The Pittsburgh Steelers yesterday announced that for at least the early portion of the season, the team will not be hosting fans at Heinz Field. This has increasingly been becoming the case throughout the league, though not every team has made this or any other definitive declaration of their plans just yet.
There is no denying that the crowd is a significant part of any competitive professional sport. It’s partly reflected in betting lines. Even players who have said that they don’t mind not having fans acknowledged that the crowd does have some influence on the game.
One of the things that some players will miss most of all, though, is the entrance, and after missing most of last season, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger admitted before practice yesterday that that was really something he was looking forward to in returning this year.
“It’s going to be different. I know we had our kind of practice that night with the fake crowd noise, whatever you want to call it”, he said. “I’d be lying if I didn’t say I wasn’t excited to run out of the tunnel after last year at Heinz Field. There’s nothing better, and I’ll never be able to put it into words to describe to someone that hasn’t been able to do it, what it’s like to run out in that stadium, here at home with the fans screaming and going nuts and the Terrible Towels waving. I was looking forward to that”.
“Obviously that’s going to be different now”, he continued, “but, and playing as long as I have, I mean, it’s going to be a unique situation, whether there’s a few fans or no fans, I mean, I’m not really sure what’s going to happen yet. All that being said, after missing last year, I’m just going to be happy to be on the field playing a game”.
Roethlisberger’s 2019 season came to an end in the middle of the Steelers’ Week Two game against the Seattle Seahawks. He ended up tearing three tendons in his throwing elbow, all told, and they had to be surgically reattached, which, to the best of his knowledge, is an injury no professional quarterback has ever had and come back from.
But he looks to be well on his way to being the first, and in fact has on multiple occasions in recent days remarked about how in many ways he actually feels better, particularly his elbow, than he has for years. He has been throwing regularly throughout the offseason, and has had an increased work schedule in training camp that it sounds like will carry over into the regular season, foregoing his typical Wednesday off days.
That he is preparing for a season in which there may not be any fans in the stadium to watch him play isn’t something that he can control. While he may miss the entrance and the general excitement and energy a crowd can provide, football is still football, and that’s what he’s excited about most of all.