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VOL. 44 | NO. 35 | Friday, August 28, 2020

Pandemic timing tough on ascending Titans

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The Titans were hoping to build this season on momentum from last year’s AFC Championship Game appearance. But the pandemic will mean an empty Nissan Stadium when the season opens Sept. 20.

-- Shutterstock.Com

What if they held a football game and nobody came? It’s a new twist on an old cliché, but with the COVID-19 regulations in place and Mayor John Cooper keeping a tight rein on activities in Davidson County, the Tennessee Titans are about to experience just that when they open the season at home Sept. 20 against Jacksonville.

For a team that has spent the past few seasons trying to lure Titans fans back to the stadium (and keep them from selling their fair share to opposing fans), it is definitely a setback to the momentum created by the run to the AFC Championship Game last year.

The Titans had hoped to parlay that into a nice buzz about the 2020 season before all the COVID-19 issues arose. Now, like everyone else, the Titans are in scramble mode and adjusting to the situation as best they can just to be able to have a season – much less one with paying customers at Nissan Stadium.

“Just the excitement that was here with our fan base and around Middle Tennessee, we would love to see those people in there as soon as they can be there,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel says. “We’re hopeful that at some point in time there are going to be some fans in there, but unfortunately, they’re not going to be in there for the Jacksonville game.

“So, we can continue to try to do things on social media and through social media that our fans can see our players and hear from our players, and then watch practice until they can get into the stadium.”

Players admit playing in an empty stadium isn’t what anyone signed up for as a professional football player. But, if the circumstances dictate no fans in the stands, then they say they will adjust to it, much the same way baseball, basketball, hockey and golf have done in restarting their respective sports.

“As far as the games go, it’s going to suck for the fans,” left tackle Taylor Lewan offers. “We wish the fans could be there. We wish that we could play in front of the fans. But obviously that’s just not the situation we are dealing with right now.

“It’s about handling (the situation). Let’s just get better and go win as many games as possible, so fans can be as excited as they possibly can be when they can open up and come to the stadium.”

Running back Derrick Henry says the mindset of winning doesn’t change, even though the fans’ presence does serve as additional motivation on game days.

A sign encouraging the wearing of masks stands on Lower Broadway, a reflection of COVID-19’s impact on Nashville tourism and large gatherings.

-- Photo By Mark Humphrey | Ap

“We’re out on the field going against each other when there’s no fans and it’s just us. We just got to approach it like that, just go out there and play football. It’s our job. It’s what we are required to do, what we got to do,” Henry explains.

“Fans or no fans you’ve got to go play, so that’s the mindset we have to have. We’re trying to go win football games and adjust to the circumstances.”

The hope, of course, is that even a limited number of fans will be able to enter Nissan Stadium before the season is over.

“It’s going to be a different environment that we have to adjust to and our fans have to adjust to, as well,” Henry continues. “We know we definitely want them there, but it’s a different time in the world, and you just got to adjust to what’s going on.

“Hopefully as time goes on, we’ll be able to have some fans in there, but it all depends on how this thing goes. But that’s the circumstances right now and that’s what we have to deal with.”

A few NFL teams have plans to allow a low percentage of fans to attend games. The Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs have floated the possibility of 22% attendance and actually held an open practice with some fans attending during the weekend.

Other teams have shut things down completely, at least in the short term, though a few – like the New York Jets and Giants, and Chicago Bears – have no plans to allow fans in the stands, perhaps for the entire season. Others are in wait-and-see mode.

Earlier this summer, the Titans gave their season ticket holders the choice to opt in or opt out of their season tickets for the 2020 season. They also turned away all single-game customers as part of that process of determining how many fans might get into Nissan Stadium if or when the ban is lifted.

For now, though, the sterile environment of no attendance will remain in place for the Titans, Nashville Soccer Club and other sports in Metro. An auto race at the Fairgrounds Speedway scheduled for Aug. 29 was recently canceled.

The Titans will have a chance to get used to the environment before their home opener, as the Denver Broncos have already announced there will be no one in attendance for their season-opening Monday night matchup on national TV against Tennessee on Sept. 14.

Former Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian, who joined the Titans this past week, says part of the big home-field advantage in Denver won’t be there in Week One.

“It will be interesting everywhere you play this year, especially come playoff time,” he says. “That’s a ways away. But football, you guys know, there’s no mystery there. Home-field advantage is critical. I think it will be interesting to see how it plays out.”

From a pure financial standpoint, the Titans have to hope restrictions ease in October. The Titans have three home games scheduled in that month, beginning Oct. 4 against Pittsburgh, followed by games against Buffalo and Houston.

“Though the time to open its gates isn’t quite here yet, the good news is that the Titans have the right road map,” says Dr. Michael Caldwell, director and chief medical officer for the Nashville Metro Public Health Department.

“I’m confident that the plan we created together is a careful, well-rounded design that will provide a large degree of protection for fans attending games in the hopefully near future. I know the team has made the necessary preparations to implement significant safety measures when the time comes.”

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