A Perfect Storm: Inside the Freezing, Snowy, Glorious Colts-Bills Game
It felt like I was getting ready for an afternoon of sledding with my friends, instead of a football game.
The forecast for the Buffalo Bills late-season matchup against the Indianapolis Colts last Sunday was ominous. The temp was low thirties, but the wind chill brought it down to twenty. It called for snow. Lots of snow. Lake effect snow. And if you’re not from Western New York and you’ve never seen lake effect snow before, let me tell you—it’s no joke. Think of Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates analogy, you never know what you’re going to get. Six inches can quickly turn into two feet, depending on which way the wind is blowing. Wet, damp snow is great for building snowmen and then watching through the window while you comfortably sip hot chocolate by a roaring fire. It’s not all that great for sitting for four hours, outside, during a football game.
For a very brief moment, I considered not going. But the last time I had been to wintery snow game was back when I was just a kid, and that kid in me wanted to experience the fun of it all over again. So, I threw on layers upon layers, snow pants, snow jacket, hat, two scarfs, two pairs of socks, waterproof snow boots and made my way to the game. Remember that scene in A Christmas Story, when the boys are getting all geared up for their walk to school? The youngest son, Randy, is so layered up that when he finally puts his snowsuit on he looks like a blimp that’s ready to pop—and he can’t move his arms. That was me.
I arrived at the tailgating lot to meet a couple of friends at our usual spot. We stood and chatted, beers in hand, outside a beat-up RV with Bills logos and stickers plastered to the side as chili simmered in a pot inside. I could not only see my breath, I could feel it. I felt the warm air leave my mouth only to re-enter through my nostrils, stinging cold. As I glanced around I saw fires being stoked, inhaled grills giving off fumes, and Bills fans wrapped in as much (and surprisingly, as little) clothing as possible to brave the conditions. There was the same optimism there always is before a Bills game on Sunday, yet this time there was also a child-like giddiness. Snow does that to people, even in Buffalo—despite the fact we see it every winter.
As my friends and I headed into to the stadium, the wind picked up and the snowfall that was predicted to start in the middle of the game was already pounding us. It hit us from the side as we walked along the main road that leads to the stadium gates. I couldn’t look to my right or even see oncoming cars. The snow stuck to my glasses, my hat, my scarfs and anything else it could grab hold of. Still, we shuffled our boots along the sidewalk, laughing every step of the way. Like I said, snow does that to people.
The bathroom right outside our gate was a welcome respite. We walked inside as if we were stepping onto land after being stranded on a boat for 48 hours. It was heaven. We shook the snow from our bodies, warmed up in front of the heater and psyched ourselves up for an exit strategy.
Seats, then beer? No, beer then seats.
I wish I could accurately describe the frozen tundra that was New Era Field, but I can’t. It was unreal. Imagine the greatest snow day tackle football game you would ever hope to play with your friends when you were a kid and that was it. I couldn’t see the green of the field or even the scoreboard at the other end of the stadium. Just snow. Everywhere, snow. There was no one in our row. Just the four of us. And our seats were piling up with the white, fluffy stuff as the pregame activities came to a close. The lower bowl of the stadium was still filling in, the upper deck was sparse but I assumed most people were warming themselves in the suites. As for the nosebleeds, they weren’t as full as they usually were. Not even close. But they weren’t empty, either. Brave souls still scattered those bleacher seats with as much enthusiasm as they would if there hadn’t been a blizzard.
From kickoff, I knew this game was going to be a memorable one. Players on both teams couldn’t get their footing and were skidding all over the place. They ran far more than they passed, and who could blame them? When the Colts attempted their first field goal of the game, I couldn’t even see the posts. Did it go through? Did he miss? The roar of the crowd clued me in. The rest of the game would carry on like that—snow blowing so much I couldn’t see, changes in the wind allowing a better view, men with leaf blowers on their backs clearing the field during time outs and game breaks, the crowd cheering and throwing snow during good plays. It felt as if I were in the middle of the greatest snow day celebration I had ever been to.
Oh, and the Bills were playing.
By now, everyone knows the outcome. The Bills won. LeSean McCoy hit the gap on an inside run (thanks to an incredible block by Richie Incognito), then cut outside for the walk-off touchdown in overtime. The snow had stopped by then and as the fireworks lit up the dark winter sky, fans dug their mittens in and tossed handfuls of snow up into the air. I’d like to say it was the Bills win that made them giddy. But I’m more inclined to chalk it up to the snow.
Because, snow does that to people. Even in Buffalo.