The Pittsburgh Steelers today played their first of what should be five more games at Heinz Field in which there will be fans in attendance. Right now, the numbers are quite small, but the team is still hoping to gain permission to expand their admission numbers. The team planned to allow up to 5,500 fans attend today’s game, but it was closer to 5,000.
At least, that’s what it said at the gate. For Vince Williams, it was much more than that, at least going from three games with no fans in attendance at all to several thousand. It’s still a huge stadium with a ton of empty seats, but that’s a lot of voices to cheer you on, all the same.
“Oh man, it was amazing”, Williams told reporters after the game. “It felt like it was 62,000 people in there. I can’t even lie to you, the difference that it made. Just in a little number of 5000, Steeler Nation showed up and showed out. I’m extremely proud to be a Pittsburgh Steeler, the way you guys come back the first day to have fans and make an impact”.
The Steelers submitted a plan to the local government to allow up to 20 percent capacity into Heinz Field, which would have been about 12,000 fans. Last week, the state governor authorized venues of the Steelers’ size to host up to 7500 people, for now. But, as said, they remain hopeful that, as the season progresses, the restrictions will be eased as well.
While it was not something that I was consciously focusing on, it did seem as though the live crowd did make a bit of a difference versus the artificial crowd noise that the league had been using for games hosted without fans. At least the reactions to plays were immediate, rather than delayed.
One camera, the stadium still looks pretty empty, with the entire top ring vacant. Even taken in half, the admission numbers are still but a fraction of what they could be, and the bright yellow seats really stand out, so the feeling is still there to some degree.
But you still hear the 5000 or so voices and it does make a difference. You don’t have to pretend to celebrate with your teammates posing as your fans after a score—though of course there won’t be any jumping into the stands this year, either.
The Steelers have a quick turnaround before their next home game, as they will also host the Cleveland Browns next week, their fourth home game in five games this season. Considering all of their opponents so far have been quite bad, the Browns should offer them their biggest challenge of the season to date. But at least they get to go into the game with the best record in the AFC, undefeated.