The NBA was the first to say no to continuing its season in mid-March but the NHL and MLB would soon follow suit. It was a harbinger of things to come as COVID-19 paralyzed everything from recreational activities to professional sports and thus the global economy.
But the NFL had seen the culmination of its 2019 season in early February of 2020, narrowly avoiding the scheduling disaster that would manifest a month later. The Kansas City Chiefs had brought the Lombardi Trophy back to Arrowhead Stadium after a 50-year sabbatical upon defeating the San Francisco 49ers. Stadiums were full, and the only face masks seen were being worn by the players. It was, in a word…normal.
However, the league would ultimately have to grapple with its first Covid-related casualty which came in the form of the highly anticipated NFL Draft in April. There were plans for players to be ferried to a floating red-carpet stage on the Fountains of Bellagio in Sin City. The glitz, glamour, and outrageous flamboyance of Las Vegas combined with the NFL’s rabid fan base was a bonanza certain to attract even the most casual football fan.
All of those plans were for naught as the pandemic hit a fever pitch and survival usurped all else…including the NFL Draft. But commissioner Roger Goodell and the NFL brass shifted to a virtual reality and quickly made plans for a remote draft night event. Sports talk shows were rife with snickering hosts setting totals on the technical glitches that would prove to be profoundly embarrassing for Goodell and his cronies.
But wouldn’t you know it, draft night went off without a hitch and the NFL’s Teflon suit was untarnished. Everything went according to plan, including the selection of LSU quarterback, Joe Burrow, as the first overall pick. Not a bump, hiccup, or glitch in sight and the NFL had five months until their new season began.
Yet, the NFL has not gone unscathed. The exhibition season was scrapped, some games were postponed, and most of their games were held in empty stadiums. The television ratings were a mixed bag throughout the season with prerecorded fan noise trying to fill the void of 50,000 or more fans in the stands.
However, the league had to not only contend with the strife of a potentially lethal virus lurking around every corner but political and racial unrest as well. All in all, the season has to be considered an unmitigated success based on the obstacles that were thrust in its way. Vegas and the offshores were posting odds throughout the 2020 season and even now the current NFL odds for next year’s Super Bowl are already being offered. The National Football League and betting on the outcomes of its games are inextricably woven into the fabric of the American sports landscape.
Early during Super Bowl week, Roger Goodell spoke at a media event and stated, “This was an extraordinary collective effort. There’s so many people that had to work together to get this done. … We believed that staying on schedule and working to try to get 256 games done as we try to say, ‘avoid the asterisk.
“We had to adapt at every stage, just like the media, just like everybody else. We had to find innovate solutions to challenges.”
As for what next season holds, Goodell commented thusly, “I think we’ve proven, working together between the NFL and the NFLPA we’ve been able to put our differences away and aside. Find those areas of common interest, look past our differences for solutions,” Goodell said. “I think we have learned a great deal. … I expect the offseason, we’ve already started on that. The combine is going to go through significant changes. I expect a lot of the things we did last offseason with respect to training camp, the offseason. … There were a lot of positives in that.”
The 2021 season will be here before we know it and what lies ahead concerning the acceptable number of fans in the stadiums, whether the exhibition season will revert to its normal four-game schedule or if that will be diminished or even eliminated altogether, is a topic for another day.
“I don’t know when normal is going to occur again,” Goodell said. “I don’t know if normal ever will occur again. I don’t know if anybody here can do that. I know this: We have learned to operate in a very difficult environment. We have found solutions. And we’ll do it again.”