Seahawks had a mock game Saturday at the Clink. Good news is that injured DE Branden Jackson is OK. Bad news is the fan-less Clink will be acres of deadness.
Sitting masked-up in a socially distanced press box at the Clink Saturday, it occurred to me that I was among a relative handful of journalists locally and nationally who have worked the two major American outdoor sports played in the pandemic-induced void of fans.
It was only a Seahawks mock game, and it lasted only four possessions. But having worked some Mariners home games since the re-start, what stood out was how much more barren was the football experience than the baseball one.
In baseball, a steady murmur is part of the atmospherics. The only murmur in a football stadium, especially in Seattle, is when a drunk swoons and slumps over the kid next to him. Football is much more intense because there’s only eight chances a year to work out all of your psychological issues loudly and publicly.
I anticipated some of the deadness factor, but so much of a Seahawks game is a sensory waterfall that its absence was awkward in the extreme. An opponent and regular-season game conditions would add some gravitas, and artificial audio would help some, but the sterility in the emptiness of a 70,000-seat canyon makes for a two-dimensional experience in a three-dimensional world.
It didn’t help that the afternoon ended somberly. An ambulance took veteran DE Branden Jackson, strapped to a backboard, from the field to a hospital for observation after he was accidentally knocked unconscious when the helmet of OL Cedric Ogbuehi apparently struck Jackson’s chin during an ordinary rushing play.
Jackson wrote Sunday on his Instagram account that he was all right, and the Seattle Times reported he was back at team headquarters. But the seeming seriousness of the injury stopped the scrimmage for so long that, after coach Pete Carroll sent the team in at “halftime,” he called off the rest of the exercise. He didn’t want to risk injuries after players had been standing around, fearful for Jackson.
“I didn’t think it was right to try to get everybody cranked back up again and go back out,” Carroll said. “We didn’t need to do that.
“We accomplished the things we needed to accomplish coming to the stadium.”
The eventual return of Jackson, a fifth-year pro from Texas Tech who had his best season in 2019, will cut the casualties from Saturday to one.
Just as the mock game was about to start, backup C Kyle Fuller learned he had a two-game suspension from the NFL for violating the rules on performance-enhancing drugs. He was signed as a free agent to back up Ethan Pocic and B.J. Finney, and can continue practicing, as he did Saturday, but won’t be eligible until the Sept. 27 game against Dallas.
Regarding the energy-free atmosphere Saturday, QB Russell Wilson said experiencing the game-day routines for newbies went well, but . . .
“I will say there’s nothing like having the best fans in the world in the stadium,” he said. “We tried to definitely match that with the (artificial crowd noise) to be equal to what we would normally be.
“But at the same time, I miss the fans.”
The NFL created a rule for this proposed season capping the decibel limit on each stadium’s fake noise. But the league doesn’t have a rule about when to allow fans, or how many. Since the beginning of plans to work through the pandemic, the decision on fan admissions has been strictly a local option based on advice from public health officials.
Even though Gov. Jay Inslee last week offered cautious optimism that the state’s confirmed case numbers are trending downward, the Seahawks announced they will not permit fans for at least the first three home games, which takes them through October.
Around the league, two clubs so far want permission to have limited capacity right away: The Jacksonville Jags seek 25 percent, and the Kansas City Chiefs about 22 percent. All eyes are on owner Jerry Jones in Dallas, where the speculation is he will seek 125 percent.
The noisy-crowd advantage is at its apex in Seattle, so if there is a season — no guarantee yet — the Seahawks will lose more than others.
“One of the things that we do really well is our stadium and how loud it is,” Wilson said. “That’s a very real real thing, and everybody knows that in the NFL.”
If this were baseball, the home team might get to start every other drive at their own 40-yard line. But the NFL is not offering the Seahawks any mitigation. The league is saying the same thing most every other boss or company is saying about inconveniences during this slow-rolling zombie movie: Suck it up, buttercup. Lots of people have it worse.
No one can measure the advantage provided by rowdy home fans, but it’s emotionally bankable — and another casualty of COVID-19.
The artificial enhancements might work a bit better for viewers on TV, revenue from which is the only reason these large, sweaty, heavy-breathing people will be allowed to huddle in groups of 11.
But minus 12, the game-day Clink vibe going to be a negative experience.