CHICAGO - Over breakfast on Sept. 10, 2005, one sports writer set to cover that evening's jam-packed Texas-Ohio State game at Ohio Stadium expressed concern about accessing the media parking near the 'Shoe.
He proposed: Let's do a dry run.
Wait, practice driving to the stadium rather than simply arriving three hours before kickoff?
It spoke to the jittery nature of the writer.
But more so, it speaks to the nature of college football.
No sport is more linked to its fans, starting with pregame traditions such as tailgating on the golf course at Michigan, lining the path of LSU's Tiger Walk and holding up goofy signs behind the set of ESPN's "College GameDay" ("SABAN BOWLS WITH BUMPERS").
Basketball? Stream a pickup game featuring LeBron James and Steph Curry and we'd watch. The only observer you really need is a ref.
Baseball? Yeah, it would be weird. When Wrigley Field is empty during batting practice, the crack of the bat creates an unmistakable echo off the seats. But let's get real: Last year the White Sox resumed a suspended game against the Royals on a Tuesday afternoon with fewer than 100 fans in the house. They could hear Ed Farmer's call from the radio booth.
Taiwan has limited outdoor mass gatherings to 500 people, so the Rakuten Monkeys supplemented masked baseball fans with mannequins and drum-playing robots. It still might be wise to leave the Bartman seat empty, just in case.
Hockey? Ugh. An empty building would be another gut punch to the Blackhawks fans who learned Wednesday that their annual fan convention scheduled for July 26-28 had been canceled. But it's doable.
The NFL? The last Soldier Field game I attended was Jets-Bears in a cold drizzle. The first half featured one interesting play and about 37 TV and injury timeouts. Stay home, watch RedZone and curse your flawed fantasy lineup.
Golf? A Masters without spectators would be like a cheeseburger without meat. But when we're this hungry, we'd settle for grilled cheese.
Golf Digest reported Tuesday that the PGA Tour intends to restart tournaments with a June 11-14 event in Fort Worth, Texas, without spectators.
PGA of America CEO Seth Waugh said the PGA Championship, slated for Aug. 6-9 at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco, is still worth holding even if players don't have to shout, "Fore!" after stray drives.
"We believe that having it as a television event is worth doing regardless of whether there's fans there or not," Waugh said on SiriusXM Radio. "Obviously that'll change the experience, but we think the world is starved for entertainment - particularly in sports - and we think golf has the unique ability to be first out among sports in that we're played over a couple hundred acres."
The specter of spectator-free sports grew even more real Wednesday with the release of a new Snapchat interview with Dr. Anthony Fauci. The nation's top expert in infectious diseases strongly implied there's only one option for major sports in 2020.
"There's a way of doing that - nobody comes to the stadium," he said. "Put (the players) in big hotels (near) wherever you want to play. Keep them very well-surveilled. ... Have them tested like every week and make sure they don't wind up infecting each other or their family. Just let them play the season out.
"People say: You can't play without spectators. Well, I think you'd probably get enough buy-in from people dying to see a baseball game, particularly me. I'm living in Washington. We have the world champion Washington Nationals. I want to see them play again."
And Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said this Tuesday on CNN: "We're not going to allow sports to reopen, major-league sports, unless we have all of these preconditions set because I'm not going to have tens of thousands of people getting into an arena together and giving each other COVID-19."
OK, OK. We get it.
What seems weird now will eventually seem normal.
What looked completely normal about a month ago now seems weird.
I rewatched the episode of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" in which Larry David picks up a random magazine in a friend's house and draws a Hitler mustache on the cover subject. My thoughts: 1) Real nice, Larry; and 2) Ewwww, who would pick up a magazine that others have touched?
We lived decades without hesitating before shaking a hand, and now it's unthinkable.
So, yes, college football would be absolutely bizarre without fans.
"One hundred percent different," Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald texted Wednesday. "The passion of our fans is a major part of our great game."
"It would be eerie, for sure," Ohio State coach Ryan Day said Wednesday. "Certainly eerie to hear other (coaches) screaming across the field. But we need to keep everybody safe and healthy. Any football is better than no football."
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