Washington Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan and his staff have spent the past week planning in earnest for Sunday’s game against the Buffalo Bills. Paul Kelly, the team’s director of football operations, has been working on it for the past six months.
Sunday’s contest will take place in Toronto at the Rogers Centre. It’s not a typical home game for the Bills and hardly a normal road trip for the Redskins.
“It takes a lot of time for every game, but especially when you’re dealing with a game outside the country,” Shanahan said of the team’s travel logistics. “There’s so many different things that you have to go through, even just talking about passports, different rules at the airport, and when you leave.”
Kelly is in charge of making the team’s travel plans each week, and he began thinking about Toronto almost immediately after the game was announced in April. The team’s equipment was scheduled to leave on trucks Friday afternoon, in the hope that it would clear customs ahead of the Redskins’ Saturday afternoon flight. The bigger challenge for Kelly has been making sure that everyone on the trip has a passport. Most of the rookies, young players and several staff members did not.
“When I was a kid, we went on family vacations every spring break or summer, but never out of the country,” said rookie linebacker Ryan Kerrigan, a native of Muncie, Ind. ”It was always to Florida or some place warm.”
When the Toronto game was announced, the NFL was in the midst of a lockout and team officials couldn’t contact players to encourage them to secure passports. They mentioned it to their draft picks, but the information was generally lost in the excitement of draft day.
“I just kind of blew it off. ‘What do I need a passport for?’ ” said wide receiver Niles Paul, a native of Omaha, Neb.
As training camp wound down, the team realized several players still didn’t have passports, so they arranged a paperwork meeting in early September and helped all the players in need to apply. While that worked for the majority of players, the team has since made roster moves, adding new players to the 53-man roster as recently as Wednesday.
Newly signed tight end Dominique Byrd received the call from the Redskins early Tuesday morning. They wanted him on a plane to Washington as soon as possible, but he first had to delve through storage to unearth his birth certificate.
“It was a mad scramble,” he said.
The team took his birth certificate and put a rush on his passport. Byrd had it in hand Friday. Still, Kelly was working until the last minute on the trip. Written on the whiteboard outside the locker room Friday afternoon was: “I am collecting all player passports. I need the following passports today!” — followed by the names of four players.
While the game might’ve provided a logistical hassle for the Redskins, the Bills have been through the process the past few years. This will be their fourth straight season playing a game in Toronto. They’ve lost the previous three. Buffalo Coach Chan Gailey doesn’t blame their Canadian struggles on having to bus across the border for a home game. It’s simpler than that.
“We haven’t been a very good football team,” he said.
Bills players seem to take issue with the idea that they might have a home-field advantage this weekend.
“It’s not a home game,” Bills safety George Wilson told reporters this week. “We’re playing an international game that counts as a home game because it’s relatively closer to Buffalo. . . . The expectation is there’s going to be just as many cheers for the Redskins as there will for us.”
Stadium capacity for football at Rogers Centre is listed as 45,746, about 23,000 fewer fans than the Bills’ Ralph Wilson Stadium holds. Plus, all the fans in Toronto won’t necessarily support the Bills.
“Every time that we’ve been up there, we have had a disadvantage in crowd noise,” Bills running back Fred Jackson told reporters.
Said quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick: “The crowd’s definitely a little bit different. We don’t have the crazy, intense atmosphere we have here.”
For the Redskins, Sunday marks the first regular season game played out of the country. Washington had previously played preseason games in London (1992) and Osaka, Japan (2002).
“I always wondered what it was like,” Redskins rookie Roy Helu said of Canada. “I’m probably not going to get to see much. But I'll be able to say I was there.”
Helu was among the large group who received passports just a couple weeks ago.
“These people on this team, they don’t get too far, they don’t travel much,” said safety Oshiomogho Atogwe, a native of Windsor, Ontario. “If it requires a passport, don't count on it.. . . They’re clueless. They probably haven’t left their cities until coming here.”
Redskins note: Four defensive players — three of them starters — are questionable for the Bills game Sunday. Atogwe (knee), cornerback DeAngelo Hall (hip), linebacker London Fletcher (hamstring) and backup cornerback Phillip Buchanon (neck, knee) all were limited in Friday’s practice. Shanahan said, however, that Fletcher likely will play on Sunday.