MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – March 2020 rolled in like a hurricane, untamed and on a path for destruction. In its path were loved ones, seasons canceled, and a swift reckoning on what we knew as normal everyday life.
As the 2020 football season drew near, the only piece of clarity we had was that nothing would be clear, and nothing would be business as usual. The Big Ten and Pac-12 canceled their season, while the SEC, Big-12, and ACC pushed on, with a limp in their step, though.
As the 2020 season kicked off, the sight of empty stadiums and realizations of canceled games stole the headlines. As the Nation and world suffered incomprehensible loss and restrictions, the sports world looked to be that release and a small piece of normalcy.
The Olympics and March Madness had been canceled. The NBA had moved their season into a bubble at Walt Disney World, while the NHL had moved to the bubble format as well. The MLB had limited their team travel, and when the postseason came, games were played in non-home venues, including a neutral site World Series. NASCAR had races with drivers taking the checkered flag without the roar of the crowd due to the absence of fans. Drivers frequently mentioned how much they missed the fans.
It was a process that the sports world took one day at a time. With constant COVID-19 tests and stock market-type volatility on rule changes and protocol, it was more than a whirlwind. It was an abrupt disruption of the status quo. Many players opted out of the season, leading the NCAA to change eligibility rules for 2020.
Week by week, the battle on the gridiron was only half the story. Teams were battling with the fact that they were rarely ever at full strength.
For weeks the world watched as games moved forward, while others were canceled, and the speculation of a true postseason frothed over at the media water coolers. Though, day by day, game by game, and play by play, the season went on.
As the end of 2020 drew nearer, the picture looked a little clearer. All four teams in the Playoff had felt the resounding effects of COVID-19. Alabama’s Nick Saban and Ohio State’s Ryan Day had both contracted the virus and overcome it. Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence had to sit out against their road matchup against Notre Dame after contracting the virus. The Irish had their own problems during the season with postponements for games, and then a field rush by their students after beating Clemson put the Irish on the wrong side of the fence for following safety protocol.
It simply wasn’t easy for anyone. However, as we humans do, we came together, fought through, and overcame.
All this has brought us to Monday night at Hard Rock Stadium as the Alabama Crimson Tide and Ohio State Buckeyes take to the field in the culmination of a season that almost didn’t happen. A phrase that the College Football Playoff coined and truly embraced.
A week usually filled with hundreds of thousands of fans showing off and celebrating their school spirit was replaced with virtual concerts and media day turned into “Zoom Day.” At its core, the College Football Playoff’s refined ability to think on their feet and audible better than Brett Favre and Peyton Manning.
An alternative date was set in the event that the game was postponed due to COVID-19. The week before the title game, the Buckeyes were getting through another COVID-19 scare of their own, and many wondered if they would have to use that alternative date.
Deadlines remained the same, while data needed for the ability to meet those deadlines were delayed. This created a rush to get the job done, yet the standard still needed to be met and exceeded. As the College Football Playoff worked with the host committee in Miami, they were able to figure out a plan that would be flexible.
Rolling through the media operations ahead of game day, you could see the passion and dedication of everyone looking to make the culmination happen.
As the teams touched down, Alabama on Friday and Ohio State on Saturday, the streets remained almost non-existent of team spirit. However, the feeling that the game was going to go on started to be a clear reality through the haze.
From a socially distanced pressbox, where I now sit, gameday has finally come. The efforts of health workers, local, state, and federal officials, coaches, families, players, commissioners, volunteers, the College Football Playoff staff, Tony Fay Public Relations, the Dolphins, the Miami 2021 Host Committee, and countless others are to thank for this moment.
For many, maybe they see this night as just another game or ever question the purpose of playing the game at all in a pandemic. It’s so much more than that, though. It’s a celebration of humankind coming together and fighting through adversity.
Sports unify and bring hope. As we look back on the remnants of the year 2020 and the 2020-21 football season, we have reason to celebrate. The players that take the field Monday night are just kids like we all once were. They held on to their dreams with childlike faith and dedication despite unprecedented adversity.
In the same way, we as a Nation and a World fought through this, doing what we could to curb the spread and save lives. It wasn’t easy, and the fight rages on. However, let tonight be a moment to take a step back and really understand what we have gone through and overcome to be in this moment.
It’s not about Buckeyes or Crimson Tide, as much as it is about the true human spirit and hurdling obstacles. We as a people have had to overcome pandemics in the past, and it’s likely that we will have more in the future. What that will bring in terms of changes to everyday life is unclear. The one that is clear, and I truly believe this is that we will overcome as humankind. We will rise from the ashes, and the goodness of people will shine through.
So cheers to you. Cheers to us. Cheers to football, and cheers to a game that means so much more than just 60 minutes on a field. For the ones, we lost and the ones still suffering, let’s make toe-to-leather just after 8:00 PM EST a moment of hope. Because the truth is, we won’t ever forget 2020, but we will never let 2020 define us.
Written by Adrian Beecher