Yes, right now Charlotte is a snowy, icy, sleety mess.
But we can say this with 100 percent confidence: The NFC Championship Game between the Panthers and the Cardinals will be played Sunday at Bank of America Stadium.
Simply put, it takes a weather event of epic proportions to even get the NFL to budge, and even in epic situations, the league only budges a bit: The last time snow affected an NFL game was November 2014, when six feet of snow caused a game between Buffalo and the New York Jets to be moved to Detroit’s Ford Field.
Six feet of snow. And they still played the game, just somewhere else.
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That makes the big question not “Will the game be played?” – in fact, Sunday’s forecast is for brilliant sunshine all day and mostly clear skies all night – but rather “How many of the fans who were planning to be here for it will make it to Bank of America Stadium?”
Delta, United, Southwest, Lufthansa, Air Canada, ViaAir and JetBlue canceled all flights to and from Charlotte on Friday due to the winter storm.
So did American, the busiest airline at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport; American anticipates its flights will be fuller over the weekend (naturally) as it works to re-shuffle the board, said company spokeswoman Katie Cody.
Meanwhile, all of this uncertainty has forced people who had intended to get here a couple of days before the game to get creative – or to scrap their plans completely.
Scott Helms, a Panthers fan and PSL owner since 2003, moved to the Los Angeles area last year but had planned to get into town Friday for Sunday’s game.
When his flight was canceled, he “thought briefly about making the 36-hour drive – I have two cars and would’ve left one at my house in Charlotte – but was advised that I would lose the tail end of my trip.”
He’s since re-booked, scoring a seat on a flight that was scheduled to depart early Saturday morning.
Dianne Gallagher of Washington, D.C., was supposed to be on a Delta flight to Charlotte Friday evening, but had to re-book three times; the flight was ultimately canceled. She then bought an train ticket; Amtrak service disruptions bumped that trip, too.
The former Charlotte resident finally wound up renting a car and driving the seven hours to Charlotte herself in the dark, arriving at about 2:20 a.m. Friday, as sleet was starting to coat the region.
“The last thing you want to do,” Gallagher said, “is potentially miss seeing history.”
It’s also easy to forget that hundreds of working national media members are trying to get here, too – and that they’re struggling just like everybody else.
Jerry Brewer, a sports columnist for the Washington Post, tweeted Thursday that his Friday flight to Charlotte for the game had been canceled.
Meanwhile, Michael Strahan, part of Fox Sports’ coverage team, posted a selfie on Twitter of him standing by the window of his room at the Westin hotel Friday afternoon: “The weather was kind enough to let me make it in safely!” he wrote.
Strahan was one of the lucky ones.
The Westin – Charlotte’s largest hotel – was expected to sell out all 700 of its rooms this weekend, but it suddenly found itself with vacancies because of the cancellations resulting from travelers who couldn’t make it because of the storm.
“I think this one will hit us in the negative column pretty significantly when it’s all said and done,” said David Montgomery, the hotel’s director of sales and marketing.
But while it’s frustrating for airlines, hotels and fans who are getting in later than they’d have liked, it’s probably most frustrating for those who are completely stranded.
Clayton Sealey of New York said his Sunday-morning American flight was canceled because the Empire State is expected to get up to two feet of snow. He wasn’t able to get a new flight to Charlotte.
“Everything is booked,” Sealey said. “It’s ridiculous.”
Las Vegas morning radio host Brittney Cason, a former Panthers TopCat, had planned on returning to her old stomping grounds this weekend to meet friends for the game. But Delta canceled her Friday flight and couldn’t get her rebooked on anything until Sunday.
“They offered to re-route me to Asheville, but I didn’t want to risk driving,” Cason said.
The only surprise winners in all this might be the lucky folks who are able to score tickets from the not-so-lucky.
Said Andrew Swistak of Charlotte, upon hearing about some of these entirely canceled plans: “Send them to me. I’ll gladly take their tickets. I have two little Panther fans – 2- and 6-year-old boys – who would love to go to the game!”
Staff writer Rick Rothacker contributed.