BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said the Bills are “not essential workers” during a Wednesday press conference, saying they were not given permission to drive by the County when they returned to Buffalo on Sunday amid the blizzard.

“I don’t want anybody to think that Erie County gave preferential treatment to the Bills,” Poloncarz said. “I’m glad that they landed in Rochester, but there was not preferential treatment.”

The Bills had to stay an extra night in Chicago due to the blizzard and were unable to fly into Buffalo while the airport remained closed. When they did return to the area, videos of players digging out their cars and driving home went viral.

Poloncarz emphasized all of this took place during a driving ban and when the blizzard was still strong. He said the team reached out to the Erie County Sheriff’s Office to ask for an escort after they landed in Rochester, but were told no, saying officers “were responding to life-threatening situations.”

“As much as they’re essential for our mental health when they win, they are not essential workers,” Poloncarz said. “If they got capabilities, a CDL license and want to get behind a rig, we’ll take them on. If Josh [Allen] and them want to start shoveling driveways, be my guest. But the Bills are not considered essential workers.”

The Buffalo Bills released a statement Thursday morning in response to what happened:

“We want to thank all the first responders and everyone in the community who have done such an amazing job during this unprecedented storm. County Executive Mark Poloncarz and his team, Mayor Byron Brown and Governor Kathy Hochul have all been real heroes during these times. We’re thankful for having them in this community and having them serve as our leaders. We made the very difficult decision to come back during Christmas Day because we had 150-plus people in our traveling party who wanted to be with their families. It was a decision strictly for that. We tried to do it as safely as possible. We made sure that we were not diverting any resources needed in any part of our community. We did not ask for nor did we receive an escort from the Erie County Sheriff’s Office. We were in constant communication not only with them as well as other agencies throughout Western New York from the day we left for Chicago Thursday until the day we returned. Our organization’s focus is now on identifying the areas most in need and helping our community recover.”

Bills EVP/COO Ron Raccuia

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Adam Gorski is a Buffalo native who joined the News 4 team in 2022. You can find more of his work here.