How do we find our way through the darkness when some of our most basic joys have been taken away from us?
There have been enough adjectives, exclamations, and explanations to describe the last year of our lives living in the times of the COVID-19 pandemic.
All of us in one way or another have experienced loss — though the ramifications of the virus and the irresponsibility of our leaders, friends, and neighbors took much more from some than others.
For that, it has made something that has always been trivial, sports, that much more inconsequential. But it also proved just how important the simple distraction of athletics is to our psyche, our mental health, our sense of normalcy, and its engraining in our culture.
Almost one year ago to the day, the sports world — like the rest of the planet — screeched to a haunting halt.
After COVID made its way to the United States, the NBA set the precedent and took the swift action necessary to ensure the immediate safety of players, coaches, staff, and fans.
Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for the virus on March 11 and after his team’s matchup with the Oklahoma City Thunder was postponed that night, the NBA suspended the season indefinitely — a move that sparked the domino effect.
By the next day, Major League Baseball, the NHL, and MLS suspended their campaigns and it all went dark.
A spring without Phillies baseball and playoff pushes from the 76ers or Flyers.
No Masters Tournament.
No Kentucky Derby.
Again, it’s trivial compared to what some of us had to go through in real life — but the side effects of living without sports for those who have made it their everything only worsened the effects of life shuttered indoors, bolstered within your own four walls and nowhere else.
Game nights turned into daily television visits from doctors, lectures from divisive politicians, and panic from sensationalizing reporters. Get-togethers turned into Zoom calls. Families once whole were ripped apart and may never get back together.
While we starved for some semblance of normalcy, it was nothing but negotiations and hope that fields could be taken, pucks could be dropped, tip-offs could commence. MLB saw bitter talks between the owners and players steal nearly a month of the 2020 season, as commissioner Rob Manfred was forced to settle a stalemate based on money to get the game back on July 23.
The NHL and NBA would forego the rest of their seasons and jump straight into modified playoffs in late-July and early-August within bubbles up in Canada and down in Florida.
Sure, most of us couldn’t be there as fans were not permitted into the building, but it was something. And Philly sports were there to help with the ultimate distraction.
The Flyers won the top seed in the Eastern Conference and advanced to the second round before losing to the New York Islanders in seven games, just one win short of the conference final.
The 76ers, on the heels of an inconsistent and frustrating season, didn’t put up much of a fight in the Orlando bubble as they were swept out of the first round by the Boston Celtics.
The Phillies were immediately dealt with a COVID outbreak in their own backyard as the virus swept through the Miami Marlins’ visiting locker room on Opening Week while they were in Philadelphia. An ominous start to a 60-game season that provided another playoff miss for the ninth-straight season — fueled by a bullpen that was one of the worst units in MLB history.
In the fall, the Eagles continued their descent into dysfunction as they went 4-11-1, sparked a quarterback controversy that surmounted into the trading of Carson Wentz to the Indianapolis Colts last month, and led to the firing of Super Bowl-winning coach Doug Pederson.
Overall, not much of a triumphant return to action for Philadelphia’s pride and joy. But it was far better yelling at the television screen and anguishing from a loss because of a blown save, a bad penalty, poor shooting percentage, or a terrible pass instead of the painful-turned-numbing images of bodies piling both inside and outside of hospitals, hearing about those who we’ve loved and lost, and trudging through the mindless drivel that is political pandering.
The predicted holiday spike provided more uncertainty, forcing us to question whether or not we’ll ever get back to normal.
Veteran guard Seth Curry tested positive for COVID, sidelining the Sixers for a couple of nights. The Flyers dealt with mass exposure to the virus last month where they were forced dormant for over a week.
So if the sputtering return of Philadelphia sports in 2020 and early 2021 has provided anything, it’s that you, the fans, didn’t miss much while you were away.
Over the last seven months, I’ve sat in my fair share of empty ballparks and arenas, feeling guilty that I got to sit and watch a game that people would give so much to attend. It didn’t feel right, no matter how much artificial noise or music they pumped in.
Luckily for us, fans are being let back into our second homes, our favorite sporting venues. And just in time, too.
Vaccines are being distributed, our loved ones are being kept safe, and hope is finally springing eternal once again after a year off.
The 76ers are the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.
The Flyers are nipping at the heels of the leaders of the Eastern Division.
The Phillies retained JT Realmuto and Didi Gregorius, improved their bullpen, and hope to shock the National League East this season.
The Eagles are — well — rebuilding. But they have a new head coach in Nick Sirianni and the No. 6 pick of the draft to spark a potential quarterback battle of the future alongside Jalen Hurts. At least there’s that.
Things only look to be getting better as 2021 progresses, and hopefully, we’ll all be able to enjoy something as trivial as sports together sooner rather than later. I was getting lonely.