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Column: It’s nice to see fans back in the stands

Photo by Joey Wright.

It finally feels like fall again.

After the COVID-19 pandemic dawned in March, 2020 became a surreal year for everybody. For me, this became especially evident once summer turned to autumn and the sports world returned to play after months of uncertainty.

It was nice when these institutions returned, but it just didn’t feel the same. I enjoyed watching the NHL bubble and the shortened MLB season, but the tarped-off seats and piped-in crowd noise left the feeling of watching these games more hollow than fulfilling.

Now, a year later, sports are back in a big way. The pandemic isn’t over, but the phenomena of empty stadiums certainly are.

All 32 NFL teams have opened their stadiums up to full capacity, a marked contrast from a 2020 season where no teams welcomed a full sellout crowd. Many teams didn’t even welcome fans at all.

The absence of fans was especially evident in the college ranks, where the atmosphere is critical to not only the success of the home team, but the optics of the venue on television. College football Saturdays simply weren’t the same without 80,000 dedicated fans packing stadiums and filling parking lots across the country.

Let me be clear; the precautions taken a year ago to limit fans and keep people home were appropriate, and seeing sports on at all was a welcome respite during the pandemic’s early stages.

But the game has changed enough to the point where it feels natural to listen to real fans support their team rather than .mp3 files.

Vaccination requirements and other precautions of the like are in place in many jurisdictions, with many more likely to pop up as the pandemic rolls along. I welcome whatever measures need to be in place to allow full capacities to be the norm.

It was refreshing to watch the Tampa Bay Buccaneers host 67,000 fans at Raymond James Stadium on Sept. 9 as they celebrated their Super Bowl title. On July 13, 49,200 baseball fans created a wonderful sight as they packed Coors Field for the MLB All-Star game.

Fans must still take precautions, and many die-hards are understandably weary about returning to massive public gatherings before the coronavirus issue is completely resolved.

With proper safety measures taken into consideration, however, fans are allowed a completely different picture to take shape this fall.

In September 2020, seemingly all we had to look forward to was the return of the pumpkin spice latte, which inexplicably begins to return about a month before they really need to. Now, sports are back in full force with the sights and sounds of thousands of fans to accompany them.

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