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Column: Who needs fans in the stands?

As we sat watching the Super Bowl this year, I wondered if sport as we know it is a thing of the past. There was a time watching on television was a consolation for those of us who couldn’t get or afford tickets to the big game.

This year, most of us sat in isolation. Not even a Super Bowl party was a safe option. Feeling like the cardboard cutouts that filled the stands of Raymond James Stadium, Annie and I did our best to make the game an event. As hard as we tried, it just didn’t have the excitement of past years.

There was fried chicken for the pregame dinner, cheese and crackers with a pepperoni option for in-game snacks. Beer was chilling in the refrigerator. A bottle of Irish on the counter. I picked the Buccaneers and Annie the Chiefs. For a while, we tried to make it seem like every other Super Bowl year. It just wasn’t.

As I watched Tom Brady meticulously pick the Kansas City Chiefs apart, I marveled at the command and mastery of this quarterback who I had spent the last two decades describing in demeaning and condescending terms. There was no doubt any longer he is the best of the best to have ever played quarterback. There was no crowded room to share this revelation with, no football fanatics to argue with. Instead I just blurted out “chalk one up for the old guy” to no one listening.

As the camera panned to the meager crowd of fans allowed into the stadium, I chuckled. A few celebrating enthusiasts were jumping up and down flanked by the thousands of passive images of fans who wished they were there. Artificial crowd noise was pumped through speakers in an effort to make the experience for the television viewer appear to be almost normal. I couldn’t help but think that we might as well be watching a showing of the Hunger Games.

I pray this pandemic will be over soon. When it is, maybe we return to the habits of old. Overpay for tickets to the big game, fight bumper to bumper traffic, max out a credit card for a cup of beer and hot dog – or are those days gone? Do we really need fans in the stands? I’m not sure we do. Do we even need to live vicariously through our sports heroes?

Why not a virtual sport experience? Since the beginning of the pandemic, we attend meetings virtually. Shop electronically. We even go to the doctor online. Is the future a world of interaction through a flatscreen? All of us sequestered away in our familiar pods, safe from everyone and everything. The pandemic will change the world. We just can’t be sure how much life will change.

It isn’t that I didn’t enjoy this year’s Super Bowl. I welcomed the diversion from what is going on in the country and the world. A few hours of sitting back and thinking in Xs and Os instead of death rates and vaccine efficacy statistics was a refreshing change. But those cardboard cutouts and synthetic crowd sounds were an intrusion. There was no escape from the pandemic. Life just isn’t the same, no matter how hard we try to pretend it is.

Gregory Clark is a staff writer at The Coastland Times. Reach him at greg.clark@thecoastlandtimes.com.

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