Fans, Man! Fans. Hey Colorado, what are we waiting for?

Feb 25, 2021; Denver, Colorado, USA; A general view of Ball Arena during the third quarter of a game between the Denver Nuggets and the Washington Wizards. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Over the past week or so, two things stood out to me while watching both the Nuggets and Avalanche: Jamal Murray’s 50-point performance in Cleveland against the Cavaliers, and the Colorado Avalanche’s sweep of the Arizona Coyote’s in Phoenix.

Both occurring in front of fans. Not the circulate-the-air, “Luuuke, I am your faaather” variety. Real. Live. Sportsfans. Real people.

In Cleveland, Murray dropped 50 on the Cavs without taking a single free throw. As notable as his stat sheet was, it was his visible and audible taunting of Cavs fans that stood out most. Murray mean-mugged and chest-thumped his way to the season’s signature performance. A month ago, he would have been looking and yelling at nobody, but in Cleveland, his tirades had a target. Perhaps for the first time all season, it looked as if Murray was actually having fun.

In Phoenix a few days later, the Avalanche began a two-game series with the Coyotes. For the first time in almost year, they skated in front of a crowd. Sure, it was a mere 3,224 folks, but it had a different feel. From crowd shots and sound, it was fairly obvious that a healthy percentage of the fans on hand had made their way from Denver down to the desert – Avs fans were representing as best they could.

“I never thought I’d say 3,000 people in an NHL building would be electric but that’s what it felt like last couple games,” Landeskog said after the sweep of the Coyotes. “It was really exciting being back in front of our fans.”

Notice he said “our.”

Funny thing, the Captain and his mates had to travel over 800 miles to get some hometown lovin’.

Hey Colorado, what in the H-E-double-hockeysticks are we doing?

Asleep at the wheel, Ball Arena sits empty while teams and fans around the country are beginning an attempt at “normal.”

No arenas are full, but whether it’s the NFL figuring out how to allow 22,000 fans into the Super Bowl, or capacity percentages ranging from 7.5-25 percent in the NBA and NHL, states and franchises are beginning to get butts back in seats.. In the NBA, there are currently 15 teams that are allowing fan attendance (or have a plan to soon allow them), and in the NHL there are 12. Slowly but surely, fans and sports are beginning to reunite all over America.

Except here in Colorado.

Why?

Is Colorado somehow more enlightened than our friends in other states? The COVID-19 numbers nationwide show that Colorado ranks in the top half of states in terms of cases per 100,000 residents – that’s good – but the numbers within the “middle” are so darn close it seems to be an exercise in splitting hairs. In general, the country’s case counts – along with those of every state – have dropped significantly since (roughly) Thanksgiving (and even more since early January); perhaps the virus hasn’t been beaten just yet, but if this were an MMA fight, the official would certainly be paying close attention to the condition of the fighter who’s taken the most blows. There’s a feeling across the country – with vaccines having been administered and becoming more readily available – that winning this fight is becoming a matter of “when” rather than “if.”

From a sports standpoint, the allowance of fans from state to state, or even city to city, doesn’t necessarily follow an identifiable trend. In other words, it’s not as if states that boast “better” COVID-19 numbers haven’t allowed fans, while states with a large number of cases have consistently allowed fans. In New York, for example, a state with a gigantic population and a seemingly cautious state government, the Knicks, Nets, Rangers and Islanders have all been granted fan access. In Texas, a state that’s consistently resisted restrictions of any kind, the Mavericks and Rockets can host fans, but the Spurs cannot.

I won’t profess to understand the virus, nor will I claim to understand politics. But from a 10,000-foot view, I’m confident in saying this: Those who want to be safe will, and those who aren’t too worried won’t.

And I’ll add this: Colorado isn’t smarter or dumber than New York isn’t smarter or dumber than Texas isn’t smarter or dumber than Florida, California, Ohio or Montana. If we think we’re smarter (better, safer, what have you), the only thing we are is inexplicably more arrogant.

If you’re worried about the virus, you’ll get the vaccine. And if you haven’t gotten it, and are still concerned, you’ll likely stay home from sports, large public gatherings and old people who might be susceptible.

If you’re not worried – don’t care, whatever – preventing you from attending a sporting event doesn’t prevent you from being “unsafe.” You’re gonna do whatever it is you’re gonna do.

Make sense?

In Colorado, all we’re doing by not allowing fans is hurting both our teams and our local economy.

Michael Malone is convinced that not having fans is playing havoc on his team’s competitive advantage, and while I don’t always agree with Malone, I’m right there with him on this one. Not having a cheering section for a sporting event is anything but tragic, but why make your team play with one arm tied behind its back when you don’t have to?

From a health and safety standpoint, let’s examine the Avs recent matchup with the Coyotes. There might be a rule against having fans inside Ball Arena, but there’s no way to stop them from driving or flying to Arizona, scooping up one of the Coyote’s 3,000 tickets, watching the game and coming right back here to Denver – infected or not. In essence, not allowing a sports gathering here doesn’t prevent one from happening somewhere else; it definitely doesn’t prevent people who live here from going there. In the process, the dollars spent by Avalanche fans just left the state, and – potentially – the kooteez from “unsafe” places follow fans right back home. Whether it’s the cost of game tickets, popcorn, dinner or hotel rooms, the money that could have been spent inside Ball Arena – with the folks who rely on fans for their jobs – or in LoDo – for pre- and post-game activity – Colorado is simply missing out. And remember, not much has been prevented – just moved.

Then again, perhaps this should come as no surprise. The ever-wise governor of this fine state is too busy planning holidays that directly and negatively impact Colorado’s largest export – beef. By declaring March 20thMeatout” Day, Jared Polis might as well just come clean and admit that he couldn’t care less about the local economy or the people who fuel it. If Polis favors his own personal dietary beliefs (and subsequently tries to shove them down your throat) over Colorado’s largest source of income, why would he care about sports and those who need them to make a living? In a state where restaurants and venues of all kinds are struggling to stay afloat, it seems that telling people what not to eat should take a back seat to figuring out how to open things up safely. Wouldn’t it sound better – and do more good – if March 20th was “Welcome Back Fans” Day instead?

Fans? Jobs? Civic Pride?

Apparently, those are all foolish and unnecessary concepts in a state that knows best.

The rest of the country is starting to cheer. Here in Colorado, however, there’s not much to cheer about.

Bring back the fans, man. What are we waiting for?

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