HOUSTON – As I walked into NRG Stadium, the rain was definitely ruining my hair. I forgot my rain boots, so my feet were wet. I had to turn back around to go to my car and get my mask, but I didn’t care.
I’m covering the Texans, baby!
After a weird off-season (pandemic, social justice issues, bad economy, people 10 times meaner than they’ve ever been, I could go on) it was just so nice to know I was covering an NFL game in-person.
Every media member had to fill out several forms leading up to game-day, and upon arrival, underwent a temperature check. The NRG staff couldn’t have been nicer, even standing in the rain. The Texans public relations staff has been next-level organized with making sure we all have what we need.
The Texans staff also made the press box feel as normal as possible. We each had hand sanitizer at our desks, and clear dividers between us. Everyone was wearing masks, but that’s the norm now.
There are two big differences. The first one is post-game. It’s all via Zoom. I do miss that in-person interaction. It’s fun to see the players come off the field and hug their wives and kids, and getting to ask them questions in-person creates a different kind of environment where you can pick up on nuances and tidbits that help with reporting.
But, it’s the way we must operate during this time, so we make the most of it.
The second major difference is fans. There were none this week, though the Texans are eager to welcome fans for week four when they host the Vikings.
I can’t express how strange it was to hear very little cheering (the fake crowd noise only does so much) when J.J. Watt got a sack, or Deshaun Watson made one of his miraculous plays.
My focus has always been telling stories, and thankfully I can still do that during this pandemic. It takes some creativity, but we’re all on a level playing field right now. Players, for example, try not to even leave their houses oe apartments because they want to stay safe and COVID-19-negative. We’re all adjusting.
As far as the other sports go, it was tougher to cover the Rockets as they were in the bubble in Orlando. The Astros have done an excellent job of keeping the media spaced apart. (The Astros bathroom has a door you can open with your foot so you don’t have to touch the handle. Can we keep that after the pandemic, please?!)
We’re continuing to cover high school sports, too. When I was at Stafford for their football game against Sealy, I was impressed with the level of cooperation the crowd had with social distancing and wearing masks. These kids need sports, marching band, and cheerleading as they mature. I wore a mask and stayed far apart from everybody, but it was wonderful just to be there.
Although sports are not the most important thing, they do bring people together. They help create jobs for stadium workers. Local restaurants are trying to stay afloat, so they certainly hoping fans will want to sit down and eat, or get takeout on game-day.
Covering sports looks different, but everything looks different right now.
What we can all do is work together. Be patient. Be encouraging.
And...wash our hands.