No one fan-base in ALL of college and professional sports, has as much of a distinctively unique and loyally-devoted connection to their team and the community that it represents, than the ‘Who Dat Nation’.
So imagine the thought of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome — the four-and-a-half decades old indoor stadium that famously over the years has become synonymous with the New Orleans Saints NFL football team and the deafening roar of over 70,000 people who passionately cheer on their Black and Gold heroes every Sunday — sitting completely empty with no crowd inside, due to the after-effects of the COVID-19 / coronavirus pandemic.
While the possibility of an empty Superdome might seem a little bit extreme considering that the start of the 2020 Season is still a whole 5 more months away, the reality is that when the nation’s sports leagues do finally return to action and begin playing games once again, Saints Football could be drastically different this year; especially if the NFL decides to keep fans away for safety precautions.
While the hope currently is that the United States and the rest of the world at some point in the upcoming months ahead can eventually return to some sense of “normalcy”, the possibility of college and professional sports returning on a full-time basis lately has become one of the main points of focus of getting the American public reacclimated to functioning as a society once again.
President Donald Trump last Saturday held a conference call with many of the major sports league commissioners to discuss the nationwide response to the coronavirus pandemic, and at that time he expressed his desire for sports to return by late summer.
Trump said that he was hopeful that the NFL could begin its upcoming 2020 season on time and urged the League to continue with plans for the NFL draft in 2 weeks from now (April 23-25), which will be conducted “virtually” with coaches, general managers and other team personnel operating separately from their own homes.
Earlier last week, the NFL instructed teams to shut down their facilities in a concerted effort to adhere to the Center for Disease Control guidelines on social distancing. Nevertheless, League officials have since reiterated that the situation is subject to change and that it will adjust accordingly if need be; while following any advice and necessary instructional guidance from medical experts and local / state authorities.
One widely-popular idea to avoid the permanent cancellation of all sports being played for the rest of the calendar year of 2020, is for the leagues to play all of their games inside of empty arenas and stadiums — in an effort to ensure that fans sitting right next to each other in close physical proximity don’t risk actually spreading the virus again — at least through the end of their respective seasons.
“As long as we’re still in a place where when a single individual tests positive for the virus that you have to quarantine every single person who was in contact with them in any shape, form or fashion, then I don’t think you can begin to think about reopening a team sport,” Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer, told NFL.com in an interview last week.
“Because we’re going to have positive cases for a very long time.”
Make no mistake about this much: to a man (or woman), each and every single one of us are impatiently waiting and wondering just when or at what time we can expect to get the chance again to see our favorite team(s) playing meaningful games, because it means life will have returned to a sense of “normalcy” or back to “the way things used to be” before the pandemic.
But COVID-19 has been absolutely relentless in its devastation of human lives, and unfortunately things such as sports and the entire entertainment industry as a whole, have become secondary and far less important in the overall “big picture” and grand scheme of things.
Nothing potentially is more upsetting to some people that have been impacted directly by the virus, than watching highly-paid athletes — most of whom are multi-millionaires and have no appreciation for the struggles of citizens with far less financial resources in these uncertain times — playing games that in the long run, won’t have any influence whatsoever as to whether they or their loved ones will ultimately live or die. Games that will be played for multi-billionaire team owners at that.
To their credit. a wide variety of both players and owners have given substantial monetary donations from out of their very own pockets, to provide assistance and relief for the men and women whose lives and jobs have been halted because of their inability to work at the arenas and stadiums that provide day-to-day operations for their respective teams and franchises.
And in some instances, giving money to be used towards helping ordinary citizens whose lives have been turned completely upside down by the ravages of COVID-19, most notably such as Saints QB Drew Brees; who along with his wife Brittany, just recently (and very generously) gave $5 million to the state of Louisiana for the purpose of helping residents who are having trouble with being able to afford and pay for their own meals.
But Saints fans are a different breed of sports fan, altogether.
As mentioned at the very start of this article that you’re reading right now, no one fan-base in ALL of sports at any level — either college or professional — have a connection to their team deeply rooted as the ‘Who Dat Nation’ does with New Orleans.
Black or White, rich or poor, Liberal or Conservative, Republican or Democrat (or Independent), it really doesn’t matter what background one comes from, as a member of this special group of individuals from all across the country and from all walks of life; that have banded together in their unwavering support of one of the NFL’s smallest cities (but arguably one of its most popular teams in recent years).
Specifically to that point, ‘Who Dat’ fans that attend the team’s home games inside of the Superdome on Sundays during the regular season (or in the Playoffs) have developed a very notable reputation nation-wide for the overwhelming level of crowd noise that they can generate, which makes it difficult for opponents / visiting teams to effectively communicate among themselves during critical situations.
It’s a very distinct “home-field advantage”, and one that not many other teams in any sport, have to such a degree.
With that thought in mind, now try to imagine the Saints playing games later on this year against the likes of the Green Bay Packers, San Francisco 49ers, and the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs — all of them among the teams that New Orleans is scheduled to face at home in the 2020 Season — being held in an empty Superdome.
For most Saints fans, it’s a mental image that is damn-near unthinkable.
Now clearly, the overall health and well-being of the nation’s populace of over 350 million people from coast-to-coast, are indisputably the #1 priority going forward, in the on-going battle against COVID-19 / coronavirus.
As of this very moment this morning while you read this, over 400,000 cases and 13,000 deaths, have occurred in the United States because of the dreaded disease. Out of those sobering numbers, the state of Louisiana has reported cases in 63 of 64 parishes; and around the state there have been more than 580 deaths from the coronavirus and more than 16,200 patients.
No sport — whether it be NFL football, NBA basketball, Major League Baseball, NHL hockey, soccer, or whatever one worth mentioning — is more important or takes precedence, over the loss of ANY one single life.
Most Saints fans probably would agree unanimously that the NFL should cancel the ENTIRE 2020 Season, before allowing that to ever happen.
However, assuming that the current restrictions limiting social interaction are eased or even lifted altogether before September, the possibility that the NFL could still have its 32 teams all playing their scheduled contests inside of empty stadiums over the course of a 16-game schedule and the Playoffs afterwards, is a very real one.
If that scenario does indeed come to fruition, it will mean that Saints Football won’t quite be the same in 2020 as it has in the past few seasons — and as the courageous battle being fought against COVID-19 / coronavirus continues to be waged by all of us — things likely won’t be returning to “normal” for fans of the ‘Who Dat Nation’ anytime soon….
Barry Hirstius is a semi-retired journalist, who has worked previously as a sports editor and columnist. Barry is a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the Saints while attending their games as a young boy during the early 1970’s, uptown at the old Tulane Stadium. He is also the proud Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity. Follow him on Twitter: @BarryHirstius