What’s it like to observe an NFL recreation in particular person in 2020
In Week 1, they tried to watch from home with an “NFL Sunday Ticket” code that Gibson had sent them. However, for some reason it didn’t work and they had to drive to a nearby Applebee. Even when they found out for Week 2, after years of roaring bleachers across the country, the cheering from the couch didn’t feel like as Gibson turned into a star.
Then on Wednesday Gibson called. Cleveland is one of eight NFL teams to let fans into the stands this early in the season, and the retreating rookie got tickets to the Washington Football Team’s game against the Browns on Sunday. Mom and sister took Monday off – Williams from a Medicaid transportation company, Moore from a hospital – and booked flights. Suddenly Williams watched her son run onto the field for the NFL kick-off.
“It’s surreal,” said Williams through a mask. “We’ve talked about this since he played Peewee Football when he was 5.” She paused. “I always thought he had the talent to come here.”
On Sunday, family members of Washington players distributed the sections behind the East End Zone normally reserved for Brown’s die-hard gamblers, known as the “Dawg Pound”. Wes Martin’s father-in-law, Chase Young’s defensive end, Chase Young’s mother and sister, and others were some of the 6,000 fans the Browns were able to take in except Ohio’s coronavirus regulations. Your presence made a significant difference in the atmosphere of the game day, said Washington cornerback Kendall Fuller, adding, “It just feels like you’re in a stadium.”
Aside from the noise that subsided and flowed during the Washington 34:20 loss, the family department looked like a sci-fi movie. The orange seats that the fans were sitting in were the only ones that weren’t closed with a zipper. And while everyone wished things were different, no one could miss this opportunity. They understand the fragility of a career in the NFL and the importance of being there, and they made it work. The tickets were hotly contested, and a family member who checked her cell phone said she was being “scolded” by a cousin who had just found out that tickets were available.
For Kraig Spitler, Martin’s father-in-law, this was a special experience. He grew up a Browns fan, but swapped his usual gear for a No. 67 Washington jersey, skipped the first day of the deer hunting season, and drove up from West Milton, Ohio, a small town north of Dayton. This was important because he could bring his father, Kenny, and “You don’t know how many of these you are going to have.” Kenny is retired and uses a wheelchair, so Spitler viewed the Browns exception as a blessing.
“Back in winter, Kenny said he’d like to see one of them [Wes’s] Games and I thought, “Well, with this whole thing, I don’t think unfortunately that’s ever going to happen,” recalled Spitler. “And then when [Wes] called, we both said: “Yes!” We dropped everything. “
It was a joyful homecoming for Young’s family. Young’s mother, Carla, and sister, Weslie, flew to Columbus, where Young played in Ohio State, and drove to Cleveland to meet with an extended family. Before the game, Carla waved with pompoms, showed the T-shirt with the resemblance of her son and read “Baby Boy !!”, gave Young a kiss and introduced himself to the coach with a shout: “Ron Rivera! Chase’s mother! “and crowed she was going to show the NFL how loudly she could cheer. She proved it when Washington took an early lead.
“Oh my god,” she yelled. “This is the dream that comes true right here.”
The mood in the second quarter sobered up. After a disastrous sequence for Washington, Young was injured and walking to the locker room passed his family department, grimaced and pointed to his groin. Carla and Young’s manager, Ian Thomas, answered their phones. For the rest of the game Carla sat subdued.
Minutes later, a few rows down, Gibson’s mother buried her head in her hands. She was proud of how her son had started his professional career – he had saved his first game jersey and touchdown ball for her – but he had just made a mistake. He’d stayed in Bounds the last game before half-time, trying to make a difference, and fiddling. Williams played softball, volleyball, and basketball in high school, and she admitted that the competitive nature behind the game may have come from her. But she said she was “always tough” on her son, told him nothing was guaranteed and insisted he had to take care of the ball. The message after errors has not changed.
“We basically always told him to just soak it up,” she said. “There is still a lot of game to play.”
In the third quarter, when Washington came back from a 17-7 half-time deficit, Williams grew livelier. She clapped briefly and violently as her son’s runs lasted a few yards, and leaned forward to see Washington march on. Williams sees herself as a “very excited observer”, not nervous like other parents, and when Gibson rushed into the end zone to give Washington the lead, she and her daughter yelled and jumped from their seats.
In the fourth quarter, Washington sales increased and opportunities decreased. The families behind the zone at the east end looked just as gloomy as any other fan wearing burgundy and gold. While the journey was long and the NFL restrictions were severe – families and gamers could only get FaceTime – the result did little to dampen the day. The families got what they wanted, and while Williams and her son didn’t make eye contact during the game, that wasn’t the point.
“He just knew we were there,” she said.
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