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The NFL Draft is always about hope. The team that had the worst record last season gets to pick the best player coming out of college, lifting the hopes of their fans for better seasons in the years to come.
This year’s draft, which took place last week, was about a hope much bigger than simply landing a speedy receiver or strong-armed quarterback. The draft provided hope for sports fans that we won’t have to watch reruns forever.
In a speech to open the second night of the draft, Payton Manning said our diligence in staying apart offers hope for the future.
“This may look like separation, but it’s actually solidarity,” he said. “It’s sacrifice and service to the greater good. It’s a sign that, through isolation, we are fighting as one. And there’s no better reason than that for hope.”
Hope is something all sports fans embrace, Manning said.
“But this year, we’re hoping for more than a future star, a stronger line or greater speed. We’re hoping to fill a deeper need, with a future of full arenas, full voices, free rein to gather together. To feel the power of football together. Because that will mean life is back to normal for us all.”
Cue the choir.
I’ve been a Peyton Manning fan ever since he brought a third Super Bowl championship to my beloved Broncos. But we’re not getting back to normal this fall.
The draft shattered past TV ratings, with 15.6 million sports-starved viewers the first night and 8.2 million the second. It was done by video conferencing, just like everything else these days. But that didn’t really matter. The lack of drunken Jets fans booing the commissioner didn’t diminish the entertainment value of the draft.
They will be missed, however, at Jets games.
The league has not yet released its plan for the coming season, but options reportedly include playing in empty or partially filled stadiums; moving or rescheduling games; and playing a shorter season.
The only live sports that have continued during the pandemic have been horse races. Big events like the Kentucky Derby have been cancelled. And some tracks, including Sunland Park, have shut down. But Gulfstream in Florida and Oaklawn in Arkansas are still open.
In horse racing, allegiances change from race to race and are based entirely on financial, not emotional, concerns. And so, a roaring crowd isn’t needed.
It remains to be seen how well they will be able to protect jockeys, grooms and others involved in staging the races.
Pro wrestling isn’t a sport, but it also has live events, thanks to some Florida political shenanigans. Unlike horse racing, wrestling is just not the same without a crowd.
NFL owners are reportedly hoping that baseball goes first.
Major League Baseball is considering a plan to bring all of its teams to Arizona and play all of its games at spring training fields around Phoenix. That would eliminate the challenge of airplane travel and might allow them to maintain a more controlled environment.
All plans are preliminary and subject to change at the whim of the virus. But it is clear that as we begin the slow process of restarting our economy, allowing 80,000 people to pack into a football stadium will be at the tail end of that process.
When it comes to my Broncos, I’m not just hopeful, I’m cocky. We picked up two speedy receivers this year to go with the strong-armed quarterback we picked last year. But I and other fans won’t be able to cheer them on from the south stands for quite some time.
Walt Rubel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.