Every week, the NFL checks in on the Lions to see if Ford Field is available … just in case.
Just in case came this week.
As the Bills and Browns get set to play today in Detroit for their 1 p.m. ET game, originally scheduled as a Buffalo home game, it took an around-the-clock effort from more than 150 workers in Detroit to make it happen.
“It was all hands on deck,” Todd Argust, senior vice president of facilities for the Lions, told NFL.com. “Everyone rallied.”
Ford Field will be ready for Browns-Bills. The media crews were allowed to come in on Friday to set up the scoreboard as if it were a Bills home game. Buffalo will use the visiting locker room to stay consistent with what it’ll use on Thanksgiving Day when it plays the Lions.
There won’t be Bills logos on the field — the timing of the conversion didn’t allow for it and the league didn’t want a rushed attempt that could have led to problems. But Buffalo was invited to bring any team logo banners and signage for the field walls and the Lions would put them up.
Oh, and according to Argust, the game sold out in three hours.
“Tickets were reasonably priced, from $10 to $30,” Argust explained, “and they all got snapped up. They were released to the Bills season ticket list, then Bills app users, then Lions season ticket holders. They all went quick.”
Said Bills general manager Brandon Beane earlier in the week: “It’s the home team’s choice really. We’re the home team. The only thing we want from the home team standpoint for this week is the fans.”
With an epic snowfall in Western New York — up to 77 inches, per weather experts — the NFL decided to move the game in consultation with local authorities.
“The decision to move the game to Detroit has everything to do about safety,” Bills executive vice president Ron Raccuia said.
But that led to a mad scramble from the Lions and their facility.
As the league’s choice for neutral site contingency plans, they are always ready. But this week was a little different.
On Friday night, Ford Field hosted the annual fundraiser affectionally titled Hob Nobble Gobble. The black-tie event, which raises money for America’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, is not a small affair.
It is part gala, part carnival and part concert — Lil Jon performed this year. The field is completely tiled over, for instance, with an endless string of structures and carnival rides.
When the league asked Detroit around 1 or 2 p.m. on Thursday to host the game, the Lions believed they wouldn’t be able to open up the full stadium.
But thanks to the extra help — enough response from security people, concessions workers, etc. — they opened up the entire bowl. The Lions also served as a neutral site host in 2014. But that was for a Monday night game.
So, even with the event Friday, by 2:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, the field was ready.
The Lions sent out a message to their staff asking for volunteers: Literally anyone who can help, please help. A crew of 60 showed up at 6 a.m. to help with the floor removal, and over 150 people worked all day Saturday to get the stadium ready.
The event ended at 11 p.m. The load-out — taking all the equipment and structures out — lasted until 4 a.m. That rolled right into removing the floor, which started at 6 a.m.
All of that was cleared by noon. Then it was on to grooming the field and NFL-mandated testing before the goal posts were installed.
Before 3 p.m. on Saturday, it was all done.
This is not the quickest transition they’ve made, with the 2017 beatification of Father Solanus Casey drawing 70,000 the day after the Hob Nobble Gobble. At least, Detroit has been there.
Said Ellen Trudell, the Lions’ corporate communications manager: “Our crew is the best.”