Tropical storms and hurricanes are always a threat to disrupt the early weeks of the American football season, and 2018 is unfortunately set to be no exception thanks to Tropical Storm Gordon, which is forecast to make landfall as a hurricane tonight. The storm was estimated to have sustained winds of 65mph overnight, and this is set to increase to above the 74mph threshold that would cause Gordon to be designated as a hurricane.
The entire Mississippi and Alabama coastline faces a hurricane warning, with tropical storm warnings extending to much of Louisiana – and a life-threatening storm surge is expected across much of the Gulf Coast when Gordon makes landfall, most likely in Mississippi but potentially in eastern Louisiana.
For the second consecutive year, this creates the possibility of a Week 1 NFL game being postponed by a hurricane. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers – whose season-opening trip to the Miami Dolphins last year was moved to the teams’ common Week 11 bye as Hurricane Irma took aim at Florida – have a trip to the New Orleans Saints, whose Mercedes-Benz Superdome so infamously became a giant (and damaged) storm shelter for Hurricane Katrina in 2005, on deck to open their 2018 campaign. The path of Gordon is likely to run close to New Orleans, and while the Big Easy is likely to be spared the worst of the winds, forecasts have suggested as much as eight inches of rain could fall. Furthermore, the governor of Louisiana has declared a state of emergency; whilst this is a common procedure ahead of a potential hurricane landfall and perhaps less drastic than it sounds, it allows for police and other emergency personnel to be redeployed to deal with the storm.
The two teams do not share a bye week – the Bucs have a week 5 bye, the Saints a week 6 one – and this would create significant logistical challenges in the event of a postponement, as multiple games would need to be moved. As such, expect the preference if necessary to be a move to a neutral site – perhaps Atlanta (Mercedes-Benz Stadium isn’t being used this weekend with the Falcons and Atlanta United of the MLS both on the road), potentially Houston (the Texans are also on the road to start their season, though the Mexico-Uruguay match on Friday night adds some degree of logistical difficulty). Playing the game week 1, regardless of location, would also remove the potential issue of the postponement affecting the three-game suspension of Buccaneers starting quarterback Jameis Winston, whose scheduled return is currently a week 4 trip to the Chicago Bears.
Saturday college games could be at risk depending on the damage caused as Gordon rumbles through a college football heartland. LSU’s nationally televised home game with Southeastern Louisiana could be one of them, with Baton Rouge at risk of at least an indirect hit and that state of emergency. (Coincidentally, the Tigers are fresh from a home win against the Miami Hurricanes – the Governor of Louisiana even made reference to this in a press conference announcing the state of emergency (!) – and Gordon has already brushed close to Miami on its way into the Gulf of Mexico.) New Orleans-based Tulane could also be affected, with storm waves potentially wiping out the Green Wave home game against small-school Nicholls.
At the time of writing, there is no specific news of schedule disruption from Gordon – and a news conference with Saints head coach Sean Payton on Monday didn’t raise the subject at all – but one has to presume that there are plans being made behind the scenes.