A Year in Professional Sports, Plagued by a Pandemic

Empty Mile High Stadium in Denver, CO.

Uplash Photos (Royalty Free)

Empty Mile High Stadium in Denver, CO.

Aidan Garvey

Sports is one of many unifying aspects in human culture that is practiced all around the world. Whether it is the NFL in the United States, or The Champions League in the United Kingdom. Whether it is young kids playing pond hockey in Canada, or stickball in the fields of the Dominican Republic. Sports are all around the human race, or at least they were.

The COVID-19 pandemic hit the world with it’s first global health crisis since the Influenza pandemic of 1918. The virus originated in Wuhan, China, and swiftly expanded into Africa, and Europe, as well as North and South America. By early March 2020, the world Americans were accustomed to, was soon to change.

With the Exception of the occasional league lockdown, sports had always proved as a reliable escape from everyday life. there always seemed to be a game on TV, whether it was the NBA or Olympic Skiing. However, that was all to change on March 11, 2020.

March 11, 2020.  Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK.   Utah Jazz @ Oklahoma City Thunder

Before March 11, 2020, the COVID-19 virus seemed like a traditional “wash your hands” procedure. At least, that is the advice Americans were given when the first person tested positive for COVID-19 on Jan. 22. For those three weeks, washing hands seemed to be enough, and the virus was definitely not going to stop the race for the NBA Playoffs. However, when Rudy Gobert tested Positive for the virus prior to his game against the Thunder, sports fans knew this was a serious matter.

Minutes prior to tip-off a medical staff member sprinted on to the floor to discuss with referees the matter at hand. It was later that night when the NBA enacted an “indefinite suspension of play”.

March 12, 2020. 

Following the previous night’s events, the NHL broke it’s silence and decided to also pause operations based off of the recommendations by health professionals.

The MLB also made a statement around 4 P.M, stating that all spring training games were to be postponed, and opening day was to be moved back two weeks. The MLB announced that their season would not begin until mid-May 4 days later.

April 2020

April was no indifferent with its events, with the first quarantine in effect, the entire world was locked in it’s homes. Henceforth, the NFL Draft had to adapt from its original procedure. The original plan was for the NFL Draft to take place on the Las Vegas Strip, the NFL’s newest city. However, with a pandemic, this was not possible. Instead of Las Vegas, the NFL Draft was filmed at the ESPN Headquarters in Bristol, CT.

All coaches and players were located in their respective homes, and of course Commissioner Goodell hosted the Draft from his basement in Bronxville, NY. Top prospects were filmed in their living rooms surrounded by their families and despite the virtual barrier, the celebrations were just as sweet.

LSU quarterback Joe Burrow was the NFL’s first ever “Virtual Draft Pick”, as he was selected first overall by the Cincinnati Bengals.

May and June 2020

Following the month of April showers, the month of May flowers did not behold anything spectacular in the sporting world, instead society enjoyed the warm weather outside their homes with long walks, hikes, socially distanced meet-ups and even some virtual graduations.

May and June however, were huge for golf, as it was the only thing on television. The Match II on May 24 became the most viewed golf event in cable history. The showdown between Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods, Peyton Manning, and Tom Brady proved to be the spark the sports world needed to

July 2020

July was a huge month in the return to professional sports. Firstly, the MLB finally kicked off its 2020 Opening Day four months late. Friday July 24, was a huge day for baseball fans around the country, with the Yankees and Nationals beginning the season, although 2020 luck struck in the form of inclement weather, ending the game after only 5 innings.

In the NBA, Walt Disney World in Orlando, FL, became the NBA’s new home, as players poured into the Magic Kingdom for a fully isolated basketball experience. Players arrived in Orlando as early as July 9, and underwent mandatory testing and quarantine until games finally began on July 30.

The NBA bubble consisted of a qualifying round robin, to finalize the standings from the end of the season, the teams that qualified entered the NBA Playoffs.

August 2020

August 1, 2020 served as the day NHL fans had longed for. The return to play came as the first game played since March 11, 2020. The two bubbles in Toronto, Ontario and Edmonton, Alberta, became home to the top 12 teams from both the Eastern and Western Conference.

Toronto served for the top 12 from the East, and Edmonton served the top 12 from the West. The first game played was a 3-2 victory by the Carolina Hurricanes over the New York Rangers.

The NHL bubble consisted of a qualifying round, followed by the traditional Stanley cup playoff format. The top 4 teams from each conference would compete round robin to determine seeding, while simultaneously, the bottom 7 teams played in a qualifying round. In the qualifying round, the 5 seed team played the 12 seed team, the 6 seed played the 11 seed, etc.

While the NHL competed in Canada, the NBA continued their competition in Orlando.

September 2020

September was home to the introduction of the NFL into the COVID sports scene. The NFL is king of American telecasts on Sundays, and its return was warmly welcomed by millions of fans.

With the Raiders in Las Vegas for the first year, and the Chargers and Rams sharing a brand new stadium in Inglewood (Los Angeles). The National Football League returned to the sports scene with a season that would behold many new opportunities for players and fans alike.

In Canada, the NHL continued in their quest for the Stanley Cup in a bubbled environment. The Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Islanders, who were the final 2 remaining teams in Toronto, flew to Edmonton to merge with the western bubble. The other two teams remaining, being the Vegas Golden Knights, and the Dallas Stars, stayed in Edmonton where they has resided since July.

The final four teams battled in the bubble until just Tampa Bay and Dallas remained, Tampa came out victorious as the NHL bubble champions.

In Orlando, the NBA continued in their similar bubble process. The final four teams in the NBA bubble were the Los Angeles Lakers, Denver Nuggets, Boston Celtics, and Miami Heat. Miami and Los Angeles advanced to the finals, where LeBron James captured his 4th NBA Title, and Los Angeles’ 1st since 2010.

October 2020

Although the MLB playoffs started with the Wild Card round on Sep. 30, the Divisional round began for the MLB on Oct. 5. The 2020 MLB Playoffs showcased the dark horse Tampa Bay Rays, who had very little star power on their roster. The underdogs managed to take down the highly touted New York Yankees in the ALDS, along with the defending champions Houston Astros.

However, Tampa’s cinderella story came to a close when they eventually lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series, giving Los Angeles their first World Series title since 1988.

November 2020

November surrounded the NFL. The MLB, NBA, and NHL playoffs were all in the offseason, and it was finally time for the NFL to shine. The 2020 NFL season was filled with exciting storylines, including Tom Brady in Tampa Bay, the emergence of the Buffalo Bills, and the 2,000 yard rushing season of Derrick Henry.

The Pittsburgh Steelers started off their season 11-0, and the Jets started off their season 0-13. Henceforth, there was a severe gap in talent amongst teams this season.

December 2020

As the year 2020 came to a close, sports fans rejoiced around the world that the horrid calendar year was finally coming to a close. However, when things end, new things begin. So consequently, the NBA began its season outside of the bubble, on Dec. 22. The first game of the year resulted in the trouncing of the Golden State Warriors at the hands of the Brooklyn Nets.

Outside of Orlando, teams had to encounter their first bouts with COVID-19 cases. With exposures and positive tests, the ability to travel and play different teams in other cities became a challenge. Star players like Kyrie Irving and James Harden displayed difficulty in keeping themselves isolated, resulting in COVID-19 scares for their entire organizations.

In terms of the NFL, their season was coming to a close, with the playoff race narrowing down to just the final few teams, weeks 14 through 17 proved to be a great show for fans all around the country.

January 2021

January included the return of the NHL. Back in their respective cities, Commissioner Gary Bettman decided it would be beneficial to re-divide the teams into new divisions. The teams would only play in their own divisions for the entirety of the 54 game regular season.

January also was home to the beginning of the NFL playoffs. The race for the Lombardi Trophy was an exciting one. Powerful teams like the Bills, Chiefs, and Packers all easily stormed through playoff competition to the Conference championships. However, it was the 6th seeded Buccaneers who became the dark horse of the NFL playoffs.

Kansas City toppled Buffalo in the AFC Championship game, and Tampa Bay upset Green Bay in the NFC Championship game. Tom Brady would travel to his 10th Super Bowl appearance.

February 2021

February started off as it always had… with the Super Bowl. Super Bowl LV, hosted in Tampa Bay, featured the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs, and the newly successful Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Tom Brady proved all his doubters wrong in this game. Leading the Buccaneers to their first Super Bowl title since 2003. With that win, Brady was now the winningest individual in NFL history with 7 Super Bowls… The most a single franchise has is 6.

February also had NHL and NBA regular season action, but nothing of major news occurred.

March 11, 2021

Now, a year later, I sit in my room finishing this article. I look back at the way to world used to be and reminisce at the full capacity stadiums, Bills Mafia tailgates, and sold-out playoff games.

It is crazy how COVID-19 has been in our world for a year now. 365 days ago the NBA shut down, the NHL suspended operations, and the MLB postponed their season.

Now, as I type these last final sentences, with the vaccine rolling out in the millions. I just simply hope that sports will go back to the way they used to be.