Sports | Holding Out On Hope

Even without the uncertainties of COVID-19, the Saints and Tigers look ahead to challenging seasons, including what could possibly be Drew Brees’ last year.

ILLUSTRATION BY TONY HEALEY

Chris Price is an award-winning journalist and public relations principal. When he’s not writing, he’s avid about music, the outdoors, and Saints, Ole Miss and Chelsea football. Price also authors the Friday Sports Column at BizNewOrleans.com.

The sports world has lost billions of dollars this year in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the bleeding will likely continue into the fall.

Normally, this August column would focus on the excitement of the coming football season in Louisiana, but, as with all aspects of current life in the United States, we’re not in normal times. As some other nations have begun to reopen, the United States has been bogged down in superfluous political arguments over how best to deal with the medical emergency and its impact on our society.

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For months, Americans have been warned to take proper precautions in order to contain the disease and limit its devastating impacts. Somewhat tongue in cheek, the return of football has been dangled as the coming treat for good behavior.

Now that we’re on the doorstep of the 2020 season, there is no certainty that life, much less football — at any level — will return as normal. There are too many variables that could impact players, coaches, teams, conferences and leagues. Ultimately, a balance must be reached between safety and the desire to return to normality. Unfortunately, there are more questions than applicable answers right now on how to do it safely.

A surge in cases across the country last month, following a reduction in safety protocols, doesn’t bode well for those looking to football as an escape from the real-world problems that seem to be piling up around us. Because there is no established pathway to ensure safety, expect fall sports to be affected by COVID. I don’t see a way that teams and fans can go forward in the way that we’re used to.

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Sadly, I think audiences will be limited, if allowed to attend at all. There is also concern that some games could be eliminated in order to shorten schedules. Both will have a domino effect on teams’ bottom lines as ticket, merchandise and concessions sales are guaranteed to take a hit. That hit will extend to restaurants, hotels, attractions and shops that cater to fans and look forward to the football season’s economic impact. State and local governments will also be affected as the taxes usually collected on football-related spending will simply not be in play.

There are also concerns about players, coaches, staff and officials contracting the disease and being forced to quarantine. If a team’s star player — say Kansas City’s $500-million-man, quarterback Patrick Mahomes — is forced to sit out games, how will that impact his team and its hopes for success?

Selfishly, I have been looking forward to seeing LSU raise its fourth National Championship banner above Tiger Stadium and seeing how they will respond to sending so many star players on to the NFL. Without fans in the stands, will Death Valley be the same? Or will a lack of support from the stands make the Tigers toothless when an emotional lift is needed?

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With this possibly being Drew Brees’ last season, I want to see him, and the Saints, come back from a third consecutive season-ending playoff disappointment and rise to the top of the NFL again. With Tom Brady’s surprise offseason move to Tampa Bay, previous backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater joining Carolina, and the enduring rivalry with the Atlanta Falcons, there will be heightened attention paid to the NFC South and its potential for drama.

The NFL’s schedule makers are expecting a big season from the Saints. New Orleans has only five of their 16 games scheduled for the traditional noon start. Four of the team’s games are currently set for prime time. The remainder of their contests are set for Sunday afternoons, which often carry a national broadcast.

The Saints are looking for their fourth consecutive NFC South championship. Because they’ve proven themselves as one of the league’s best teams, they’ve “earned” one of its hardest schedules. Even without the pandemic in play, it is set to be an arduous season. With it, there are many unknown variables that could impact the schedule and the teams. Assuming the Saints play a 16-game regular season, it may be tough for the team to post another 12-plus win season; however, I believe they’ve got the coaches and players in position to win the division again, qualify for the postseason, and make another push for a Super Bowl championship.

With COVID-19, the 2020 season will be surely be one for the history books, and I believe the Saints have the opportunity to make it memorable for all the right reasons.

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