As a fan of sports, this year has been very conflicting. If I can’t have sports in person, I at least want sports on my TV. I love sports. I love the competition, the craft, the unreal displays of athleticism, the feeling of belonging to something bigger… I love it all. That said, there’s a pandemic raging on in our country, and whether you want to hear about it or not, it’s still happening. Should we even be playing sports? Is it truly safe to do so? Is it worth having sports if the product is so awful? I don’t know the answers. I grapple with these thoughts daily.
Yesterday, we had a professional football game in the middle of the day on a Wednesday because of the mess that a COVID-19 outbreak in the Baltimore Ravens created. I wrote about it several times last week. It was exhausting. By the time we got to the game that had been thrice postponed, I honestly just wanted it to be over so we could move on. Then, when we finally did get this game, the product that we got as consumers was just… bad. It was like going to a nice steakhouse, ordering the bone-in filet, waiting for an hour and half and finally getting a rubbery, overcooked sirloin not suited for an Outback Steakhouse. What a letdown.
The Ravens were missing 20 — TWENTY — players that had tested positive for COVID-19. These were not players ruled out for close contact, or high risk, or breaking protocols. These are all members of the team that had contracted the virus. These are men who are now home, fighting through it, and potentially exposing their families. Are they going to be fine? Most likely. Is there risk? Absolutely.
This game was slated to be a marquee Thanksgiving battle of division heavyweights with major playoff implications. Instead, we got a slop fest of mediocre play and practice-squad players on a random Wednesday. The “Lamar Jackson vs. Steelers’ defense” narrative ended up being “third-string quarterback Trace McSorley thrown into action late.” Not exactly the same optics or level of excitement.
While the Ravens were decimated by a lack of starters, the Steelers, who saw the rhythm of their preparation completely disrupted three times, just looked lame. Sure, Pittsburgh still won, but the final score was only 19-14. They dropped seven passes, three of which could have potentially been touchdowns, and let a depleted Ravens team hang around and believe they actually had a chance in this one.
In his postgame interview, Ben Roethlisberger was asked about their slop fest (I’m paraphrasing) and whether he attributed it to what transpired this week. “I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t want to make excuses, we just weren’t good enough at all today. Obviously we won, but it sure doesn’t feel like it.”
The Steelers are the only undefeated team in the league, and have been for a few weeks. I am fully chalking this one up to a dysfunctional week, where practices were cancelled and meetings were held remotely. The league was entirely hellbent on getting this game played, no matter how terrible it looked, and I blame them for that. There’s no way in hell this game should have been played.
Before you jump down my throat about the Broncos game, it’s not the same. Not even remotely. They had one position group — which just so happened to be the most important position in football — that broke protocol. Moving the game would have been rewarding irresponsible decision making. The Broncos did not have a wide-spread outbreak like the Ravens did. This would have been the perfect scenario to add a Week 18 and bump the game, but because our pal Roger Goodell is so asinine and stubbornly committed to getting every game played in 17 weeks, we were treated with a matinee shit show. Thanks for that.
The NFL went into this season basically saying “we really hope this works” without any sort of contingency plan, and right now they are dangerously close to things spiraling rampantly out of control. This is fine. This is all perfectly fine.