For those with lives beyond sports, the first day of NFL training camp is an annual calendar benchmark. It tells us that another too-short summer is slowly being taken away, and that the Seahawks soon would inhale much of Puget Sound’s oxygen for the next five months.
For those of us involved in sports, Wednesday’s ritual was more like an echo. For the first minutes of the initial full-team outdoor practice, the Seahawks seemed to tiptoe upon the immaculate VMAC greensward like nervous rookie burglars. Are we really here? Should we be doing this? Where is everybody?
The berm was void of fans. No buzz, shouts or laughs. Coach Pete Carroll wore a mask, as did other coaches and some players. The bland descriptor of the new contemporary world, weird, was in heavy play. Carroll, however, chose something more neutral.
“It is different,’’ he said after practice. “I miss that already. This is the fun part of coming to camp is that we get to share it with our fans.”
But really, we knew the fan-less restrictions would look like this. We’re already getting used to baseball, basketball, hockey and soccer without spectators. Someday, if we’re lucky, fans will re-enter stadiums and arenas and we’ll complain about how ridiculously noisy it is.
What was truly different in football Wednesday was about eight miles away: The figurative crater at Husky Stadium.
Can’t see it. Sure can feel it.
The decisions Tuesday by the Pac-12 and Big Ten conferences to shut down college football in 2020 were sports-epic. Not really a surprise, given the data and the continuing failures of many Americans to do simple tasks, but a shock when it happened.
“Monumental decisions,” said Carroll, who used to own the Pac-12 when he was at USC. “All of us are so accustomed to the institution of college football.
“It set you back. It’s startling to think of it, but these are not normal times in any sense.”
The depth and breadth of the consequences were discussed in a New York Times story Wednesday that suggested the absence of the games will work against President Trump in the Nov. 3 election because some of the seven states in the league are seen as pivotal:
In crucial battleground states like Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania, where college football serves as an autumn religion not just on campus but in the rural areas where Mr. Trump’s support runs deepest, losing football may be a political stain that the president is unable to blame on his enemies in the Democratic Party or on the media.
That may seem overdone, but only because you haven’t been to the stadiums in Ann Arbor, Columbus, Madison and Lincoln. From personal experience, I can tell you the community intensity makes Seahawks Sundays seem like backyard mimosas with the new neighbors.
The Huskies have passionate fans whose families go back six generations at Montlake, but the cult-like aspects aren’t nearly as deep as in the South and Midwest. Many purples will miss those six or seven Saturday parties, but since they wouldn’t be allowed in anyway this fall, they will learn to enjoy the savings from not having to buy face-paint remover.
Missing out on the rituals will be vivid for many, another confirmation of federal incompetence. However, the political negative seems like something many schools in Texas and the South, where Trump seems to be running to be the second president of the Confederacy, want to avoid. It’s part of why schools in the other three Power 5 conferences — the SEC, Big 12 and ACC — are, for now, planning to start in September.
If Carroll had to pick a side, he might align with his homies in the Pac-12. But that would throw shade on the judgment of the NFL, which has been the sport least impacted by the virus. While it has wiped out the exhibition games and twisted up training-camp schedules, the first regular season game is still booked for Sept. 10, less than a month away.
And here we were at training camp, where second-year WR John Ursua, previously the only Seattle player during intake to have been a coronavirus victim, was back. False positive, it was said.
More good news: The NFL said Wednesday that of 109,075 tests given so far, 0.48% have been positives. Among 2,840 players, only 53 were positive. No severe illnesses were reported.
So Carroll chose to dance diplomatically.
The Big Ten and Pac-12 “made a choice to take care of people first, so those that have chosen that way, I support them 1,000 percent,” he said. “Those are difficult decisions. And the other conferences that are going for it — they’re really digging in.
“They’re learning from everybody to do it right. We’ll see how well they do. I hope that they can do it and keep people safe.”
One of the “theys” in the Pac-12 is Dr. Jonathan Drezner, a sports medicine specialist who directs UW Medicine’s Center for Sports Cardiology, and is also a team doctor with the Seahawks. He is among the experts offering warnings nationally about a handful of instances in college athletes with COVID-19 of myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle that can lead to serious consequences like heart attacks.
“I haven’t heard a lot about it until the last few days, and I talked to Jon and got schooled up on it a little bit, so I know what’s going on,” Carroll said. “They don’t have enough information to be conclusive yet, but if you listen to John in the last two weeks, they learned something.”
The new information was apparently influential in making unanimous the Pac-12’s vote to postpone any football until after Jan. 1.
The work of Drezner and colleagues locally and nationally over the next month may be critical in deciding whether the NFL digs in like the other conferences, or follows the lead of the Pac-12/Big Ten, thus making Seattle a two-crater town.