As a photojournalist, I’m used to covering the NFL from the sidelines and into the locker room. I have always felt it was a privilege. COVID-19 has made me appreciate it even more. On this particular Monday Night Football night in Tampa, when the Bucs played the Rams, I saw the NFL’s biggest weekly showcase in a whole different light.
I went to the game and watched from a fan’s perspective, something I have not done since I was a kid, and sat high up in the stands. Incidentally, that’s where the media has been covering the NFL as well. And yet, even with the NFL safety protocols, it was deemed OK to have over 100 players as well as 100 support staff members down on the field (some with masks, some without, and some just wearing them wrong), but the media had been pushed up into the stands for “safety” concerns.
What to expect if you attend a game
When attending an NFL Game “COVID-19 style,” you have to fill out an online affidavit and receive an email with the green circle and a check mark stating “you have been cleared“ in order to enter the stadium. This is on the trust system, and you are liable should you lie on the affidavit. But, then again, if you went to the stadium knowing that you have COVID-19, I think the damage would pretty much be done before they could figure out that you lied on your affidavit!
Once you’ve arrived at the stadium, you’ll notice that there are signs everywhere regulating that you must wear a mask, wash your hands often, and social distance. You are also subject to a temperature check and you are not allowed to bring in anything, not even a clear plastic bag with your personal items into the stadium to avoid any pat downs at the security checkpoints. Tickets also must be ordered on line and paperless.
Inside the stadium, there are “stand here” stickers everywhere from the men’s room to getting on escalators to standing in line for beverages and food. And in the men’s room every other urinal is sealed off to create social distancing while going to the bathroom. I will note that there was none of that at the sinks where you wash your hands, so it might’ve defeated the purpose when it comes to using the restroom.
Once you get to your seat, you are completely spread out from other fans and there are large blocks of seats that are zip tied off so nobody can just pick a seat and sit down next to you. I felt that it was a very safe environment, and there are constant reminders on the jumbo video screens to social distance, wash your hands, and wear a mask at all times.
Watching football can make COVID life feel more normal
All in all, it was a pretty enjoyable experience. When you watch Tom Brady breaking all-time NFL records, it reminds you that life can be somewhat normal in a COVID world. I don’t think I can ever get used to being able to hear the QB shouting out signals all the way up in the upper deck. The ominous sound of silence during the game made it feel more like a preseason football game than a Monday Night Football Spectacular between two top teams.
The cost for food and beverages was still way overpriced, and the cheapest seats in the nosebleed section were still about $150 each, but just being able to have the experience seemed to be good enough for diehard football fans who came out and cheered their team all the way down to the final minute of the game.
Personally, I’ll be a lot happier when I can cover the game from the sidelines as I have throughout my career! I’m sure the fans can’t wait to fill the stadium, and will appreciate being able to create a real home-field CROWD NOISE advantage once the dangers of the pandemic have subsided.
Until then, stay safe!