August 10, 2020 10:03:25 AM
It's a balmy 76 degrees on a beautiful mid-October Saturday on a Southeastern Conference university campus.
The 11 a.m. kickoff is about 20 minutes away. And though the stadium is only half full, the 35,000 or so fans spread out across every other seat can still make plenty of noise while everyone feels "safe." The guy standing closest to you -- he's wearing no shirt, his chest is painted two-tone with the school colors and he's holding a sign that reads, "Marry me, Laura Rutledge" -- is coughing rather violently. But you're sure it's fine. Probably fall allergies, damn things. You get those, too, so you understand.
He's not wearing a mask, though. You kind of wish he would, especially since he's clearly had a few beers and he keeps grabbing you by the arms and hollering, "We're gonna see some (expletive) football today, Hoss!"
"By God, yes we are." you reply.
Of course, your team's prospects aren't looking so great. All the pro-level talent opted out before the season (selfish traitors!), and 15 other players are out for COVID. Most of them are asymptomatic and in quarantine with their Xboxes. They'll be back in two weeks, you're sure.
The starting quarterback, though, was hospitalized. You heard he was on a ventilator, which is a shame since he passed for a combined 600 yards and six touchdowns in the first two weeks of the season. The team really needs him in the lineup, and coach said last press conference if he doesn't get a secondary infection or permanent heart damage from the 'Rona, he may be back in time for a bowl game. That's exciting.
Now it's 10 minutes before kickoff, and they're having a moment of silence for the player who died earlier this week. He was a walk-on, so it's not a huge loss to the team, but you think it's nice he's being recognized. Oh, they even brought his mom and dad on the field to present them with the game ball. Very thoughtful, and it certainly shows how much the school cared about their son. They even said his teammates signed the ball. That's definitely going on the mantle.
These boys have been through so much to bring you this game this fall. You needed it, too. Spring and summer were difficult, and you don't care for difficult. Baseball was a joke, the NBA played in a bubble and there were whole months when there were no sports at all. You knew football wouldn't let you down. With as critical a role as it plays in our society, a fall without it would be heresy.
Besides, you and shirtless coughing drunk guy deserve this. You shouldn't have to sacrifice your expectations for entertainment because of some stupid virus. Y'all aren't scared of science. This is America!
There was so much naysaying on the blogs and message boards in August. While some sportswriters blindly kept the faith, others had the audacity to post things about how the season wasn't going to happen. You thought at one point those fear-mongering headlines would cost these boys their season, but the boys proved the cowards wrong. Time to watch the game.
· · ·
Three weeks later, another Saturday brings news that the second straight game has been canceled. There are enough healthy players to field a team, but all but 22 tested positive for COVID over the past 10 days and are in mandatory quarantine. Only about six players show severe symptoms. One more died. It was a big loss. He was a starter. You wonder if his parents will get a game ball, too.
Of course, you're not feeling so great yourself now. You've been in the hospital for three days struggling to breathe. You haven't been able to smell or taste anything since Tuesday. Apparently, you have heretofore undiagnosed hypertension that is causing you severe symptoms.
You thought the nurse said something about a ventilator, but you're too weak to speak and you're not allowed any visitors to otherwise confirm it. You'll find out soon enough, you suppose.
Surely, somebody in the conference is playing football today, though. Maybe you can get the nurse to turn on the TV and find you a game to watch. First, she'll have to agree to let you lie on your back instead of your stomach, but surely she'll understand.
Sick or not, it's football season. And kickoff is soon.
Zack Plair is the managing editor for The Dispatch.
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