BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Bills were determined to play against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, no matter how much snow got in their way.
The game was moved by the NFL to Detroit ahead of the snowstorm currently burying parts of Erie County under several feet of snow. In retrospect, it seemed like a good move with Highmark Stadium buried under more than 60 inches of snow.
But a day before the game, millions of members of the Bills Mafia were still questioning if their team would make it to game day on time.
The team was scheduled to leave from the Buffalo Niagara International Airport at 3:30 p.m. Saturday, pending weather conditions. The airport closed for several hours Saturday morning due to blowing and drifting snow conditions.
Even after it reopened just before 9:30 a.m., dozens of flights were canceled because of the weather, and even more were delayed. However, aviation officials expressed confidence that the team's plane would be able to take off on time.
"We will be ready for the Bills when that aircraft arrives at 1 p.m. and they leave at 3:30 p.m.," said Lee Weitz, the Director of Aviation for NFTA.
Crews began loading the team's gear around 1:30 p.m. About a half hour later, a small crowd of fans came out to cheer on the team as they boarded just before 4 o'clock.
The team took off about 2 hours later than scheduled at 5:20 p.m. and landed in the comparably much sunnier and less snowy Detroit just after 6:00 p.m.
Alex and Griffin Rubin drove from Kenmore to the airport to send off the players, several of whom got some help from neighbors Saturday, who required some shoveling out.
"Buffalo is really really awesome when it just comes to helping out neighbors. Whether it's snow plowing or shoveling the sidewalk, I think everybody is out there helping each other," said Alex Rubin.
"You know, we want to get out of the house. We had been stuck inside, so we were like, 'Let's go check 'em out.' I checked on my flight app that they were leaving around 3:30 p.m., so we came out," added Steven Smith, of Amherst.
On Friday, a day after the decision was made to switch the venue for the game, Bills head coach Sean McDermott said the team would leave a day before game day, as they would with any away game. But as Saturday rolled around, problems began mounting.
Spencer Brown, an offensive tackle for the Bills, posted a video on his Instagram story showing his neighbors helping clear a path for him to leave his house and get on the road to the airport. Reggie Gilliam shared on Twitter that he got some similar help.
"I know I've been seeing it all over social media, and it's been crazy I think it's so cool that we have a good Buffalo community," said Derek Charsky, who also traveled to the airport with his family to send off the team.
The Athletic sports reporter Tim Graham said he spoke to Bills' COO Ron Raccuia who told him he was picking up players to bring them to the airport.
Raccuia reportedly pushed back against criticism that they could have left earlier, saying that because the decision wasn't made until Thursday to have the game in Detroit, it wasn't possible to charter a plane in time.
The Browns, in contrast, have a much easier 2.5-hour bus ride to Detroit.
Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m. Sunday.
The team's flight ultimately took off around 5:20 p.m. Saturday.