Recollections: Games without fans
By Thom Gerretsen
WDLB Sports Director Gene Delisio is so detailed in describing what happens on the field, I once joked that he’d be happy covering games without crowds in his way. He may soon have that chance. As many sports consider “games without fans,” I wouldn’t want a single soul to catch COVID-19 at these scaled-down venues.
Still, I’d want the crowds there – but only if I could feel safe with them. They’re part of the game in the National Football League, where thousands scream on third down to throw off the visiting quarterback’s snap counts. Players’ emotions feed off the fans so much, I’d question whether NFL games would be as intense without them.
As a fan, two fouls have already been called on me. Being diabetic and older than 65 are two of the four high-risk categories for the coronavirus. Oh, I’d still step up to the plate – but perhaps after a couple weeks of action to see if everybody can get in-and-out of stadiums OK. I’m addicted to the “roar of the crowd,” just like many players. Why else have I attended more than 500 professional baseball, football, basketball, hockey and golf matches during the last 50 years that I could have seen for a fraction of the cost on my cable TV?
Part of it is tradition. I have witnessed at least one Milwaukee Brewers’ game in each of the last 48 years, starting with the Crew’s fourth season in 1973. And from all indications, I won’t be invited to a 49th season if it’s played. I’ve already missed one game at Miller Park; the May 10 contest where a Brewers’ giveaway would have added 2018 MVP Christian Yelich to my bobblehead family. Also, my wife Jean and I were planning to take some friends from our church, Faith Lutheran, to Minneapolis in mid-June to see the Crew take on the Twins at Target Field – among other Twin Cities’ sightseeing. But Major League games won’t be played until July, if then.
For me, sports is more than the games. They create quality time with family and friends. I travel to cities I’d never otherwise see, and do things that expand my horizons. Jean and I saw the play “Hamilton” in Appleton last fall, and then I saw Green Bay beat Detroit the next night. I guarantee you, the Packers had no idea how important the giveaway item would be – all 78,000 fans received an elastic cloth face cover to guard against the cold. Lately, it’s been very handy as a face mask in the grocery store, where the recommended COVID social distancing can get too close for comfort.
WDLB News Director Mike Warren has joined me on a number of Packers’ road trips. The 2010 season took us to Philadelphia for Green Bay’s Wild Card playoff win – and we also saw the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. Two weeks later, we almost froze in Chicago’s Soldier Field as Green Bay beat the Bears to advance to the Super Bowl – and we had the added bonus of hearing Bears’ fans whine on the radio as we laughed our way out of town. Because of football, we’ve also seen Seattle’s Space Needle and Pike Place Market, the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta, a replica of Mr. Rogers’ TV studio at a city museum in Pittsburgh, and the Gateway Arch in St. Louis on our way home from last year’s Packer victory at Kansas City.
Had that KC trip not started with the Milwaukee Bucks losing their home season opener to Miami, I might not have been able to see another game all season at Fiserv Forum. But I still hold out hope to see the Bucks host an NBA Finals game, just like they were on track to do before that season was suspended in March.
Sometimes, I get a real curve thrown at me. In 2011, my granddaughter MyKayla and I saw the Brewers clinch their first playoff series in 29 years when they beat Arizona in 10 innings of the deciding Game 5 of a National League Division Series. The next day, I was starting to drive home when MyKayla, then 11, saw a freeway sign and asked, “Can we go to the zoo?” That question resulted in an unexpected daylong delight – a Saturday October visit to the Milwaukee County Zoo amid lots of animals, mild weather, bright fall colors, and some very precious company.