The Pittsburgh Steelers have played three games at Heinz Field already, but only one of them in front of fans—and even at that, the attendance came in at a little below 5000. Not, of course, because of a lack of interest in the team, but because of heavy pandemic restrictions from the state and local governments, and of course, fans’ concerns about their health and safety.
Even that small number of fans, however, was a big difference to the men in the stadium who went through the first three weeks of the season hearing blimps sail on overhead. Under normal circumstances in a National Football League game, you’re not going to be hearing the sound of a blimp pass over the stadium.
Chase Claypool was feeling it, as if that were not evident by the fact that he got into the end zone four times on Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles. He talked to Pat McAfee yesterday about a variety of topics, including what it was like to play in front of fans for the first time as a professional.
“It’s nuts, because we just had fans for the first time this season. There was only 5000 fans and I was getting some insane adrenaline”, he admitted. “So I can only imagine 65-70,000 people watching you and cheering you on. Pittsburgh’s a great city, a great sports town, and I’m hyped to get this thing started”.
The Steelers’ second-round draft pick, Claypool is quickly emerging as a playmaker, and perhaps even a difference-maker. Not only does he already have five explosive plays on the season, he has made numerous big plays in critical situations on third and fourth down.
He was their highest draft selection this year because they had no first-round pick due to the Minkah Fitzpatrick trade last year. with the 49th-overall pick, he also became the highest selection the team has used on a wide receiver since they used a first-round pick on Santonio Holmes back in 2006, the year before Mike Tomlin got the job.
Of course, they have been using high picks for the past three years on wide receivers. With both JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Washington being late second-round picks and Diontae Johnson an early third-round pick. All of them have also gotten into the end zone this year, but not with the frequency of the big rookie.
Claypool will have one more game in front of the hometown crowd on Sunday against the Cleveland Browns before the Steelers’ schedule swings heavily to the road, as seven of their final 11 games will be in their opposing teams’ stadiums. As of now, all but the Buffalo Bills have been approved to have a crowd, so he’ll get to find out what it’s like to play in front of a hostile crowd in the NFL as well—or at least what that’s like during a pandemic.