By Al Thompson
We found out just how much an audience means, not only at live events, but on television.
Look at the difference on late night talk shows, concerts from the homes of great artists and the NFL Draft.
It looked and sounded bland.
We’ve seen the difference with NASCAR races, golf and tennis matches that have been held since restrictions from the COVID-19 pandemic started to be lifted. It just isn’t the same.
Fans matter. Fans matter in a big way.
Some Eagles players have talked recently about the very real possibility that, at least at the start, there will be no fans at Lincoln Financial Field or any stadiums on the road.
Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham, an energy guy whose energy is unmatched on the Birds roster, says players will have to find their inspiration from within.
“The only thing we’re going to do now is hear everybody on the sideline,” Graham said in a recent conference call with Philadelphia reporters. “And the trash talking, that’s going to be happening. We’re going to try and make the best of it. I don’t know all the plans but I know in the beginning for sure, no fans. I just think you’re going to hear a lot of riffraff and a lot of stuff on the sidelines that you don’t normally hear. It’s going to be like a scrimmage when you’re practicing against these boys during the week. That’s what it’s going to sound like, trash talking, people excited when they score a touchdown, big hits. It’s going to be a little different.”
Eagles All-Pro tackle Lane Johnson hosts a YouTube show called “Outside the Lane.”
Recently, he had veteran wide receiver DeSean Jackson on as his guest. The near 35-minute show, presented in Zoom-like fashion, wasn’t very interesting until the final six minutes when Jackson started talking about the idea of playing in front of fewer people than he’s ever experienced, going back to his grade school days.
“I’ll be a little crazy out there with no fans or whatever the heck goes on,” said Jackson, who seemed to warm up to the thought that eventually turned into a suggestion by Johnson that a lot of people are starting to like.
“My feeling about playing in an empty stadium, I definitely can’t recall playing in an empty stadium,” Jackson said. “I can’t remember ever playing in an empty stadium. I’ve always had fans…even in Pop Warner. I’ve looked in the stands and always had fans. It’s definitely going to be a culture shock.”
Johnson jumped in and said, “Unless they start mic-ing up everybody.”
“It’s going to get crazy,” Jackson followed. “But I think they should (mic up players). They should give the fans the inside to see what really goes on in between the white lines. It gets crazy.”
Taking to Johnson, Jackson added his thoughts about line play and its own culture of trash talking.
“I know it gets crazy in the trenches,” Jackson said. I know it gets crazy on the outside, too, with all the conversations going back and forth.”
The XFL tried having its coaches and key players mic’d up during its broadcast this year, but that was a gimmick and got mixed reviews because every play-call was heard and most fans had no idea what was being said. But this is just to listen in on the back-and-forth verbal jabs on the field among players. It could be interesting for one season. Jackson said it will be strange at first, but players will have to adjust. They don’t have much of a choice.
“At the end of the day, we’re all professionals, we’ll adapt to it,” Jackson said. “It will definitely be weird at first. Hopefully, they can figure out the ultimatum to that because a lot of teams and players feed off the energy.
Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz spent a few days recently talking to the Philadelphia media. After a conference call to an intimate group of about 45 reporters, Wentz did a brief segment with John Clark of NBC10 Philadelphia. The 27-year-old signal caller agreed with Jackson on how awkward it will feel. But he added he was a I-AA college player and not every opponent had big crowds in its stadium.
“It would be really weird, I’ll tell you that,” Wentz said “Playing at NDSU (North Dakota State University), we had some road games, now and then, that we played in front of just a couple fans. So I kind of know the feeling probably more than some.”
Wentz said he hopes for the best that there will be fans in the stands this fall.
“It’ll definitely be weird, but we’re hoping and praying that’s not the case,” Wentz said. “Because we feel, especially at home, that we have the best fans in football and we have quite the home-field advantage when we play in front of them. So, hopefully, they’ll be right out there with us this fall.” ••
Follow Al Thompson on Twitter @thompsoniii