He’s known as a man of few words, at least when he’s addressing the media. But a few words is all it took for Bill Belichick to aptly describe football on any given Sunday (and Monday and Thursday nights) without fans.
“It’s like scrimmaging Detroit,” said the dour and recalcitrant New England coach, remembering last season when the majority of the NFL season was contested amid the ravages and ongoing threat of the COVID pandemic.
Full disclosure: Belichick also said it was like scrimmaging the Titans or scrimmaging other teams in the preseason, when free agents sometimes get into fights in a futile effort to impress their position coaches and perhaps stick around on the taxi squad.
But his point is well-taken. I’ll never forget last year’s Raiders home finale when ancient Ryan Fitzpatrick came off the bench to lead the Dolphins to a wild come-from-behind 26-25 victory at Allegiant Stadium.
You could almost hear a pin drop when, with just 19 seconds left and no timeouts remaining, Fitzpatrick heaved a 34-yard pass to wide receiver Mack Hollins, who made the catch at roughly the same time the Raiders were flagged for roughing the passer.
That set up Miami’s winning field goal with one second showing on the game clock.
Of course, you could almost hear a pin drop when the Raiders were scoring touchdowns and kicking field goals, too.
Worth the wait
In another season, an ordinary season, after a finish like that, one would have expected a fusillade of nachos or other projectiles to come hurtling onto the field from the Black Hole, or some den of iniquity facsimile that is sure to develop in Las Vegas.
But this was no ordinary season. This was a season in which every Raiders home game seemed like a scrimmage against Detroit.
This season the atmosphere at Allegiant Stadium should be much more palpable provided a new strain of the virus doesn’t torment Las Vegas the way Fitzpatrick did the Raiders on the day after Christmas.
“It seems like we have been waiting 60 years for this,” owner Mark Davis said on the Saturday during which the Raiders played their only preseason game in front of spectators last month.
Fans were required to wear face coverings, and 50,101 showed up at the $2 billion enclosed edifice that will seat 65,000 when the games that count begin, or when the Mexican national soccer side next shows up to play.
“We’re finally home,” Davis said before cutting the ribbon with a giant pair of scissors that may or may not have been used on his last haircut.
Normal craziness returns
It was the owner who made the decision to play sans spectators in 2020, even when the governor said it was OK to allow some in with restrictions.
Davis said he wouldn’t allow himself in the new stadium the Raiders had been waiting 60 years for, or so it seemed, until it was OK for 64,999 face painters with spikes on their shoulder pads and a wild look in their eyes to follow him through the turnstile.
It was a magnanimous gesture that might have cost the Raiders as much as $571 million in ticket revenue over the course of a normal season, according to one of the prominent aftermarket ticket brokerage firms.
Wrote Boomer Esiason on his Twitter account when the Raiders’ Las Vegas debut against the Saints on “Monday Night Football” was played in front of crickets: “Of all the games w/o fans, tonight’s @Raiders home opener is where I miss them the most. This would have been insane.”
In the courtroom, insanity is often said to be a temporary thing. But when the Raiders host the Baltimore Ravens in the first regular-season game at Allegiant Stadium on Monday night, it’s going to be crazy just the same.
Even to the untrained ear, it won’t sound anything like scrimmaging Detroit.