Coming home: What it took to dig out the Ralph

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Bills president Russ Brandon left no doubt when he announced that status of the Bills next scheduled home game: "We will play the Browns at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday."

It was a statement signifying a return to normalcy following a week in Western New York that saw anything but.

Much went behind Brandon's welcomed assertion of a return to the regular schedule, including an incredible amount of hats, gloves, shovels, heavy duty machinery, dump trucks and more.

But the story of the snow removal efforts at Ralph Wilson Drive cannot be told without an appreciation for the manpower that went into it.

"Once the travel bans were lifted, about 500 total shovelers were here triple shifting from Saturday to Monday night," said Bills VP of Event Operations, Andy Major. "They did a tremendous job, and we're very thankful to Jani-King who lined that project up for us. We really appreciated what the shovelers were doing and I think they really came through for us."

After six feet of snow was dumped on WNY, here's what the efforts looked like to dig out Ralph Wilson Stadium.

Members of the Bills staff, Bills partners including Jani-King, Delaware North, and Admar, and those 500 members of the community – who stepped up to offer their shoveling services for $10/hour and a game ticket – joined together to effectively dig out the Ralph.

"I just wanted to help out the Bills, and otherwise I'd be at home sleeping so I thought I might as well help," said shoveler Eric Horton, a sophomore at ECC. "There's not much to do, it's nice outside today (Monday), so hey, why not? It doesn't matter if I got paid or anything though, it's just helping out, and that makes it worth it."

"Just to have something to do and help out," said fellow shoveler Craig M., who drove all the way from Queens, NY. "I was laid off from construction in New York and was waiting on something to do so I decided to come down. Otherwise I would have just been sitting at home watching the Jets lose. And I'm a Jets fan."

There were seniors in high school, shoveling on their snow days. There were unemployed men and women who bussed in from the City of Buffalo. There were landscapers from the Southtowns. And among those 500 shovelers was also Ernest Boyd, who walked to Ralph Wilson Stadium from East Otto, NY – a 31-mile trek.

"It took pretty much all day Sunday to walk here and I got in at 3 a.m. Monday morning," said Boyd, an unemployed veteran. "It was interesting. I stopped and helped a couple of people shovel out their driveways. It's great. You get to come up here, they feed you and give you an opportunity to work."

With an assist, ironically, from Mother Nature in the form of an unseasonably warm streak to start the week, the crew of hearty shovelers had the stadium completely cleared by 6 p.m. on Monday, one week after the storm began.

So with 330,000 tons of snow behind them, the new focus in order to get the stadium game-ready is the repair work that lingers from the storm damage.

Photos of One Bills Drive and Ralph Wilson Stadium following a record snow storm in Buffalo.

Major said "there's a long list of repair work" including fixes to the stadium ring wall, the stadium field, pipes in concession and restroom areas and the walls in the ADPRO Sports Training Center Fieldhouse

But other than what Major estimates as five percent of Bills parking spots lost to snow piles, the entire facility should be fully operational by gameday this Sunday thanks to a number of dedicated Bills staff, Bills partners L.P Ciminelli and Frey Electric and others who are assisting in that process.

"It's been a long trying week for our community and we were very mindful of that as we entered yesterday's game," said Brandon. "We're glad that we were able to give everyone a great outcome and three hours away from what they've dealt with and what they're dealing with moving forward.

"We took a lot of pride in representing our community and it's something that is very meaningful to people that work here in Buffalo with the Bills and with the players. We know how much this franchise means to our community and our region and it's an honor to be a part of it."

So though the headline is that the Bills will return home and what a monumental feat that's been, it's really what's – or more aptly who's – behind the headline that's worth all the talk.

The Bills would like to again thank sponsors Jani-King, Delaware North, Admar, L.P. Ciminelli, and Frey Electric for their help in the past week. They would also like to thank Valley View Nursery, Mark Cerrone, Inc, DiPexio Construction, B&T Contracting, Ferguson Electric and Leo J. Roth for all of their help.

Ralph Wilson Stadium, then and now. #Snowvember

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