With a three-hour primetime special, one heavily advertised across even non-sports platforms, the NFL unveiled the 2020 schedule on Thursday night. The annual schedule release extravaganza reinforces why the NFL is both the best of America and the worst thing in sports.
There is self-importance and then there is the National Football League. Imagine any other non-political entity hyping up a non-event that doesn’t feature any actual action. It’s quite literally showing a sequence of games. We already knew every opponent and game location for every team, so there wasn’t any suspense about if the Chiefs and 49ers will play (they don’t) in a Super Bowl rematch. Imagine the NHL trying to hype up a three-hour show around revealing when Winnipeg plays in Washington.
Sure, it’s cool to plan the road trip to catch your favorite team. My good friend Chris is a Lions fan but he lives in Florida. Knowing the dates for when he will make the trip to Atlanta and Jacksonville (now that the Jaguars can’t play in London in 2020) to watch the Lions inevitably lose is important. If you’re a hardcore fan and need a day to recover after your beloved plays on Monday Night Football, it’s probably a good thing to put in a few weeks early to get that fateful Tuesday off.
Most fans, however, aren’t like that. Many are like my dear old friend Chris, a Broncos die-hard. He texted me Thursday afternoon to see if I knew of any leaks and when they were going to play the Chiefs. I pointed Chris to the Chiefs’ social media release that was hyped to come at 7:30 ET. He texted me again at 8:42 that he was “stoked” and wanted my take on their schedule. That was all.
Those social media releases and productions from the teams to unveil their schedules have become fantastic works of art. It’s a worthwhile endeavor to go through all 32 of them and watch, beholding the creativity and entertainment on display. If the network was smart, they’d compile all those into one show and hype the hell out of that instead of giving us talking heads who don’t know half the players on most teams analyzing who “won” the schedule release.
Yet as much as I rail against the media behemoth that is the NFL, this year’s schedule release felt different. Importantly different. And I’m quite thankful for it.
The NFL has been the one facet of American life that hasn’t been completely uprooted, dismantled, postponed or radically altered by the COVID-19 pandemic. They held the much-hyped draft on schedule and it was a resounding hit. The schedule for the fall projects a full season being played with no disruption or alteration, at least on the surface. That sort of strident aspiration is exactly what America thirsts for right now. Bravo for the NFL for being the beacon of hope of a return to whatever normalcy we desperately cling to these days.
It’s a sorely needed hope, a light at the end of a very dark tunnel for most of us. I live in Michigan, where the virus has hit particularly hard. Nearly everything here is closed. We are banned from setting foot in our neighbor’s house or playing basketball in a park. Small businesses are on the brink of complete eradication if they’re still somehow clinging to life, yet that’s inconsequential to the families that are dealing with significant loss of loved ones. I personally know two people who have perished as a result of the coronavirus, but many people who I care about have lost much more than that. Fathers, brothers, grandparents, close friends are gone. It’s a very difficult time.
The NFL offering a glimpse of positivity is a welcome beacon of hope. This too shall pass, that’s the NFL’s message, and football will be there for you when you expect it. There is nothing wrong with looking forward to fun, to diversion, to actual entertainment once again. The NFL has done right by the country in providing that hope.