NFL Successfully Starts Season On Time; Now Can It Finish?
The "most challenging off-season in NFL history" concluded Thursday night with the Chiefs beating the Texans before a reduced crowd at Arrowhead Stadium, allowing the league to follow through on its pledge that the season "would start as scheduled," according to Ben Shpigel of the N.Y. TIMES. However, whether the season ends as scheduled "remains a mystery," and "so much else about how football is played this season will look, feel and sound strange and disorienting." A number of referees and team personnel during Thursday's game "wore masks on the sideline," including Chiefs coach Andy Reid, who "wore a plastic face shield." The main challenge now for the NFL "will be maintaining a safe environment and the same vigilance over reducing exposure risk once games begin, as teams travel and increase potential for contact" (N.Y. TIMES, 9/11). NBC's Al Michaels began the Texans-Chiefs broadcast by saying, “Folks, it wasn't easy. But let the games begin.” He noted it has been a “tumultuous, unprecedented offseason" with no preseason games and a training camp "like no other.” Before going to a commercial break, Michaels said, "Words I didn’t think I’d utter a few weeks ago: the 2020 NFL season is about to begin” ("Texans-Chiefs," NBC, 9/10).
QUESTIONS REMAIN, BUT THIS FEELS GOOD: YAHOO SPORTS' Terez Paylor notes it felt for months "like the regular season would never come, as offseason practices and preseason games got canceled and everyone pondered how the NFL ... could possibly pull off the testing and contact tracing necessary for games to be responsibly played without a concentrated bubble." But the league "somehow pulled it off" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 9/11). NBC’s Sam Brock noted the "mere fact the NFL is playing games (is) bordering on the unbelievable." Brock: "With thousands of players and personnel to account for and keep safe, just moving the ball safely down the field remains the top priority" ("Today," NBC, 9/11). In Houston, Brian Smith wonders if the NFL will be "able to pull off what college football currently cannot -- a full, complete season featuring all of its teams." However, he wrote of Thursday's Texans-Chiefs game, "It looked like the NFL. It smelled like the NFL. And it finally felt like the NFL on Thursday night, six months into the sports world’s ongoing off-and-on relationship with the coronavirus pandemic." The game "often felt electric and mostly looked like the real thing" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 9/11). In Chicago, Dan Wiederer notes there were "serious and justifiable questions as to how football possibly could co-exist with a deadly pandemic ongoing." But he writes, "This feels exciting. And welcome. And perhaps a bit surprising" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 9/11).
NOW THE REAL EXPERIMENT BEGINS: In DC, Maske & Bieler note the start of the season means the risks now "increase with teams traveling to play games and interacting with each other on the field." There was no preseason to "test the game-day protocols" and "fingers are crossed" throughout the league. Texans and Chiefs players "underwent their last set of pregame coronavirus tests Wednesday morning." The protocols "allowed for a follow-up point-of-care test Thursday, provided the result was available two hours before kickoff, for any inconclusive result Wednesday." The Texans "flew Wednesday from Houston to Kansas City, undergoing their day-before testing before traveling." They had "several floors of their Kansas City hotel to themselves and didn’t so much as share elevators with other hotel guests." They also "utilized additional team buses to maintain distancing onboard" (WASHINGTON POST, 9/11). CBS’ Janet Shamlian said Thursday's game was "more than just the season opener," as it was a "test of the NFL’s new COVID safety measures amid the pandemic" ("CBS This Morning," 9/11).
DAILY TESTING LIKELY TO STAY: PRO FOOTBALL TALKS's Mike Florio cited a source as saying that daily COVID-19 testing that took place throughout training camp "likely will become daily COVID-19 testing throughout the entire season." The NFL is "expected to continue to use both off-site PCR testing (given its higher degree of accuracy) and on-site point-of-care testing as a supplement." The league "privately credits" the NFLPA for "pushing so aggressively for daily testing." It has become clear that the "routine of daily testing helps keep younger players accountable when it comes to avoiding activities that could result in an infection" (NBCSPORTS.com, 9/10).