It has fallen as one of the worst performances by any player in recent NFL history – through his own fault.
Last weekend, 23-year-old Kendall Hinton, a practice squad-wide receiver who had never played professional football, ran onto the field as a quarterback for the Denver Broncos, with just four hours notice and only his college playing experience to rely on. The stakes have been described as unprecedented in the modern game.
That the Broncos, one of the league’s most acclaimed teams, lost 31-3 to the New Orleans Saints, came as no surprise as commentators shook their heads at the inevitable. “Imagine air traffic control trying to talk to a passenger through landing a 747. Now you understand the Denver Broncos nightmare,” Sam Farmer wrote in the Los Angeles Times.
Hinton’s impromptu appearance was caused by all four of the Broncos’ quarterbacks being banned after one of them – Jeff Driskel – tested positive for Covid-19. The remaining three were ordered to isolate after not wearing masks around Driskel in the team’s practice facility, against NFL rules.
The Broncos chaos was not an isolated incident for the NFL this season. As Covid-19 cases in the US increase and the death toll approaches 280,000, “America’s Game” has struggled with the coronavirus just as much as the country it claims to represent. The NFL’s problems have become, according to some, a costly and high-profile microcosm of the broader US antagonism about the virus, throwing the desire to continue as usual throws at warnings from health officials about the high level of risk. of -contact sports.
Other examples abound. One of the season’s most anticipated games, between the Baltimore Ravens and their fierce rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers, was scheduled for a primetime slot on Thanksgiving. Instead, it had to be rescheduled three times after more than a dozen Ravens players – including one of the league’s biggest stars, quarterback Lamar Jackson – tested positive for the virus. The game finally took place on Wednesday afternoon in a clearly “unprimetime” slot.
Meanwhile, the West Coast San Francisco 49ers will play their next two home games in Arizona, 700 miles from their usual stadium, after Santa Clara County, where the team is based, issued a temporary ban on contact sports as the number of cases grows. California. The spread of the virus in the US and the NFL has been such that the Seattle Seahawks are the only one of the 32 teams in the league not to register a positive test for Covid-19.
While the federal government has failed to provide an effective or coherent response to the pandemic, the NFL says it is taking appropriate action. It has imposed heavy fines on teams that have not worn masks, while players and coaches are tested daily.
But others insist that the NFL’s response is a reflection of the chaotic handling of the pandemic in the country as a whole. There were 86 positive tests among NFL players and staff in the week ending November 28, compared to seven in the first week of the season, in early September.
“It seems they had no plan for what to do once people started testing positive,” Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at the Georgetown Center for Global Health and Security, told the New York Times this week. “They’re flying past the seat of their pants, as it were, trying to figure out how to actually finish the season.”
It’s no surprise that the NFL – like much of the US – is pushing back against restrictions. Broadcast rights, worth billions of dollars, are due for renewal in 2022 and a half-finished season could hurt the competition at the negotiating table. A canceled or delayed Super Bowl would also be a problem for its broadcast partners: in 2019, networks charged an average of $ 5.25 million (£ 3.9 million) for a 30-second ad slot during the game.
Considered a more organized, more progressive league than the NFL, the NBA concluded the season by playing in an isolated “bubble” at Disney World in Florida. That would be harder to achieve in the NFL, whose teams have much larger rosters. There are calls for the league to end the season as it takes the next steps with Covid-19 cases expected to rise in the coming weeks, but that is unlikely.
“It is not thought about,” an NFL spokesman told The Guardian. “We are focused on completing the 256 regular season games within our 17-week schedule, followed by the playoffs culminating in the fans in the stands in Tampa on February 7 for the Super Bowl. We have been successful in this unprecedented year and are on track to complete the season as planned.
“We have also been flexible and flexible and have received approval to play games in an 18th week just in case. But there is no reason at this point to believe that we should change our plans. “
If there has been any relief, it got into the college game, which is more popular than the NFL in many parts of the US. In a rare – and welcome – uplifting moment, Sarah Fuller became one of the first women to play at the highest level of men’s college football after several members of the Vanderbilt Commodores were banned for Covid-19. Like Hinton, Fuller was a relative novice: until last week, she was the goalkeeper of the college football team.