The Ravens and the rest of the NFL are bracing for a world without fans amid the ongoing challenges with the COVID-19 pandemic.
The players have already gotten a taste of that dour atmosphere at training camp where they were accustomed to hundreds of fans per day cheering every play and lining up for autographs afterward.
While it’s been a significant adjustment, the game becomes normal once the players become engaged in the game. The empty stadiums could have a bigger impact on the fans who won’t be able to perform their Sunday ritual of tailgating at M&T Bank Stadium before cheering on the action al fresco from their seats.
“That’s a bummer,” defensive end Derek Wolfe said. “I’m more bummed out for the fans themselves because they’re not going to get to [go]. Who knows? Maybe a couple of games in we might be able to start letting some fans in. Maybe by the end of the season, going to the playoffs, we’ve got a full packed stadium.
“You never know what’s going to happen in the future. But I do, I feel worse for the fans than I do for myself. Because, to me, I’m out there to do a job. Whether people are screaming and yelling for me or not, I’m going to do that job.”
Other professional sports are dealing with the same issue.
To offset the odd atmosphere, franchises have pumped in crowd noise from their arena’s speakers. The Ravens will do the same when their season opens Sept. 13 at home against the Cleveland Browns.
But even that strategy will be an adjustment.
“My understanding of it is, is that the ambient crowd noise is required,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “It’s at a certain decibel level, and it has to be kept at that level as background sound the whole game. That’s what my understanding of it is. So, if it’s different or changes, then it will be different, or it will change.
“Then beyond that, you have the ability to put music up until 15 seconds before the snap – 15 seconds on the play clock. I don’t know how loud that can be. So, we’ll be looking into that, and just try to figure out what makes the most sense for us and just move forward on it.”
The impact on fans on a game cannot be understated. In football, they can disrupt the cadence of the opposing quarterback and unwittingly force a timeout. The players are often energized by the fans and there’s nothing like running out of the tunnel to the roar of the crowd.
The Ravens own a distinct home-field advantage at M&T Bank Stadium where they’ve gone 19-5 over the past three regular seasons. The crowd knows when to get loud on third down. Last season, the chants of “MVP” reigned down on quarterback Lamar Jackson who thrived on his interaction with the hometown fans.
Even on the road, the Ravens took comfort in the ubiquitous roar of “O” during the National Anthem, letting them know their fans had crept into enemy territory.
It’s an element of the game that will be sorely missed in this challenging year.
“It’s something we’re going to have to adjust to,” cornerback Tavon Young said. “But at the end of the day, we’ve got to play football, and we have to do our jobs. We have to do what we do. But ‘Ravens Flock,’ we love you, and we can’t wait to get you all back in there.”