As we stumble across the finish line for the year 2021, I’m sure some of us are wondering if we’re stuck in the movie “Groundhog Day,” where Bill Murray had to live the same day over and over until he figured out how to be a better person. As 2021 ends, the sports world is watching the pandemic continue, resulting in sick personnel and cancelled games. The NHL was forced to shut down entirely for a week. We all remember how all sports shut down in 2020, but nobody seems to have an idea how to stop the corona virus and let the world move forward.
Early in the year, the Kansas City Chiefs soundly whipped Tampa Bay, 31—9 to win the Super Bowl. With few vaccinations available at the time, a crowd of 25,000, less than half the stadium’s capacity attended the game. 30,000 cardboard cutouts supplemented the live fans to make the cavernous stadium appear less empty.
Both the men’s and women’s NCAA basketball tournaments were moved to San Antonio, Texas. The men’s tournament allowed 25% of the arena’s capacity to be full for the men’s team, 17% capacity for the women’s tournament. Why there should be a difference was never made clear. On the men’s side, Baylor University, from Waco, Texas defeated Gonzaga, from Seattle 86—70. On the women’s side, it was a different story. The Stanford Cardinal barely beat the Cinderella team, University of Arizona, 54—53. Arizona reached the final by beating Uconn, never an easy task. Meantime, Stanford beat the heavily favored South Carolina GameCocks.
While the sports world followed college basketball, cities with major league baseball teams had to decide how many fans would be allowed in their stadiums. The most strict rule was laid down by the Canadian government who didn’t allow the Blue Jays to return to their home in Toronto until late July. The Jays opened the season at their spring training home in Dunedin, Florida where almost no fans were permitted. From there, they moved to Buffalo in May, then finally to their home ball park.
On the other side of the coin was the Texas Rangers. From Opening Day on, they were allowed to host as many people as wished to come to the games, as many as 40,000 in their park. As the season went along with few Covid issues and more available vaccinations, more cities began allowing larger crowds. A Yankee-Met game in June drew 42,000 at Citi Field, the Mets’ home park. New York had been hit terribly hard by the pandemic in 2020.
During the auto racing season, most tracks allowed attendance to be half of their capacity. This led to 39,000 fans at the Pocono 500 in June, after some 150,000 had gathered at the Indianapolis 500 in late May. Helio Castroneves, after a 12-year drought finally managed his 4th win at “The Brickyard” in Indianapolis.
All seemed well at the College World Series in Omaha through the first week of competition. Near the end however, Covid reared its ugly head. An outbreak among the North Carolina State team left some of their best players out of action for two scheduled elimination games against Vanderbilt. Behind one of their aces, Kumar Rocker, Vanderbilt won the first elimination game, 3-1. However, the NCAA decreed that the last elimination game shouldn’t be played and the NC State team would be eliminated. Essentially, Vanderbilt went to the final round by forfeit. They lost the final round to Mississippi State, a school that had never won a championship in any of the major sports. Rocker wasn’t signed after being drafted by the Mets for reasons that were never made clear.
In mid-summer, the 2020 Olympics took place after a year’s delay in Tokyo. Again, few fans were permitted to attend. The United States baseball team took home a silver medal, losing in a close game to Japan in the final. A lot of fans lost a lot of sleep due to the time difference and the lack of on-demand coverage in spite of many promises made by the network.
Major league baseball played their full postseason while pundits and broadcasters discussed the impending lockout which is in progress as you read this. The Yankees were eliminated as a wild card team. Boston made it to the league championship series before losing in 6 games to Houston. Neither Los Angeles nor San Francisco made the World Series in spite of each having more than 100 wins in the regular season. Instead, the Braves took on the Astros. Things looked grim for Atlanta when their game 1 starter, Charlie Morton went down with a broken leg. Literally patching their pitching together game by game, sometimes inning by inning, the Braves won their first World Series since 1995, beating the Astros in 6 games. The longest winning streak in baseball went to the St. Louis Cardinals. They won 17 games in a row, and their manager was fired in a show of ownership’s gratitude.
As the year wound down, the number of Covid cases went up. Both the NFL and NHL have had to postpone or cancel games, and college football is in turmoil as it was this time last year. Rutgers, an undistinguished football team at best will be allowed to play in the Gator Bowl because Texas A&M has too many ailing players. At least one football Bowl game was cancelled on Christmas Eve.
In 2022, Baseball has to try to find a way to end the lockout and open the season on time. Players are looking at playing in Asia if no progress is made on our continent. Fans were slow to forgive after the strike in 1994. They will have a harder time next year if idiocy by the players and owners cancels games.0