No one would question Doug Marrone for expressing some level of frustration over the inconvenience from Mother Nature’s lake-effect wrath on Western New York.
After all, the Buffalo Bills’ coach is supposed to be preparing his team to face the New York Jets Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium, yet the snow that has pounded the area prevented him from conducting practice Wednesday. With a driving ban in Orchard Park, his players, along with other Bills staffers, were told to stay home until further notice.
The Bills are 5-5 and trying to end a two-game losing streak. Sunday’s game is vital to keeping their slim playoff hopes alive, and, it would seem, important to Marrone’s job security. Yet, the coach is refusing to make the weather conditions that have been directly related to multiple deaths and impacted so many other lives about him or his football team.
“We’re doing the best we can with what we have, just like everybody else in this area,” Marrone told reporters during a conference call because the snow storm forced cancellation of his usual face-to-face gathering with the media.
His perspective was influenced by his unsuccessful attempt Tuesday to drive to One Bills Drive from his home north of Buffalo. State police rerouted Marrone, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz and defensive line coach Pepper Johnson from the Thruway, and they wound up getting within about five miles from the team’s facility before coming to a stop.
It was then that Marrone realized the gravity of what was taking place.
“I was right outside Mercy Hospital,” Marrone said. “It was tough. You see people trying to get to the hospital. You see emergency employees, nurses and doctors trying to get to the hospital. I can’t say enough about the people of Buffalo. It’s a really unbelievable experience. People were helping each other. People were helping get people to the hospital. People from the hospital were going out. The people were trying to plow snow from the streets.
“I don’t think words can describe it, whether it was different people from different areas, everyone was just trying to help each other. It was really an amazing sight to see.”
Marrone participated in helping to push out a vehicle, stuck in the middle of Abbott Road, belonging to a nurse heading to the hospital Tuesday afternoon.
“I was just trying to do my part, but my part was very limited compared to other people and how brave they were getting people to and from the hospital,” he said. “I would say, with my experience” Tuesday, “my greater concern is with the people trying to get to and from the hospital. After what I saw, that’s my concern first. When it comes to our organization, it’s the safety of the players, to make sure they, the support staff in the organization and everyone is safe and whatever we can do to help anyone that might be in distress.”
The Bills are proceeding as if they will face the New York Jets, as scheduled, at 1 p.m. Sunday. Any change to that plan, according to Bills senior vice president of communications Scott Berchtold, would be for the NFL to decide.
“We are working with the Bills to determine the status of the stadium,” a league spokesman told The Buffalo News. “If a change to the schedule needs to be made, the league will make the decision, working closely with the club and local authorities.”
During a conference call with reporters covering the Bills, Jets coach Rex Ryan said his team was preparing as if the game would be played on Sunday.
Andy Major, the Bills’ vice president of operations and guest experience, said the team “was going to be evaluating this every hour on the hour and seeing how we’re progressing so we can keep in touch with the league, with the county, and the state on what’s going on.”
In the meantime, the Bills are embarking on an unprecedented effort to remove an estimated 220,000 tons of show from Ralph Wilson Stadium. It has put out a call to anyone interested in being paid $10 per hour and receiving game tickets to man a shovel to get The Ralph ready for Sunday’s game. Those interested in joining what a team official said would be a 24-hour-a-day operation are asked to call 716-636-4840.
“We’re hoping to have over 500 shovelers,” Major said. “We will definitely not be turning away anyone that’s interested in shoveling snow.”
Marrone and his assistant coaches were at the facility Wednesday and were planning to stay there overnight. They’ve been going through their preparations for the Jets’ game. Marrone said technology allows the team to remotely get video and all other pre-game materials into the hands of players.
But he stressed the priority in communicating with the players is their “safety, making sure everyone’s safe and making sure they’re abiding by the rules, obviously, with the driving ban.”
“Obviously, it’s a great challenge,” Marrone said of preparing for a game under the extreme weather conditions. “We’re not going to put any of our players, coaches, support staff, anyone in any type of jeopardy. We’re monitoring that, and waiting for the word for when we can start to operate like we normally would.”
Had the Bills practiced Wednesday, the only active player who would not have been able to participate, according to the club, is defensive end Jarius Wynn (knee).