The 2020 NFL season has been hanging on the head of a pin ever since day one. The NFL’s dream of putting on the first, unabridged, regular season of any sport since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic was always an ambitious one. But, after cancelling the preseason games and shortening team camps, the NFL began its trek into a full 16-game season. Now, as the season nears its halfway point, let’s take a look at how things have fared thus far and how secure the latter half of the season will be.
As a fan, I wasn’t even thinking about the pandemic. Somehow in my mind, for the first three weeks of the season, NFL football and COVID-19 could not exist in the same headline. Game after game went off without a hitch, and fans everywhere really thought that the NFL could pull off a perfect season.Then, week four hit. Well, to be more precise, the Tennessee Titans got hit by week four, and they got hit hard.
The NFL’s dream of a “mobile bubble” of safety protocols ended on Sept. 24, when defensive back Greg Mabin tested positive for COVID-19. He was followed two days later by linebackers coach Shane Bowen. So far, however, the NFL still had things under control. The two men were sent home and contact traced, and the rest of the team was tested. All of this was done within hours, as the Titans had to make their way to Minnesota on Sept. 27 for a game against the Vikings. That game was played on time, and the NFL really thought for a second that they had dodged a bullet with their airtight safety measures. This is the point in the movie where the screen freezes and the narrator tells the audience how wrong the protagonist was.
On Tuesday, Sept. 29, eight Titans players test positive; Wednesday, another; Thursday, two more. In under a week, the Tennessee facility of Baptist Sports Park in Nashville had gone from a place where the team practices three days a week to a full-time testing facility. On top of that, the Vikings had now ramped up their testing in response but avoided any serious outbreak. It was too late, however, due to a still-rising case count and far too much mystery that the NFL was forced to postpone its first game of the 2020 season on Thursday, Oct. 1. The Titans-Steelers matchup was moved to week seven, and fans everywhere panicked, wondering if the world of football would ultimately be stricken down by a pandemic that had taken so much from so many people.
That was a month ago. Fast forward to today, and five more games have been postponed, and almost a dozen teams have had positive cases. The sense of confusion now is no longer if the NFL will face an outbreak, but instead, how much of an outbreak can the league handle before it has to do more than just postpone games? Well, let’s look at when things were at their worst and see if we can gauge the effectiveness of these safety measures. There was a week-long period in the middle of October, during which the Titans, Patriots, Chiefs, Jets and Falcons all had positive tests. This means that the NFL had to perform comprehensive tracing of hundreds of players and ramp up testing in each facility and somehow, in a stark juxtaposition to the rest of 2020, this worked. All of those teams are now COVID-free and playing football this week — although one could argue that the Jets haven’t really been playing football all year.
Matthew Shimkonis is a second-year student majoring in history and minoring in journalism. MS925373@wcupa.edu