The hum of plows clearing snow from concourses and the scrape of shovels digging out seats echoed throughout Highmark Stadium on Monday hours before the Buffalo Bills hosted the Pittsburgh Steelers in a storm-delayed AFC wild-card playoff game.
The sun that shone at noon gave way to grey skies, but no more snow, as a small army of stadium employees and fans being paid $20 an hour raced to clear the 70,000-seat facility ahead of the 4:30 p.m. kickoff.
While the green artificial turf was cleared of snow, a large majority of stands were still covered in a white blanket, making it uncertain if they would be cleared in time for the game. But the remnants of the lake-effect snow band that dumped more than two feet of snow on the Bills’ home in suburban Orchard Park moved north toward Buffalo, providing relief to those working inside the stadium.
“It certainly helps out. It lightens the mood,” said Bob Isaacs, catching a glimpse of a blue sky south of the stadium.
As for how daunting the task at hand was, Isaacs said: “For 2 seconds. Then you got to remember you’re a Bills fan. It’s all part of the deal.”
This is the fourth year the 62-year-old Isaacs has volunteered to shovel snow at the stadium, which he considers his way of supporting his hometown team.
The game was originally scheduled to be played at 1 p.m. Sunday, when the brunt of the storm was hitting the region, with much of it centred on Orchard Park. New York Gov. Kathy Hochul in consultation with the NFL had postponed the game on Saturday, citing public safety concerns.
Shovel crews have been working on clearing the stadium seats, walkways and tunnels since Sunday, when snow fell at a rate of more than 2 inches (5 centimetres) per hour. Crews worked overnight, with the Bills making a plea for more volunteers early Monday.
Brandon Brummert woke up at 4 a.m. and made the 90-mile drive from Rochester, New York, to help shovel.
“It’s beautiful out now. Thank God the wind’s not kicking. If the wind was kicking in, it would be brutal right now with blowing snow,” said Brummert, who later in the day will trade his shovel to work the gates as a ticket taker.
Major roadways leading to the stadium were cleared, with 5-foot snowdrifts lining the roads after they were plowed. The National Weather Service forecast for Monday called for a chance of snow showers through the early afternoon, with a high of 18 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 8 Celsius). Temperatures were expected to dip to 14 (minus 10), with winds ranging from 8 to 16 mph (13-26 kph).