After a period of hiatus caused by the pandemic, Aaron Jones, Green Bay Packers running back, and his teammates resumed a preseason ritual. They rode bicycles to their training camp workouts.
For the time being, however, players cannot borrow bikes from young fans.
The Packers’ protocol change reflects the NFL’s adaptation of its training camp policy and how it welcomes back spectators who were not allowed to attend workouts last year. Fans cannot interact with players, and must stay at least 20 feet from them.
The changes are particularly apparent in Green Bay, where fans have been loaning Packers players bikes to travel to practice since the 1950s.
Jones stated, “I love tradition.” __S.7__
This year, the tradition was rewritten. Fans can no longer loan their bikes to players. Instead, the Packers have brand new Schwinn bikes that they can use.
Similar changes were also seen at other training camps.
Matt Anderson, a Richfield, Minnesota resident, brought his 14 year-old son with him to the Minnesota Vikings first workout. This would have been a great place for the teenager to get autographs from his favorite players.
This year, not.
The Vikings have made up for this by holding autograph sessions with Hall of Famer Randall McDaniel, John Randle and Carl Eller. Anderson said he got a taste for what makes training camp so special, despite the restrictions.
Anderson stated that Anderson was able to “get close to them even this year” and could give a shoutout or get a response from a player. Anderson said, “That’s an amazing thing from a football perspective to be able to get in touch with a player and have that interaction with them.”
Officials from the NFL claim that about 1,000,000 people attended training camps across the country in 2019, which was the year before the pandemic. On July 31, 2018, around 200,000 people attended training camp sessions, which the NFL called “Back Together Saturday”.
After going through training camp last year without spectators, players appreciate the support of their fans.
Kirk Cousins, Vikings quarterback, said that they discussed how people would give up vacation time to watch us practice. That’s all there is to it. It’s a real privilege to come out and practice on a 95-degree day, especially when you consider that fans are also doing it.
They enjoy hearing the applause once again.
When Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw a ball about 50 yards into a 2-foot hoop in the end zone Thursday, fans roared their approval. This type of play would have been only possible a year ago if it had been supported by teammates.
Marquez Valdes Santling, Packers receiver, said that last year was quiet. “You could hear cars passing by, and that was about it.”
Officials from the Packers stated Thursday that they averaged around 2,100 people per practice session, which is slightly lower than their pre-pandemic numbers. The Packers officials noted that the 2018 and 2019 attendance numbers were slightly higher than normal due to Packers Experience, which featured live music and skills activities. This year’s health protocol prevented them from being able to do so.
The bike tradition is the most significant change in Green Bay. In the past, players would often use the same bike from training camp to train. The kids who loaned bikes to players became friends.
Jones stated, “My bike rider. I’m still super connected with him.” Jones said, “He’s always there at practice. He is always there for me.”
The Packers posted messages on the bicycle path reminding fans that they are not allowed to take a selfie with them, play catch, give an autograph, fist bump, or even high-five.
Ben Hurley, a 14 year-old Packers fan hailing from Ashwaubenon in Wisconsin, said, “I understand them.” “We have to keep the players safe, and make sure they are ready to play, even with all the rules and fines that can be imposed on them. It can be frustrating.
Colin McCabe is a 19-year old Packers fan. He has been attending training camp since he could be twelve years old and allowed players to use his bike for practice. Liam McCabe, his 11-year old brother, began lending his bike to players when he was four years old.
McCabe said, “It’s so unlike anything else.” He lives just four blocks away from the Packers practice fields. It’s a nice thing that we can see players riding bikes down the street, but it’s a very different experience to witness the tradition of players engaging with fans. This is the world we live and it’s not changing, but it is sad.
Although it’s not as bad as before the pandemic, at least it’s not 2020 again.
Many NFL teams did not play home games last year in front of paying fans. They enjoy seeing their fans again and are eager to play preseason games in front crowds.
After last week’s practice, Teddy Bridgewater, Denver Broncos quarterback, said, “After all that we went through last season, it’s wonderful to see fans out there today and it will be great to meet them this year.”
One step towards normalcy is having fans at training camp sites. Perhaps next year, players and fans can have a more meaningful interaction.
McCabe stated, “I really hope so. Especially for my brother’s sake.” He looks forward to it every season. When it comes to Packers training camp, he’ll be up at 4 AM and say, “Oh, we get today.”
It’s better than Christmas for many kids.