The NFL, Ravens and Texans are switching gears today as daylight and calmer winds bring a chance to assess the damage from Hurricane Ike’s path from Galveston through Houston and points north on Saturday.
Monday night’s game (as well as baseball’s Astros-Cubs series set for Minute Maid Park over the weekend) certainly takes a shuffle to the back of the deck after homes and lives have been ravaged over a large swath of Texas. Our thoughts and prayers go out to those affected by the storm. (If you have DirecTV, you can go to channel 361 to watch KHOU’s coverage of the storm; the damage video is horrific.)
With local and state resources strained and power outages in almost all of Houston and surrounding areas, Monday’s game will not be played in Reliant Stadium as scheduled by the league on Thursday. Later this afternoon at 4 pm ET, the teams and the league will have a conference call to decide where the game will be played.
The Texans had two practices on Thursday, as they held their normal Friday walk-through on Thursday night, and dismissed players to take care of life and property before returning to the club’s facility at Reliant on Sunday. Getting in touch with each player, coach and front office staffer is the first priority today for the Texans’ administration, and to offer whatever assistance it can to those who suffered in any way.
Once all of that information has been gathered, the Texans can participate in today’s conference call to figure out what to do with the Monday game.
For those who are criticizing the league for keeping the game in Houston with Thursday’s original announcement, remember that it bought the league 48 hours to decide the ultimate fate of the game. If the storm moved well east of Houston (say Texas-Louisiana border or Corpus Christi), then the game would have been played in Reliant on Monday night. If the storm did what it ultimately did Saturday morning, then the game could be moved. Remember, Katrina was supposed to hit the Mississippi-Alabama border, instead of Louisiana, in the forecasts of Thursday (one day before the Ravens played the Saints in the final preseason game of 2005). Only late Friday night after the game, did the track change over several hundred miles to New Orleans, where it hit just east of there on early Monday morning. Hurricane forecasts are inexact, especially 48 hours away from landfall, and the league took the right wait-and-see approach.
In order, here are the potential scenarios (as of 2:30 pm Saturday) with notes based on my experience in the league. Remember, any neutral site would need enough hotel rooms to host two teams (unless Houston flies day of game), NFL game and league officials and TV personnel. Stadiums are mostly plug-and-play with equipment (replay, sideline communication, etc.) needing to be readied by local club personnel.
Monday at New Orleans: Most likely scenario. Texans would have the shortest disruption in flight time to a neutral site (less than 45 minutes). Depending on damage at airports and when they re-open, Texans could fly to New Orleans as late as Monday morning (Miami did just that for a preseason game in New Orleans a few years ago to avoid a hurricane in South Florida). Team would go to a local hotel for a few hours before heading to the Superdome to play. Saints are out of town at Washington Sunday and key club staffers would be able to help set up and run the game from an operations and media standpoint.
Houston was a huge evacuation destination for those displaced from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The league could use the game as a hurricane benefit with ticket prices (say $20) going to the Red Cross or designated league hurricane charity. This would also give a chance for New Orleans’ football fans to “give back” to Houston for their help after the 2005 storms. Many evacuees from Ike went north to Dallas, but hotels are hosting several who are involved in cleanup from Hurricane Gustav just a few weeks ago. Figure on a crowd of 10-15,000.
Monday at Atlanta: Second-most likely scenario. Houston would have a little longer flight, at about 90 minutes. Same issues with airport and hotel as New Orleans trip, although hotel rooms are much more numerous in Atlanta, if Houston can fly out Sunday night. Also, Falcons are on the road at Tampa Bay and personnel can set up for a Monday game. Flights in and out of Atlanta are more numerous for those needing to come in to work the event than New Orleans. Crowd would probably be just under 10,000 as stadium is in the downtown area and afternoon traffic is a bear.
Moving of other teams’ schedules: Possible, but unless Houston has major travel problems getting out to a neutral site by no later than Monday morning or other currently unforeseen isses, not likely. The scenario advanced was this: Week 2 becomes the Ravens and Texans bye week and Monday’s game moves to Nov. 9 in Houston (the Ravens’ original bye week). The originally-scheduled Bengals-Texans game for Nov. 9 would move to their clubs’ shared open week of Oct. 26, and Cincinnati would have their bye on Nov. 9. A lot of disruption with a team not involved in this game (the Bengals).
Doubleheader with the Philadelphia at Dallas game on Monday night: This is an extremely unlikely scenario. The NFL would have to find hotel rooms for one or two more teams and Texas Stadium would have to have locker room space for four teams. Local and state resources have been strained because of the storm and evacuees in the area, and another game would add to the problems.
The game would have to start around noon local time, in order to not disrupt the time needed to set up for the regularly-scheduled Monday night game. The stadium would have to be staffed by early Monday morning until very late Monday night and the Texans would have to be in Dallas on Sunday night for that early of a Monday start (teams are normally at the stadium three hours before kickoff). Travel out of Houston on Sunday is still an unknown at this time. The league would not want to look like they are using state resources to play a second game in the area on the same day. But one advantage would be that NFL officials needed and TV personnel would be in place for a second contest.
Monday game at Baltimore: Least likely scenario. Because this is the only meeting between the AFC teams and not a division game that could be flipped with a second game later in the year, the league will not move this game to M&T Bank Stadium. The NFL took a lot of internal criticism of its move of the 2005 Giants at Saints game in Week 2 after Katrina to New York. It was a home game for the Saints in name only and several NFC teams were not happy that the Giants got a ninth home game. The NFL would rather move schedules or play in front of a sparse crowd on Monday night at a neutral site than move it to Baltimore.
One note for Baltimore-area fans holding game tickets for Sunday: Check the Houston Texans’ web site for information next week about ticket refunds and exchange policies (nothing will be posted until the staff is able to work out of Reliant Stadium sometime early next week). If you bought your tickets through Ticketmaster, check their site for details as well. If you bought tickets from a ticket reseller (read: ticket broker), you might be out of luck since they were purchased from an “unlicensed reseller.” As for air/hotel, contact your carrier (if you booked direct) or through Priceline, etc. (if you booked online) for cancellation info. Also, call your hotel to cancel your booking and find out their refund policy, so that those evacuees needing hotel rooms because of power outages/damage can have access to rooms.