Three young Western Kentucky guys who work for Henderson-based Pittsburg Tank Maintenance were in western New York State on Jan. 15 when one of them saw on Facebook that the Buffalo Bills needed people to come out and help shovel snow off their stadium’s seats and aisles in preparation for an NFL playoff game.
They answered the call, and a couple of them ended up getting their photos on the website of USA Today — and then got their photos flashed on New Heights, the video podcast of America’s favorite NFL-playing brothers, Jason and Travis Kelce.
The Pittsburg Tank workers — foreman Chris Collins of Morganfield, Logan Fenwick of Providence and Bryer Gibson of Madisonville — were on a swing inspecting big water tanks and towers for customers in the Northeast. That’s when a dreaded lake-effect snow off Lake Erie slammed into the Buffalo area just ahead of a scheduled wild-card playoff game on Sunday, Jan. 14, between the hometown Bills and the Pittsburgh Steelers. The forecast for snow was so dire that the NFL postponed the game until that Monday.
“We woke up that (Monday) morning, knew we had a quick gig, just an inspection, not take more than hour, hour and half,” Collins said. “You get in the area and start seeing things on Facebook — one of us saw they were offering $20 an hour to shovel snow in the stadium.”
The Kentucky boys decided to show up and join what is known there as “the Bills Mafia” to shovel snow between their scheduled jobs for Pittsburg.
“We were literally working in Buffalo,” Collins said. “The job site was 10 minutes from the stadium. We just got lucky.”
“It was just a joke,” Collins said. “Really, it was for the experience far more than the money. To get in the stadium” and have what he said could be “a cool experience.”
More like a frigid experience. When they arrived at Highmark Stadium in suburban Buffalo at about 10:30 a.m. that Monday, the air temperature was around 8 to 10 degrees.
And the snow? “Man, well over the seats,” Collins said. “Well over the seats. Well over 3 foot in those aisles.”
What might be a miserable chore for most people was a lark for Collins and his two scrappy co-workers. When USA Today photographer Kirby Lee came by to snap some photos, Collins just grinned and raised a fist while Gibson, wearing his safety-green Pittsburg Tank winter jacket smiled in the background. The caption beneath the photo on USAToday.com read, “Workers remain in high spirits Monday as they work to clear snow from the stands at Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park, New York.”
Later, the comical Kelce brothers ranted on their podcast about the game being pushed back a day. “I’m against postponements,” Jason Kelce said. “… The game must go on!”
“You’re right, dude. This is football,” Travis Kelce agreed.
“You got fans shoveling off of seats just so they can sit down,” Jason said enthusiastically as photos of Collins and, seconds later, Gibson flashed on the screen of the podcast. (You can see a short video clip at http://tinyurl.com/PTMsnow )
“Shoutout to the Bills Mafia, man,” Travis said, “proving yet again they’re one of the coolest (expletive deleted) fan bases!”
Well, sort of.
“I’m actually a Steelers fan,” Collins said. “I didn’t wear my Steelers gear because we knew” they were going to be at the home field of Pittsburgh’s opponent that day.
“They kicked everybody out about 2:30,” he said. “The game started at 4 p.m. The players were starting to come out. We were hoping we could catch a game but it didn’t work out that way.”
But, he said, “They fed us for free – a breakfast sandwich. They gave us some hot chocolate, which was awesome. It was a good time, man.”
It doesn’t surprise Pittsburg Tank & Tower Group’s director of inspections, Paul Blanford of Henderson, that his crew jumped in to shovel snow.
“Not at all,” Blanford said in a text message. “All of them are hard workers and some are huge sports fans. I’m honestly surprised they didn’t end up at the game that night. Maybe we need to work on their negotiation skills!”
Meanwhile, there’s been plenty of talk on TV about NFL teams playing in frigid and snowy weather. But that’s not new for Pittsburg Tank & Tower Group field workers.
“Oh man, that’s all we do,” Collins, a six-year veteran of the company, said in a phone interview from Blue Hill, Maine. “We climbed (water towers) just yesterday. We had three tanks to do. It was probably 8 to 10 degrees outside. I climbed over 100 feet, and the guys climbed one over 120 feet a couple of days ago. It was snowing. We just bundle up and do it.”
After taxes, Collins figures his paycheck from the Bills will be less than $50. He already has plans for his snow-shoveling souvenirs.
“I’m going to frame the picture with the check,” Collins said.