Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, October 16, 2020

The NFL knew this would happen

Titans and Vikings players have prayer circle after their Sept. 27 game. The 4-0 Titans play host to the Texans Sunday if there are no more COVID cases. - Photo by Jim Mone | AP

Never mind the cross-field lateral from Frank Wycheck to Kevin Dyson that beat the Bills more than 20 years ago. The real Music City Miracle might be taking place in 2020 for the Tennessee Titans.

If the Titans can somehow navigate the rest of the season without another COVID-19 case – and somehow not transmit it to others, as well – it truly would be an incredible feat.

But that apparently is what the NFL is banking on. And while the Titans have their share of culpability in having more than 20 cases of COVID-19 run throughout the organization, the league itself should share the blame. In fact, it should shoulder the bulk of it.

When the coronavirus pandemic hit the United States in the winter, the NFL had the luxury of being in its offseason while the NBA and NHL were forced to halt their seasons. Major League Baseball had its start delayed by four months, trying to figure out what to do to salvage the 2020 season.

Meanwhile, the NFL trudged ahead, acting bulletproof as if a virus that has infected everybody from Tom Hanks to President Trump – and killed 215,000 in between – would somehow be deflected by the NFL shield.

Sure, the league took some measures during the period of the great unknown, making teams use Zoom meetings instead of offseason team activities. They even canceled preseason games to buy a little more time before the season began.

But now that the season has started and the coronavirus has hit the Titans and other teams, the NFL looks shortsighted in its plan not to alter the schedule to build in more bye weeks for some team – it became the Titans – to be unable to compete due to an outbreak.

Could some Titans players and/or coaches have been overly careless as they gathered for meetings in and around the time they were preparing for the Minnesota Vikings, which now seems a lifetime ago? Almost certainly.

There has already much speculation and talk about what type of punishment the Titans will face from the NFL as the league and Players Association investigate the team’s COVID protocols.

Heavy fines, suspensions and even a loss of draft picks could be in the offing for the Titans’ handling of the situation, which included off-site meetings apparently in violation of NFL instructions.

But as safety Kevin Byard reminded everyone now that the Titans have become a league pariah due to the outbreak on their watch, it was bound to happen to somebody. The Titans were just that unfortunate somebody.

“We’re in a pandemic,” Byard says. “I just believe that if anybody went into this season thinking that there weren’t going to be any positive tests or outbreaks of all 32 teams, I think that was kind of foolish.

“Obviously, we weren’t trying be the team that had the outbreak. We’re not trying to get COVID-19, so I think it is what it is, but I definitely took note of it. If it would have happened to somebody else, people would have been saying the same thing.”

Twice now, the NFL has been forced to adjust the schedule to accommodate the Titans, and it now has very little wiggle room left with them. But the postponements are spreading as positive tests pop up around the league.

The NFL pushed the Broncos-Patriots game back a week after positive tests shut down the New England practice facility.

How the virus works and how it is transmitted is still a mystery and probably better answered by a scientist than a sports writer or even a league commissioner. How else do you explain the Titans’ outbreak that was sandwiched around their trip to Minnesota, yet the Vikings still have no positive tests two weeks later after playing on the same field as the Titans?

And for that very reason, the great unknown, the NFL should have been wiser in putting out a 2020 schedule in the midst of a pandemic. Additional byes would have been an easy solution rather than shaking up the schedule every time a team has a seemingly inevitable positive test.

All of this has not only the Titans but the entire NFL season on proverbial thin ice, praying for the best but preparing for the worst.

As Patriots coach Bill Belichick said when asked about dealing with the COVID outbreak in his team’s facility, “We’re certainly taking things day by day – probably hour by hour would be more accurate.”