2020 was the "Year Of The Coronavirus" for the NFL. And while COVID still affects the game today, some headway has been made when it comes to getting back to normal.
One of the biggest developments is the return of the fans. As we all know, 2020 was fan-less for the most part and it definitely had an effect on the game. Even if it wasn't the traditional effect that fans typically serve.
"Week One last year, I’m yelling from the sidelines to Tom [Brady] and you’ve never been able to communicate with your quarterback from the sideline, so we know it will be a huge difference this year," said offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich.
Make no mistake: There will be a crowd on Thursday night. And it will be loud. Very loud. The Bucs opened camp to a packed house back in July and the atmosphere was akin to that of an actual game. Folks are fired up to see the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers kick off the season against the Dallas Cowboys.
And they're going to make their voices heard in order to make the Cowboys' lives hell.
"That’s what you are always getting ready for really," said Leftwich. "We’re understanding that there’ll be fans in this year. It will be a big difference than what it was Week One [last season]. Even though we’re at home, we expect some sort of noise. It will be completely different than what it was last year, but we’re doing all the things we need to do to prepare for it.”
Even quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen - who has seen his fair share of season openers - knows this 2021 opener will be different than those that have come before it.
"Really anxious," said Christensen when asked about anticipating the return of the crowd. "We were actually talking about it in the quarterback room yesterday. It’s been a while since it was [full capacity]. I’m really excited about Thursday night and none of our quarterbacks have seen that in there. None of our players have seen it. I was telling them about some of the big old games with the Monday night game with St. Louis and some great ones in there. I’m really excited. I think it’s going to be a fun season and I think the players are excited just to have fans back in there, but just to see a home game where the place is really excited and rocking is going to be special.”
"You’re kicking it [the NFL season] off, how exciting is that," said tight end Rob Gronkowski. "To be the first game of the year and in the NFL season. I’ve played before in the opener for Thursday night and it’s a great game. What I’m most excited about is the atmosphere too. The preseason games were already pretty popping, and it was just a preseason game just to have all of those fans there. To have a sold-out stadium -- 70,000 plus fans – it’s going to be pretty wild. I bet it’s going to be louder than the Super Bowl because there were only 20,000 people there. It’s going to be exciting one.”
It's one thing to be a fan returning to watch your favorite team in person again. But imagine being a Bucs fan -or the Bucs in general- in 2021. You're kicking off the season against "America's Team". On national TV. In your home stadium. Where everyone will be watching.
Talk about a helluva start to the season. But the Bucs won't let that distract them from the task at hand.
“It’s always exciting really any time you start the season especially with the group of men that we have," said Leftwich. "A lot of hard work has been put in. It’s a lot of excitement. We get to open up Thursday night when the world will be watching. Exciting for coaches, exciting for the building, exciting for players, so I’m quite sure they’re excited now on their end too. We just have to do what we have to do to get ready and try what we can do to win a football game.”
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