So a week from Sunday, the Atlanta Falcons will open their season at Mercedes-Benz Stadium against the Seattle Seahawks, and all of those 71,000 or so seats will feature, well, um, nobody.
Falcons officials decided to make it simple when it comes to trying to protect their fans during the middle of the pandemic. They did so by telling them to stay away from Mercedes-Benz Stadium. You know, at least for the first couple of home games, which includes the Chicago Bears coming to town on Sunday, September 27.
That means the Falcons will spend those Seahawks and Bears games without the energy boost most NFL teams receive from an overwhelming number of their supporters in the hometown stands hugging them like crazy.
That also means this: With the Falcons trying to rebound from consecutive 7-9 seasons, they'd better find ways to handle the situation.
They already have.
Falcons head coach Dan Quinn held a scrimmage last week, not at the team's practice facility in Flowery Branch, Georgia, but in an empty Mercedes-Benz Stadium to give his assistants and players a taste of their new (and quieter) world during game days in Atlanta on a temporary basis.
To liven things up a little, Falcons officials did for that scrimmage what they'll do for those Seahawks and Bears games.
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They pumped fake crowd noise over the public address system.
"I'm not sure our organization should be talking about pumping in crowd noise," Ryan said jokingly when talking to the media recently during a video conference. "I think we had a small issue with that a little while ago."
Uh, yeah. In 2015, the NFL fined the Falcons $350,000 and stripped them of a fifth-round draft choice the following year for adding fake crowd for home games during the 2013 and 2014 seasons. The league also suspended Falcons president Rich McKay for three months from its competition committee.
Now the NFL doesn't mind fake crowd noise.
Just for this weird season, though.
"Whatever they want to do is cool with me," Ryan said of the Falcons' coronavirus plans at home games. "I'll be ready to go."
Ryan hasn't a choice, and neither do his teammates.