Given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it’s a minor miracle the NFL has gotten this far. They’re through the first seven weeks of the regular season and haven’t had to cancel any games, although there has been some juggling because of the Titans’ recent outbreak.
But the degree of difficulty remains extremely high, with Giants guard Will Hernandez’s positive test the latest reminder that getting through the rest of the season will be difficult, if not next to impossible.
Hernandez is in quarantine, and several other offensive linemen deemed close contacts were kept away from the Giants’ practice facility on Thursday. The Giants are optimistic that they can return as early as Friday, and as of now, Monday night’s game against the Buccaneers is still on.
The pandemic continues at a relentless pace throughout the country, with most states reporting a rise in cases, hospitalizations and deaths. Unlike the NBA and NHL, which conducted their abbreviated seasons and playoffs in a "bubble," and Major League Baseball, which went to a bubble for most of the postseason, the NFL is in the midst of a far more difficult challenge. Players, coaches and administrators adhere to strict guidelines that include mask-wearing, social distancing and regular hand-washing, but they go home each night and interact with their families, thereby increasing the risk of transmission.
The Giants are just the latest team to have a player infected. The Titans, Raiders, Falcons, Patriots, Chargers and Kansas City are among the teams that also have had positive cases, with Tennessee getting through the worst of those situations. Daniel Jones, Saquon Barkley, Sterling Shepard and other Giants were seen without face coverings at dinner in New York last Friday, another reminder of how players letting their guard — or their masks — down leaves them vulnerable. Hernandez was not in that group, but those who were out face fines for not following the strict guidelines mandated by the NFL and the NFL Players Association.
Justin Turner’s ill-advised — and, quite frankly, selfish — decision to celebrate with his teammates after the Dodgers won the World Series on Tuesday night was another wake-up call. Turner found out during the game that he had tested positive for COVID-19, was removed from the lineup and was told not to go onto the field after the game ended. But he did so anyway, hugging teammates while not wearing a mask and posing for a team photo next to the championship trophy. Sitting next to Turner: Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, a cancer survivor.
The Dodgers won the World Series for the first time since 1988, but the Turner fiasco overshadowed what should have been a joyous celebration free of controversy.
Giants coach Joe Judge is trying his best to take a business-as-usual approach; in fact, he began his Thursday Zoom call by reviewing the Buccaneers’ strengths on offense, defense and special teams before taking a question about the COVID-19 situation. But he knows that navigating the treacherous waters of playing football in a pandemic will be problematic.
"The message remains constant," he said. "We just got to remind each other constantly. It’s all about being safe, putting ourselves in the right situation. It’s about the social distancing in the building, the protocols with the masks, the PPEs. We just have to go ahead and stay consistent with that and put ourselves in the best position possible."
It is a long way from here to Super Bowl LV, which is scheduled for Feb. 7 in Tampa. The odds of getting all 256 regular-season games in were slim to begin with, and as the pandemic rages on, it will become even more difficult.
"The Second Wave of coronavirus is no longer something off in the future," New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy tweeted Thursday. "It’s coming in now. Double-down on the practices that helped us flatten the curve last spring — social distance, wash your hands, wear a mask."
The advice is the same for everyone in the NFL, even if a significant segment of the general population looks at mask-wearing as an infringement of their personal rights and thus raises the risks even further. It only adds to the league’s challenge of forging ahead with the most unusual season in NFL history.
Here’s hoping they can make it through.
Here’s hoping we can all make it through.