The Pittsburgh Steelers have played their first three games of the season with no fans in attendance. It was unusual, and eerie—surely even more so for those few who were actually in the stadium than for those watching at home, on a broadcast that did what it could to minimize that effect.
If all goes well, however, they won’t have to play another game in front of an empty ring of seats. The Steelers received authorization to host fans earlier this week, and the team has already announced plans to admit up to 5,500 individuals for Sunday’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles.
While it is a relatively small number for a stadium that seats over 60,000, the live bodies in the stadium should have some effect on the atmosphere of the game, with people available to actually react to what they are seeing, something that Art Rooney II noted yesterday.
“I think it’ll help. It’s been really strange, or weird, to play in a stadium without fans for the first three weeks”, he said, “so I think even a small number of fans will help the atmosphere, and I think our players will really enjoy having some of them in the building”.
As I wrote about yesterday, Rooney and the organization continue to hold out hope that, as the season progresses, they will be permitted to increase their attendance levels. The plan that they submitted to the local government called for attendance at 20 percent capacity, which is roughly 12,000 patrons.
The Steelers have already had two home games in their first three contests, and they have two more coming up right away, so it will be interesting to compare and contrast the previous two games to the next two in terms of atmosphere.
One thing that will be different is that, as Rooney confirmed, we should expect to hear Renegade again. “I think we’ll have the return of Renegade. I’m sure the fans in the building will be looking forward to it and, hopefully it will be enough to put us over the top”, he said.
The playing of Renegade, typically in a key late-game defensive situation, has been a Heinz Field tradition pretty much since the beginning almost 20 years ago. Although some have certainly grown tired of it, it has become a fan favorite generally, but it obviously loses much of its impact if there is no crowd to pump up.
Of the team’s seven remaining away games, six of their opponents have already received approval to host fans, with only the Buffalo Bills all the way in week 14 still up in the air. The Steelers have 13 straight weeks of regular season football left to go. Here’s hoping that make it through all 13 without interruption, and with a fan following along every stop.