Monday Night Is Missing Its Mojo


GREEN BAY, Wis. — The hospitals here are nearing capacity with coronavirus patients. The Bishop of the Catholic Diocese has told his flock that they can stay home and did not have to attend Sunday Mass. Gov. Tony Evers was even more direct about the grip the pandemic has on his state.

He implored his citizens to stay at home.

“We’re losing people,” Evers, a Democrat, said over the weekend. “The death rate is increasing. This is a time to double down as a state; we cannot afford to allow this to rage out of control.”

Inside Lambeau Field on Monday night, however, the N.F.L. show went on: The Packers beat the Atlanta Falcons, 30-16, before no fans.

There were no cheesehead wearing rowdies in the bleachers. Aaron Jones did not take a Lambeau leap into the front rows behind the end zone when he scored Green Bay’s first touchdown. Nor did Robert Tonyan Jr., after catching three more scoring passes from Aaron Rodgers.

The N.F.L. is a made-for-television spectacle these days: three hours of packaged razzmatazz broadcast from mostly empty stadiums.

Inside, Lambeau is a messy sound stage. Barricades and trash cans are stacked akimbo on its concourses. A skeleton crew of security personnel directs no one.

Instead of the piped-in fan noise you hear on your couch that helps with the illusion that the N.F.L. has returned to normal, Tom Petty sounds tinny in the empty stadium and the touchdown fireworks explode violently enough to make you think Lambeau has been wired for demolition.

From the field, the ambient sound is not all that different from a junior varsity game on a Thursday afternoon. The collisions are louder and the cross chatter more animated. In fact, Rodgers said that he and Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan shared a laugh about the eerie intimacy of the empty stadium.

“You can hear everything on the sidelines,” Rodgers said. “You can hear the conversation of the other team during timeouts. It’s been a big change for all of us.”

The silence was uncharacteristically deafening outside Lambeau Field as well, and for a very good reason. Titletown, the entertainment district across from the stadium, was empty, leaves blowing through its promenades. Next door, Kroll’s West was nearly empty, surely a game day mirage at the local tavern and institution whose autograph wall of Packer greats summons the dulcet tones of N.F.L. Films’s John Facenda.

Rodgers groused as a self-professed “older player” about a new prohibition on players and coaches leaving their team’s city on bye weeks, and those exempt from testing are still required to report to the team’s facility for daily screening and temperature checks.

Rodgers, 36, was emphatic. The Packers are 4-0 and off this week before facing Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

He grumbled about the restrictions, but it’s clear the N.F.L. would rather avoid the scramble of further disrupting the schedule. The show, in their view, must go on.



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