RENTON — The grass here on the berm is lush — so lush and so exquisite that you find yourself staring deeply into it, as if trying to find its soul. You get lost in green envy, and wonder if the Seahawks groundkeepers — surely the most underpaid employees in the NFL — might be available to consult for a certain reporter’s backyard that has been demolished by a certain puppy during a recent extended shelter-in-place period.
These are the fleeting thoughts one has while standing alone, on a lush berm, overlooking a Seahawks practice. No, no, these are not normal thoughts during an NFL training camp. But, then, these aren’t normal times.
In normal times, during a normal Seahawks camp unaffected by a pandemic, some 2,500 fans would be standing here on the berm too. They would be getting their first glimpse of Russell Wilson throwing that deft pass to new tight end Greg Olsen, or seeing safety Jamal Adams for the first time in his new No. 33 jersey, or watching 68-year-old coach Pete Carroll, donning a black mask, bouncing around the field with his usual enthusiasm.
Even in these anxious times, that enthusiasm remains a constant around Seahawks camp, and for 12s watching streaming broadcasts of practice from home. Many fans are as excited as ever for this NFL season — and maybe more than usual considering that, for so many of us, football offers a feeling of much-needed normalcy.
“It’s such a relief to know football is actually right around the corner,” said Lorin “Big Lo” Sandretzky, perhaps Seattle’s most recognizable sports fan. “Whether or not we get to participate — as fans in the stands — I’m still going to be happy because at least we have some form of entertainment, and someone to root for.”
Two major college football conferences — the Pac-12 and Big Ten — have postponed their seasons because of COVID-19 concerns. The NFL is fully intent on making its 2020 season a reality, and the league has made significant investments in creating protocols and implementing testing methods; players, coaches, staffers and media who cover the teams have been tested daily the past two weeks.
On Wednesday, the NFL reported a positivity rate of 0.46% of the 109,075 COVID-19 tests. The Seahawks are one of a handful of NFL teams who haven’t had a player test positive for coronavirus (receiver John Ursua had a false-positive result last week).
The Seahawks’ season opener, at Atlanta on Sept. 13, is just 28 days away. There is cautious optimism about the NFL’s chances of pulling off a full season in the middle of a pandemic.
“I’m still excited for the season,” said Nick Medina, a Seahawks fan in King City, California. “(But) it is a bit difficult seeing them play an entire season. I feel like teams are doing a pretty good job with their procedures to keep players safe in training camp, but my apprehension grows once the games start. With all the traveling involved, I do worry for players.”
Ben Armitage is a Seahawks fan in Halifax, England. He attended the Seahawks-Raiders game in London two years ago, and most of his Sunday nights — and early Monday mornings — in the fall are spent watching the Seahawks from the UK. From afar, he is approaching this NFL season with mixed emotions. In the UK, he said he was encouraged at how well the Premier League resumed its season earlier this summer, and he’s hopeful the NFL can do the same this fall.
But he expects “a lot of worrying obstacles to overcome” for the NFL season to succeed.
“It’s been tough for everyone during this period. … It’s been a worrying time to work out what’s going to happen, as I think many people still look for America to lead on things like this,” he said. “From a selfish point of view, though, I can’t wait for Week 1.”
Without fans in attendance, the Seahawks are having their practices streamed live locally on Q13 Fox, and online at Seahawks.com and on the team’s YouTube channel, allowing fans everywhere to get a glimpse of camp. Some 3,400 people were watching on YouTube during the middle of Wednesday’s first practice.
From California, Medina was one of those watching from home, and he was most eager to get a glimpse of Ursua, the second-year receiver from Hawaii. Ursua didn’t disappoint: During one passing drill, he made a spinning, leaping, one-handed catch in the back corner of the end zone, a highlight of camp so far. That bolstered Medina’s expectation for Ursua to take on a greater role within the Seahawks offense this season.
“The Seahawks have definitely put effort into making the experience for this training camp an enjoyable one for fans,” Medina said. “The training camp clips and videos amped me up.”
Sandretzky — Big Lo — would have found a spot on the grassy berm by now. Instead, he too is taking in training camp from home. But he doesn’t plan to be a passive fan for long. Despite a recent broken ankle, and despite losing vision out of his right eye two years ago, he says he will be as boisterous as ever for the Seahawks this season.
“I’ve got six months of pent-up energy to let loose,” he said.
When the Seahawks’ team buses leave the team’s Renton headquarters ahead of the trip to Atlanta next month, Big Lo will be around to help send them off with a few ovations — a tradition of his for years.
It’s unclear for now, based on state and local regulations, whether the Seahawks will be able to have fans in attendance at home games this year, but Big Lo says he will show up at CenturyLink Field regardless. Even if he has to stand on the street, outside the gates, he insists he will cheer on the Seahawks this season — anything for a few hours of normalcy.
“I’ll wear a mask and do the proper social-distancing thing … but me and my one eye and one good foot are going to go down there and have some fun,” he said. “They are going to hear me, come hell or high water.”