Alternative ways to safely engage with American football

Opinion: Football doesn’t have to mean putting others at risk of contracting COVID-19

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Ren Rader

With the holiday break kicking off to a cool start, people who celebrate traditional American holidays are beginning to prepare for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Around this time, people typically travel to visit their loved ones and spend time together, as well as contribute their own dishes to make one big feast. There’s no denying that Americans love their football in November, as they have long embraced American football around Thanksgiving time, whether it be playing at home with family or attending National Football League (NFL) games.

This November and December, though, I hope those who don’t need to travel, don’t travel. Though we are all exhausted from living in quarantine and isolation, meeting up with others and possibly catching or spreading COVID-19 simply isn’t worth the risk. So what are some ways to engage with football without putting people outside of your quarantine bubble in danger? Whether you’re a gamer, an NFL superfan, or an athlete, there are several COVID-safe ways to watch, play, or cheer on your favorite team.

FOR THE GAMERS

One of the first games I learned to love on the XBOX 360 console was Madden 13. As the title indicates, the version of Madden I’ve played was released in 2013. The original version of the game, however, was released in 1988 and named after John Madden, former head coach of the NFL’s Oakland Raiders and a renowned sports commentator after his coaching career. Now, if you’re an avid Madden player, I know you’re wondering why in the world I’m still playing Madden 13 when newer versions exist. My response to you is simple: if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. Madden 13, thus far, hasfulfilled all my Madden needs. Besides, I get to live in the past. If I play as the Dallas Cowboys, Tony Romo is still thequarterback, Dez Bryant is catching all of my Hail Mary’s and Jason Garett continues to applaud the team despite them losing by a large margin. If you’re a Dallas Cowboys fan, you can finally live in an alternate reality where the Cowboys don’t disappoint their fans by throwing interceptions or calling ridiculous plays.

Anyway, what makes Madden so fun is that it’s deeply realistic. The players look like their real-life counterparts, the plays are smooth, and the commentary is made by real sports commentators like Jim Nantz and Phil Simms. You can also select whether you want to play at a Rookie-level, Pro, All-Pro, or All-Madden. The field is your oyster, or however, the saying goes. Of course, if you’re not frozen in time like me, you’d most likely only be able to purchase the newer versions of Madden. Don’t worry, though; the newer versions are in HD quality, have updated players and are available for consoles like the XBOX 360, PS4, and Microsoft Windows.

Maybe you feel that the Madden series is a bit too professional for your liking, and you want something more casual. I have another football video game recommendation for you: Backyard Sports: Rookie Rush. This game can be played across consoles, but like Madden, I play it on the XBOX 360.

In this game, the football players are children in unmarked jerseys who play in what looks like a high school football stadium. The yard lines are fading, the field looks old, and the players look like average people. It’s a game that feels real and homely, like the kind you’d be able to have with your friends were it not for the pandemic. Despite the casual gameplay, you’ll still have the opportunity to choose plays similar to those in Madden: Hail Mary’s, running plays and short passes. It’s an overall enjoyable experience, one you won’t regret.

PLAY BALL WITHIN YOUR QUARANTINE BUBBLE

I’m assuming most of us aren’t quarantining with twenty-two other people who are linebackers, quarterbacks or receivers, so how can we play football or football-adjacent games when we only have 4-5 people in our bubble? One of my favorite games that involves a football, but doesn’t require as many players, is a game I know of as “Bulldog.” So what’s Bulldog, and who is the bulldog?

Essentially, 1-2 people are the Bulldogs who stand at midfield, and the rest of the players start at the end zone — or whatever end zone you have at home, whether it be the end of a street or the end of your yard. The game goes like this: when the bulldogs yell “START,” the rest of the players have to try to reach the other end zone without the bulldogs tackling them or stealing their football. If the people reach the end zone, they win that round. Of course, if the game involves children or you just don’t feel like developing a concussion over a game you read about in an article, you can always play tag or flag bulldog, where the bulldog simply has to touch you or pull your flag.

WATCH THE NFL GAMES — FROM HOME

There once existed a time when we could attend NFL games without wearing masks and unknowingly spit on each other when our team fumbled the ball. No more. Though technically, you can attend some NFL games in-person, it’s best to be cautious to the highest degree. Watch NFL games from your living room: it’s safe, it’s fun, and you don’t have to pay $16 for a lemonade drink that tastes like water.

This year, there are three games happening on Thanksgiving:

12:30 p.m. ET: Houston Texans at Detroit Lions, CBS

4:30 p.m. ET: Washington Football Team at Dallas Cowboys, FOX

8:20 p.m. ET: Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers, NBC

Seriously, football will still be here once COVID-19 settles down. It’ll return to normal within the next couple of years, but for now, putting others at risk for a few hours of fun just isn’t worth the illness and death that will result from our carelessness.