The 2020 season is the most precious that the NFL has perhaps ever faced in its existence. There have, of course, been lockouts, even shortened seasons due to labor issues. There have been seasons during war in which many players served in active combat. Some teams even merged just to field a team—i.e., the Steagles of the 1943 season, a combination of the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Philadelphia Eagles. The following year, there was Card-Pitt, a combination of the Steelers and what was at the time the Chicago Cardinals.
The ‘enemy’ in this case, however, is already in the country, and can’t be stopped by a bullet. It’s a virus that has reached pandemic proportions and which continues to gain steam in many areas, including major areas in which some NFL teams are based.
We are now approaching about a month away from the time that teams will begin reporting to training camp. In fact, it is under a month for the Steelers and the Dallas Cowboys, assuming that there is a Hall of Fame game to be played, which according to Ohio’s governor, sounds unlikely. Most teams are slated to open camp on July 28.
The league remains resolute about the season going off without a hitch, at least in terms of the timeline, though that remains to be seen. For Mike Tomlin’s part, he is choosing to believe the same, a belief also shaped by conversations in which he has taken part.
“I’m hopeful. I am always an optimistic person”, he told reporters during a conference call about the upcoming season. “I have been a part of the process. When you are a part of the process, I sit on committees, I’ve had intimate conversations with logistical people and professionals. There is probably greater comfort when you are part of the process than when you are on the outside, so it allows me to be optimistic about both things”.
Tomlin confirmed that the organization did have two positive cases for the coronavirus earlier in the year, but that both cases recovered and are now fine. Roughly a dozen or so teams have been confirmed to have had cases, and it’s likely that more than that have been exposed.
Recent events around college campuses, where there have been some outbreaks, even spurred the NFLPA to issue a statement recommending that players refrain from working out in groups. By and large, players have not heeded that advice, including James Conner, who for his part has said frequently that his doctors have told him he is at no greater risk than anybody else despite his history with cancer.
Speaking of Tomlin, it’s worth keeping in mind that he was the last coach standing on the Pro Day circuit before everything was shut down and he was the first to waltz back into the team facilities at the first opportunity. His ‘optimism’ is nothing new.