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NFL Followed Lightning Protocol with Dolphins-Titans

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Palm Beach Post (Florida)

 

The Dolphins, Tennessee Titans and football fans endured four hours of lightning delays even though there was only one strike within a mile of Hard Rock Stadium during Sunday's marathon.

Which doesn't mean the league should be flagged for delay of game.

Meteorologists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Monday that a sizzling 92 strikes were recorded within 5 miles of the stadium between the 1:02 p.m. kickoff and 8:10 p.m., when the clock hit 0:00 and the Dolphins had recorded a 27-20 season-opening victory.

So with lightning striking around — but not at the stadium — the longest game in the modern era of the NFL was delayed twice because of weather. There was a second-quarter postponement of 1 hour, 57 minutes and a third-quarter delay of 2:02. Fans were instructed to seek shelter in the concourses even though there were periods of sunshine beating down on the field.

It was the correct call, according to James Thomas, a meteorologist at NOAA, who said despite advancements in forecasting, tools to predict lightning strikes "are not as reliable as we'd like."

Thomas added, "It's important for those in the public to understand that when you hear thunder, you are close enough to be struck by lightning. It's important to get out of the open and get away from metal structures. Rain does not necessarily have to be on top of you to experience lightning."

The NFL did not rely on the NOAA office in Miami on Sunday. Instead, the league contracts a third-party meteorological service that specifically monitors conditions at every game.

Saying that safety at the stadium "is the top priority," the league's game operations manual lays out steps taken for inclement weather and "specifically lightning."

The league's Game Day Operations Center (GDOC) in New York communicates with the game referee and on-site football operations representative if trouble is on the horizon. With 1:11 left in the second quarter Sunday, referee Jerome Boger turned on his field microphone and informed everyone this was the case. He suspended play.

Boger and the GDOC remained in contact, receiving delay estimates from forecasters.

Meanwhile, the Dolphins were responsible for addressing the safety of fans and employees.

As Boger was sorting out when it would be appropriate to resume play, he checked with Dolphins coach Adam Gase and Titans coach Mike Vrabel to discuss the length of warmups. Ten minutes are usually allotted, but if delays go beyond a half-hour, 15 minutes are permissible. Sunday's warmups were about 10 minutes.

Only NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is authorized to cancel, postpone, terminate or alter the normal timing of a game. He presumably made the decision to play the final 1:11 of the second quarter, then keep the teams on the field at "halftime" and start the third quarter after a 3 1/2-minute commercial break for Fox.

The Dolphins spent the delays in their locker room. Some players watched other games on TVs tuned to the Red Zone. Some studied playbooks, ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or changed uniforms. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill napped for about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, former Dolphins expressed curiosity.

"Delay of game for weather??" Hall of Fame fullback Larry Csonka tweeted. "Shula didn't even cancel PRACTICE for lightning!"

Ex-cornerback Sam Madison said coach Jimmy Johnson wouldn't have put up with all this, although it was unclear if Madison was joking that J.J. wouldn't allow delays for lightning or wouldn't permit lightning to interrupt his games, period.

Hard Rock Stadium is in its second season with a canopy to shield fans from the elements. Spires extend 357 feet in the air from all four corners of the stadium, but they are not giant lightning rods. They are not safety features.

"It doesn't always strike the highest spot and doesn't always strike metal," the NOAA's Thomas said of lightning.

Nor should anyone ever see sunshine and assume it's safe to be outside. Lightning occurs when ice particles and electrical charge build up.

"If thunderstorms are around, even five or 10 miles away, you can have a lightning strike that leaves the cloud," Thomas said. "It leaves the rain shaft and hits an area that's unsuspecting. That's why we have rules in place."

hhabib@pbpost.com Twitter: @gunnerhal

Baseball

Braves vs. Mets — July 4, 1985

The locals around Atlanta's Fulton County Stadium were calling 911 to say their city was under attack. The War of the Worlds, this wasn't. The Braves had promised fans a postgame fireworks display. They just didn't know that the game would go 19 innings and wouldn't end until 3:55 a.m. Included were two hours of rain delays — something the Dolphins and Titans sneer at today. The Mets won 16-13.

Pawtucket Red Sox vs. Rochester Red Wings — 1981

The host Paw Sox needed 33 innings to win baseball's longest game 3-2. It began on April 18, 1981, but was mercifully stopped at 4:09 a.m. by the league. "When we walked off the field at 4 o'clock in the morning, it was like, 'You mean we're not done with the game yet?' " Pawtucket catcher Rich Gedman told MLB.com. They decided to resume the action on June 23, by which time a big crowd of 5,800 turned out to see history. What they saw was just 18 minutes of play. Trivia: In the 33rd inning, the Red Sox's Bob Ojeda allowed a single to Cal Ripken Jr. before getting out of the jam.

Table tennis

Alex Ehrlich vs. Paneth Farcas — 1936

Legend has it these guys went at it for 59 hours, which happens when two defensive players meet. One account says their opening rally lasted two hours. There apparently was no winner because the match referee's neck locked up after looking left, looking right, looking left ... too darn many times.

Wrestling

Alfred Asikainen vs. Martin Klein — 1912 Olympic semifinals

Klein, representing Russia, defeated Asikainen, of Finland, but it took 11 hours, 40 minutes. The actual victor is open to debate. Klein was so tired he forfeited the final the next day. When Asikainen returned home, he was hailed as a hero.

Tennis

John Isner vs. Nicolas Mahut — 2010

It took Isner more than 11 hours over three days to finally put away Mahut 70-68 in the final set at Wimbledon. The last set alone took 8:11. The match set records for aces (216), points (980) and consecutive services games held (168). Isner's racket ended up in the Smithsonian and Isner himself landed on David Letterman's show. On the top 10 list of things that went through his head during the match: "No. 9: We've been playing so long I've forgotten — am I Isner or Mahut?" Isner later told The Palm Beach Post, "I was just glad to be a part of it. I know my name will obviously be in the record books forever."

Football

Dolphins vs. Chiefs — 1971

What is it about the Dolphins and marathons, anyway? Their first-ever playoff victory came on Christmas Day 1971, beating the host Kansas City Chiefs 27-24 after 82:40 in what remains the NFL's longest game (in terms of actual playing time). One Chiefs player was so tired he showered in full uniform. Amid bedlam at the Miami airport when the Dolphins landed, coach Don Shula discovered his car wouldn't start, so he and son David hitchhiked home. "Some fans recognized me so I got a ride right away," Shula told The Miami News. "I invited the people who brought me home in for a drink."

Hockey

Detroit Red Wings vs. Montreal Maroons — 1936

Sixty scoreless minutes of regulation sent this playoff game into overtime ... but five more 20-minute periods later, it still was 0-0. Leave it to the Wings' Modere "Mud" Bruneteau, two weeks into his pro career, to score 16 minutes into OT No. 6. It was 2:25 a.m. Perhaps it was a just result since the Maroons were sipping coffee and brandy between periods.

Marathon

Shiso Kanakuri — 1912-1967

You're probably wondering what's up with the typo in the year Kanakuri ran his marathon. It's no typo. The Japanese runner began the marathon in the 1912 Stockholm Olympics but got tired and went missing. In 1967, Swedish Olympic officials issued an invitation to Kanakuri, then 75, to participate in celebrations marking the 55th anniversary of the Olympics. This explains why Kanakuri needed 54 years, 8 months, 6 days, 5 hours, 32 minutes and 20.3 seconds to finish the race. He was a tad shy of a podium finish.

Boxing

Harry Sharpe vs. Frank Crosby — Feb. 2, 1892

Any bettors who had Sharpe winning in the 77th round were in luck. The bout lasted more than five hours, highlighted by the ref passing out in Round 65. No matter. These guys kept pounding each other with no officiating. Time magazine reported that Sharpe's rewards were: "1) the Missouri lightweight championship, 2) a side bet of $500, 3) 11 months in jail for violating an anti-prizefight law."

- Hal Habib

The Dolphins, Titans and fans at Hard Rock Stadium are shaking off cobwebs after that seven-hour marathon marred by two lightning delays Sunday. It was the longest game in league history since at least the AFL-NFL merger and takes its rightful place among other epic marathons in sports history.

 

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September 11, 2018
 
 
 

 

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