Football Rules: America’s Game calls the shots…even in a pandemic

Denver Broncos fans celebrate after a touchdown against the Detroit Lions in the fourth quarter at Empower Field at Mile High. Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

When will America begin to get back to normal?

Why, football season, of course.

Football rules.

Whether you trust the science or lean more toward conspiracy, you can damn sure count on football. Nothing – not a pandemic; not government; not rules, science or common sense – can stop football.

And football will have fans. At least in Denver. Thank goodness.

Yesterday, it was announced – rather co-announced – that 5,700 fans will be allowed to attend the Broncos-Buccaneers game on Sept. 27. The stadium ought to look like an expanded version of the club level at the start of the third quarter on any given Sunday.

Governor Jared Polis and Denver Broncos Vice President of Strategic Initiatives Brittany Bowlen and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) Innovation Response Team Lead Sarah Tuneberg all beamed, thrilled to let Colorado know that its beloved Broncos will not be forced to play without fans – not the entire season, certainly not against that rascal Tom Brady. What takes place, or how many will attend, during games following week three has yet to be stated. Perhaps the game on the 27th is a test run. Perhaps it’s just a place to start. Conventional wisdom might suggest that once the toothpaste is out of the tube… well, you know how that goes.

Allow me to be the first to say that I’m thrilled. Thrilled that this is a step toward normalcy. Thrilled that maybe, just maybe, football can be the catalyst toward life as we used to know it.

But I’m also confused.

Ask yourself this: What’s so different about today than a month ago? Two months ago?

The “numbers” aren’t significantly different.

Weren’t we just warned that there could be a big spike in COVID-19 cases sometime after Labor Day? Naturally, on a holiday weekend, us crazy Coloradoans probably fudged a bit on social distancing and mask measures; it stands to reason that the numbers might take a turn for the worse. Come to think of it, surely we wouldn’t gather (irresponsibly) to watch the Broncos this coming Monday, would we?

Yesterday, it was determined that fans should be allowed to watch the Broncos in person three weeks from now. Granted, 5,700 fans is a very small (very safe?) number considering the cavernous capacity of Empower Field at Mile High. But still, it’s considerably higher than zero.

“Rather than one gathering of 5,700 people, this is really a series of distinct gatherings of 175 people each,” Polis said during the press conference. “It’s consistent with the guidelines across the state. It’s no greater risk profile than having 10 or 15 other events, all of which are up to 175 in different parts of our state. And there are hundreds, if not thousands, of events that occur every week across the vast, diverse state of Colorado.”

Ahh. Okay. I get it now.

Wait. Maybe I don’t. Mr. Governor, can you explain that one again? It’s 5,700, but not really?

Broncos fans will be wearing masks, practicing social distancing and divided into “small pods”, whatever that means.

Some questions I have:

What if they don’t?

What happens if one, or maybe more than one, takes off his or her mask? To yell at the officials? To jeer Brady? What happens if someone from one pod crosses a line to give someone from another pod a high-five? What if two fans embrace following a touchdown?

Are Broncos fans capable of adhering to the safety measures put forth by the team and the Gov, while Rockies fans, Rapids fans or drag racing fans are not?

Didn’t the Rockies submit a plan for limited fans earlier in the summer? Whatever happened to that? Polis said he was “working with” the Rockies on their plan, didn’t he?

And what about the poor folks at Bandimere Speedway? Earlier in the summer, weren’t they told that 175 people was the max? Did Bandimere not have the capability to create “pods” or require masks? Is it that these two sporting venues are all that different? Or could it be that the governor prefers football fans over those right-winged, air-polutin’ car nuts from Jefferson County?

Oh, and what if Broncos fans get drunk? (I’ve been to a few games; this happens from time to time). Even if they’re intoxicated, they will be responsible, won’t they?  Of course, they will. Pretty much all football games will end before 10 p.m. – the exact time at which teetotalers lose their damn minds. Those of us not fortunate enough to land Broncos tickets can’t make reasonable decisions after 10 p.m. (Or is it now 11 p.m.? Now that we’ve had a month to get our wits about us…). Then again, that applies to bars, not football stadiums, where everyone is of sound mind and body, right?

What about the kids who are guaranteed to have sound minds and bodies? The typical grade school in Colorado plays host to 300-500 students, all of which are contained by pods – aka classrooms – but somehow, they can’t quite figure out a way to get the lil’ ankle biters back into school. What if we just, you know, turned on the football game?

Alas, this is not just about the Broncos or Broncos fans. It’s about football and all who play it or care about it. Case in point – and get this – Governor Polis said that he’d even be willing to work with the CHSAA to get high school football in the fall back on track! How about that!?

“We would be thrilled to work with (CHSAA) to make that happen, for the districts that are ready to go,” Polis said during his press conference in an attempt to eliminate the suggestion that it’s all about the Broncos. “I think there’s some opportunity to have a fall season for those who are ready.

“Clearly returning to in-classroom instruction should be the priority. Districts that aren’t even back in the classroom, and aren’t running busses, they want to provide the football experience, but many of them won’t be ready until Season C in the spring.”

If you think that an ongoing conversation with the CHSAA about football in the fall is a new development, you’re delusional. That high school football and allowing fans into Empower Field were mentioned on the same day, in the same press conference, by the governor, isn’t exactly some strange coincidence. Smart money bets that conversations about how to play football in the fall have been taking place for months now; believe you me, the CHSAA hasn’t been sitting around on its thumbs hoping for the best until yesterday. In fact, I’d be shocked if conversations between the CHSAA and Polis haven’t been steady since the state basketball tournament was cancelled in March. You think the CHSAA and its Board of Directors hasn’t submitted a plan or two? Please. A sudden willingness to consider high school football in the fall on the exact day that the Broncos were given permission to sell in-stadium tickets – and to subtly suggest that football in the fall has always been solely up to the CHSAA – is slimy at best. Furthermore, the timing is no coincidence at all.

And notice that there was no mention of boys soccer or girls field hockey, two casualties within the fall sports schedule beyond football. Do you think for a second that either of those sports could have – would have – moved the needle like football? Do you think the governor had any idea, much less cared, that those two sports will also have to wait until spring?

No way. Football speaks loudest.

Whether one likes Jared Polis or not, it’s difficult to ignore the fact that Colorado’s COVID-19 numbers are better than most states. Whether you agree with his measures or not, Polis deserves some credit for that. He’s been diligent – or, “tyrannical” as our readers have suggested – about being safe, even at the expense of local businesses or in the face of public opinion.

So, why then, would a political figure with a track record of success when it comes to his handling of the pandemic, suddenly make a move that – on the surface – seems to contradict everything he’s done to date?

Well, football. That’s why.

Put it this way: In America, football is king. And in politics – elephant or donkey – who better to align one’s self with than the king? In Alabama, no politician seeking re-election would ever tell voters they couldn’t watch the Tide or the Tigers. There’s a reason that the SEC plans on playing football this fall and safety has about as much to do with that decision as the waterboy. Colorado is largely indifferent to college football, but when it comes to the Broncos? We’re similarly nuts. Whether you’re red or blue, you’re absolutely orange. Want to really alienate yourself from the voters of Colorado? Make it tough on the local NFL team. Everyone loves the Broncos.

Then again, when you side with the Broncos, or in this case, allow fans inside their stadium, the can of worms has suddenly been opened.

Pro football! What about the preps?

Prep football! What about soccer?

Fifty-seven-hundred fans! What about 175?

All of a sudden, Pandora’s Box has been opened.

And all it took was football.

It all makes sense though. Afterall, football rules.

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