Spera: The Saints in the Superdome without fans will be weird, but still worth watching – NOLA.com

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If a yellow flag falls in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and no one is there to boo, does it still count?

Well find out Sunday as the Saints open their season against the Buccaneers surrounded by 72,000 empty seats.

It will be.different.

At least one fan, Gayle Benson, plans to be there in person. But her suite will also be less populated than normal thanks to coronavirus restrictions. The all-powerful NFL is allowing only three ownership representatives to attend the game, according to the Saints.

Consider that: Even owning the team doesnt merit more than two guests.

As strange as it will be to watch on TV, Sunday's game will be even more surreal inside the Superdome.

Public address announcer Mark Romigs booming pronouncements will seem even more God-like than usual as they echo across the vast, empty void. (But he wont be announcing any fan impact plays, for obvious reasons.)

As the kickoff for the New Orleans Saints' season approaches, city officials are announcing what gameday protocols and restrictions will look

Canned crowd noise, the NFL equivalent of a sitcoms laugh track, will be used to recreate a more authentic auditory experience.

Outside, tumbleweeds might as well roll around the shuttered Champions Square as police enforce a no-tailgating zone around the Dome.

The season opener, with its much-hyped duel between Saints quarterback Drew Brees and newly installed Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady, will be a home game that the hometown will experience like an away game. There will be no "Dome field advantage" on Sunday or for the Sept. 27 game against the Packers, which Mayor LaToya Cantrell announced this week will also be without fans.

The New Orleans Saints hold an NFL football training camp practice at the empty Superdome in New Orleans, Saturday, Aug. 29, 2020.

However this coronavirus-tinged season plays out, it will forever have an asterisk affixed to it.

With a truncated training camp and no preseason, the regular season snuck up on a lot of us. Its as if the couple skipped dating and fast-forwarded right to the wedding.

Granted, weve all been more than a little distracted lately. The pandemic. Social unrest. Financial woes. School stress. A high-stakes presidential election.

Drew Brees can't help but think back to Oct. 2, 1999.

Many a southwest Louisiana Who Dat doesnt even have a home in which to watch the game, thanks to Hurricane Lauras vicious blindside hit.

So yeah, everybodys mental load has gotten a lot heavier this off-season.

More recently, the ardor of some football fans has cooled because of the perceived intrusion of politics. They have pronounced themselves done with the NFL in general and/or the Saints specifically.

They think this player shouldnt have said such-and-such.

Or that player shouldnt have plastered so-and-sos name on his helmet.

Or that the league has gone too far.

Or the league hasnt gone far enough.

And so on.

Players, it turns out, are not simply abstractions. They are not living chess pieces to be moved around the field, sacrificing themselves physically so the rest of us can enjoy vicarious victories.

Like fans, players are entitled to their opinions, and the expression thereof, even if doing so infringes on everyone elses escapism to some degree.

Not every fan is on board with that notion.

The Chiefs and Texans kicked off the 2020 NFL season Thursday. That this would be a different kind of game, and a different kind of season, was readily apparent, and not just because Chiefs coach Andy Reids signature mustache kept disappearing behind his fogged-over COVID-19 face shield.

Only 15,895 socially distanced fans were allowed into Kansas Citys outdoor Arrowhead Stadium. As NBC broadcaster Al Michaels noted, the sparse crowd looked more like a game where the home team was losing 51 to 7 with four minutes to go, not the reigning Super Bowl champs triumphant return to action.

Before kickoff, players from both teams locked arms on the field in a show of unity. Some folks in the stands were offended enough to boo.

Up in the broadcast booth, Michaels partner, former Bengals wide receiver Cris Collinsworth, expressed support for the players.

What theyre trying to do is create positive change in this country that frankly is long, long overdue, he said. So lets just get that out of the way, and go call a football game.

Which they did. And what followed, thankfully, felt like not just a football game, but like the sort of distraction a lot of folks need right about now.

Michaels and Collinsworth called the game in their familiar cadence. Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes demonstrated why hes the highest-paid player in the league. A bevy of former LSU stars distinguished themselves as the stats piled up.

During a postgame interview, Mahomes, wearing a mask over his mouth and nose, expressed how happy he was to be doing something normal again.

It wasn't exactly normal, but it was normal enough.

Just like watching the Saints in an empty Superdome on Sunday.

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Spera: The Saints in the Superdome without fans will be weird, but still worth watching - NOLA.com

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