The Detroit Lions got a taste of what it will be like playing in front of an empty, cavernous stadium this week, conducting a scrimmage at Ford Field on Thursday. And even with music blaring and a sampling of league-approved artificial crowd noise, players know its not going to be the same.
“The fans bring a totally different energy, totally different vibe,” cornerback Desmond Trufant said. “When we’re pulling up to the game, just seeing the fans going crazy when they see the opposing team and they’re yelling at the bus, stuff like that. It’s like all those little things, it’s not going to be there. For us, it’s definitely going to be different.”
Fewer players cover more ground during a game than a starting cornerback. They almost never leave the field and are forced to track opposing receivers all day. Even for the most well-conditioned athlete, it can be exhausting.
For every player, not just the cornerbacks, the roar of the crowd can provide that extra boost of adrenaline on a given play.
“I’m not going to say it’s not going to be different,” Trufant said. “I mean that energy is real — you feel it. You feel the fans. It’s real. You feel it all throughout our bodies, that’s why we’re out there like we’re out there.”
But this season, with the majority of NFL stadiums keeping fans out of the building as the country continues to wade through the COVID-19 pandemic, in-game energy is going to need to be intrinsically generated.
“We can still create that from within the team,” Trufant said. “When the offense is out there, the defense is out there — we got to bring the juice for them. Regardless of whether there’s fans or not, I know we’re still going to bring it. We’re still going to play like the fans are there. It really don’t matter. We’re just going to bring it no matter what. I know everybody is excited to get out there.
“We’re still professionals, so we get paid to do this,” Trufant said. “Regardless of who’s watching, we got to go out there and perform. I’m sure everything will be fine sooner than later. I mean, hopefully, just things in the world get better in general. As for now, for us, we’re just going to keep grinding and trying to get these wins.”
The Lions open the season at home on Sept. 13 against Chicago. The team has ruled out having fans in the stands for at least the first two games at Ford Field, but remain optimistic about allowing a limited capacity later in the year, perhaps as early as the third home game, Nov. 1 vs. Indianapolis.