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SportsColumnistsNeil Best

We have hit the wall here, sports fans

A pedestrian walks a running track while wearing

A pedestrian walks a running track while wearing a surgical mask near Yankee Stadium as it remains closed due to COVID-19 concerns, Thursday, March 26, 2020, in the Bronx. Credit: AP/John Minchillo

We now know that the sports world would have gone on hiatus even if Rudy Gobert had not tested positive for the COVID-19 virus on March 11.

But that day forever will be remembered as the one on which the crisis and its implications hit home for many of us. (Tom Hanks also reported being ill that day, so yeah, that was pretty much it.)

It also marked the start of a dizzying two-plus weeks during which sports news came in waves, and both fans and those who get paid to write and talk about sports had no shortage of material to distract from bigger matters.

There was much to discuss as one sport after another announced postponements and cancellations, capped by the Olympic Games, and the implications of said disruptions rippled out from there.

There were stories about impacted coaches and athletes, workers in sports-related industries suddenly without work, historical precedents for sports postponements and odes to Opening Days past.

There were slivers of normal stuff, too. Thank you, NFL free agency!

But even Tom Brady could take America only so far. By Monday morning, the news flow had slowed to a trickle, and sports for the moment seemed more and more beside the point.

For two weeks, we got to talk about Brady’s contractual freedom and his eventual signing with the Buccaneers. (Typing that still seems weird.)

Come Sunday night / Monday morning, ESPN’s “SportsCenter” was reduced to showing an amusing Kenny Mayne feature on Brady’s allegedly injured right shoulder . . . from 2007.

That “SportsCenter” led with a virtual NASCAR race – pretty darn realistic, actually – and featured interviews with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and WWE executive/personality “Triple H,” plus Nicaraguan baseball highlights.

This is no knock on ESPN, any more than the rest of the sports media racket can be blamed for doing what it can to fill its consumers’ spare time.

But boredom clearly has set in for those in the sports world fortunate enough still to have our health and jobs.

According to Elias Sports Bureau (via ESPN), this is the longest stretch without an MLB, NFL, NBA or NHL game since one during the 1994 baseball strike that lasted from Aug. 12 through Sept. 3.

That was three months before Pete Alonso was born.

During that stretch, though, there was an end in sight. On Sept. 4, quarterback Boomer Esiason led the Jets to a 23-3 rout of the Bills, and the Giants beat the Eagles, 28-23.

This time, there is no telling when our games will return, and Esiason is scrambling to fill four hours a day on WFAN, like every other sports talk radio host across the country.

Increasingly, we are left to confront a timeless verity of sports: The shelf life of events tends to expire the second the clock winds to zero.

That has become painfully clear as sports television and radio networks fill their schedules with old games and try to spice things up with enhancements.

On Monday morning, the YES Network showed Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS, adding Twitter commentary from John Flaherty, and at night it planned to show Game 6 of the 1996 World Series, with live tweeting by David Cone.

Fine. Sure. Why not? But: meh. We have hit the wall here, fans.

It goes without saying that we will appreciate things more once things get back to normal — at least until the first time our favorite team loses a key game on a bad call or loses a key pitcher to a blown elbow tendon.

But for now? Just try to stay safe and stay sane.

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