

Former Bills special teams star Steve Tasker said the wintry conditions usually favor the home team.

“It’s not the being able to practice in the bad stuff that makes you ready to play on days like that, it’s living in it that makes you ready,” Tasker said. “Those guys get off the plane from say, Miami or Houston, and it just slaps you in the face.”

Tasker, however, noted the Steelers are accustomed to playing in the cold, which should even out any advantages on Monday.

One thing is certain for Tasker who, like Wood, is part of the Bills’ radio broadcast team. Fun as it was playing in the elements, he’s going to enjoy his spot in the warm comfort of the radio booth.

“I’m very happy where I’m at,” Tasker said, laughing. “I’m not going to trade it for anything.”

NOTES: With WR Gabe Davis (knee) ruled out, and LB Tyrel Dodson (shoulder) listed as questionable, the Bills elevated WR Andy Isabella and LB A.J. Klein from their practice squad.

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