Ravens waiting for word on Hurricane Ike

OWINGS MILLS -- As Hurricane Ike accelerated its path of destruction toward Texas' Gulf Coast, the viability of the Baltimore Ravens and the Houston Texans playing a football game Monday night at Reliant Stadium remained in serious doubt. One day after the NFL pushed kickoff back by a day due to the ultra-dangerous storm, the Ravens expressed concern about the people about to face Ike's wrath.

A few players wondered if the game will actually be held in Houston, or if it will be shifted to an alternate site in Texas or possibly the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

"I know there's so much money and television revenue already tied up in this game, but you look at the news and you see people evacuating and you've got to feel for those families," center Jason Brown said. "I'm sure they have pictures of Hurricane Katrina victims in the back of their heads. The brute force of the winds could be huge. I'm sure if it does hit them full-force we will see some chaos.

"Even though this is our job and we're working, you have to think about those people. Who's going to be at this game? There are other priorities to worry about besides football. This is a very important game, but, in the greater scheme of the world and Mother Nature, there are more important things at stake."

The Ravens are still tentatively scheduled to travel to Houston on Sunday afternoon via a private charter jet. There are several private airfields in Houston where the Ravens' plane could land if George Bush Intercontinental Airport or William P. Hobby Airport isn't open for flights.

Airport operations were closed for Friday and today.

Behind the scenes, there was speculation that the NFL could wait until as late as Sunday afternoon to gather information about the impact and aftermath of the storm before making a decision on whether to hold the game in Houston or elsewhere.

Team president Dick Cass and director of operations Bob Eller remained in close contact with league and Texans officials Friday.

Even though Reliant Stadium has a retractable roof and is regarded as hurricane-proof by architecture experts and city planners, there are several issues to be considered.

One of the top problems that may arise is anticipated power outages, which would render the stadium unusable. There's also the grim prospect of potential fatalities or injuries affecting staffing and security at the game as well as several insurance and liability issues.

The stadium would have to be checked out thoroughly to make sure it's safe before holding a football game.

Despite the gloomy outlook, the Ravens remained focused on their preparations Friday as they worked in their indoor facility with piped-in crowd noise to simulate what's typically a loud home-field advantage for the Texans.

"As far as preparation for the game, we're on schedule and we know we're going to play," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "We've been told we're going to play on Monday night, so that's what we're preparing for.

"We're planning to play in Houston. We know they're planning for an alternative site in case Houston is damaged badly and we'll be told what that site is."

When asked if Atlanta was the most likely alternate site, Harbaugh replied: "That may be true, but we're not sure."

It would be difficult on short notice to move the game to Baltimore, which is an even more unlikely scenario due to the backlash around the league in 2005 when the New York Giants got an extra home game when they hosted the New Orleans Saints after Hurricane Katrina devastated Louisiana.

Ravens kicker Matt Stover is a Dallas native with family in Houston. His sister-in-law and their children have already been evacuated.

Stover, who owns a condominium in Houston and has made arrangements to secure his patio furniture, expressed confidence that the game will be played Monday night.

"I think there's plenty of time once that hurricane clears," Stover said. "They're very prepared in Houston. They have the infrastructure and I think they'll be ready to handle whatever happens to them. Both teams want to play in Houston.

"We don't want to go to some neutral site or even cancel the game. In fact, as a player rep, I really don't want that because that would be our bye, and that's not good for us. We want to make sure, as a team, we play the game in Houston on Monday night and come back with a win

It would wreak havoc with the Ravens' schedule if this game had to be played during their Nov. 9 bye week. The Texans' bye is the final weekend of October. On Nov. 9, they're scheduled to play the Cincinnati Bengals.

"The last thing you want is to have to make up the game during your bye week," linebacker Bart Scott said. "At all costs, you want to play it even if you have to move it. It's stress on both teams."

This weekend's game is the Texans' only scheduled home game this month as they'll play the Tennessee Titans and the Jacksonville Jaguars on the road over the next two weeks.

There was one death Friday morning related to Hurricane Ike as a 10-year-old boy died when a falling branch hit him as his parents cut down a tree near their home.

"I'm sure the NFL will put the players' safety first," Scott said. "It's tough. I feel for the Texans. They've got families they have to evacuate. That's a serious thing going on down there. A lot of people were victims of Katrina, so it's like Groundhog Day.

"Your hearts go out to everyone, and hopefully the storm won't be as bad as it's predicted. I'm sure the league will have a lot of meetings and will probably consult outside the league for the proper protocol and make the best decision for the city and the game."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

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