The 2020 calendar year was unlike anything most of the world has seen. As mankind attempts to move forward and come out on the other side of the global pandemic, many things we had grown accustomed to have been put on hiatus in hopes of returning someday.
When it comes specifically to the NFL, the 2020 season managed to be played in full but still looked nothing like what fans are accustomed to. Between limited or no fans in the stadiums as well as schedule changes, the NFL managed to push through and have all their games played.
So how will the 2021 NFL season look?
According to Steelers’ Team President Art Rooney II, the hope is to get things rolling how fans were accustomed to in 2019.
First off, the Steelers are moving forward with the hope training camp will return to Saint Vincent College in Latrobe. When asked about training camp for 2021, Rooney said it was the plan to return to St. Vincent according to Joe Rutter of the Tribune Review.
“We are hoping things get back to normal this fall. Obviously training camp happens a little earlier than that. It’s something we are planning for now, but we will see how things go. We need this virus to turn the corner.” Rooney said. “We still want to make sure that fans are safe when they come to Saint Vincent. We may have to look at if we have to limit the number of fans. We’ll be looking at all of those issues. Right now our goal and our plan is to have training camp at Saint Vincent this summer.”
For the 2020 season, the Steelers were not permitted by the NFL to hold training camp away from their regular team facilities. In order to have enough space to accommodate the social distancing protocols within the locker rooms, the Steelers held training camp at Heinz Field last summer. Although they were practicing in their own stadium, the seats remained empty as fans were not permitted to watch the team’s workouts like they do in Latrobe.
Although the Steelers could return to St. Vincent College for training camp and still not be permitted to have fans, the first step is getting back to Latrobe. Exactly what the team will be able to do will be determined in the months leading up to training camp.
While many fans look forward to attending training camp each season, many more make plans to travel to Heinz Field on game day. With the Steelers only having a limited number of fans for three of their eight home contests in 2020, Mr. Rooney sees there being much greater representation in 2021. In fact, the Steelers are hoping to have Heinz Field at full capacity this fall.
“I think we will. I am kind of optimistic about it,” said Rooney of having fans return. “It’s still early, it’s only March, so we’ll see how things go. I am optimistic we will have fans. Frankly I am optimistic we will have a full stadium by this fall. Hopefully everybody is out there getting the vaccine and is going to be able to get in crowds and things like that again. Hopefully we are going to be back to pretty close to normal by the fall. Let’s all say our prayers and keep our fingers crossed. But I am optimistic about it at this point.”
What was the most difficult part of the 2020 season for Rooney? Seeing all those empty gold seats at Heinz Field.
“Having the games without fans was the toughest,” said Rooney. “Just being in the stadium without fans was strange, really weird. I think it did affect the players. I just hope we don’t have to go through that again, that is for sure.”
As we’ve seen throughout the global pandemic, having “hopes” and “plans” months ahead of time will always leave things open for change. But knowing the Team President, in speaking for the organization, is moving forward with these plans should be encouraging to Steelers’ Nation.