Behind the Press: Martin Stadium during COVID-19

Martin Stadium had no fans present at Saturday game for the first time in Cougar football history

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OLIVER MCKENNA | DAILY EVERGREEN FILE

The usual sight of fans in the stands is gone this season, as the stands sit empty in Martin Stadium.

CODY SCHOELER, Evergreen columnist

I have experienced a lot of firsts throughout this pandemic. I’ve had my first class over Zoom, my first socially-distanced meal at a restaurant and my first cotton swab shoved up my nose.

On Saturday, I checked another item off of my COVID-19 bucket list. I watched a Cougar football game in front of a completely empty stadium.

Although I was four stories up in the press box, I could still tell that something was off. It wasn’t just the fact that I had to wear a medical-grade mask over my face the entire time.

It was the fact that the event that draws thousands of people from all over the state to this little town called Pullman was playing out in front of cardboard pictures of Klay Thompson, Snoop Dogg and people’s pets.

The players did not seem to notice. They have talked about how once you step between those white lines it just becomes another football game. But I noticed.

I noticed the lack of energy and electricity that would have been flowing through Martin Stadium when the Cougars took a 19-7 lead over the No. 11 team in the country.

I noticed the lack of crowd noise on every big defensive play or important score as WSU looked to pull off another upset on the Ducks, just like they did two years prior.

It was not completely quiet, there was some pumped-in ambient crowd noise, but it wasn’t the same.

I’m used to the pop of the crowd when a WSU player emerges from a pile having recovered the fumble. I can’t see those small details from up in the booth, so I rely on the crowd. I had to use the sideline reactions instead this time.

I’m used to hearing a chorus of boos rain down from the stands when the refs make a bad call. Instead, when the officials reversed a targeting call that should have stood, all that could be heard was the fake crowd disdain coming through the speakers.

A lot of things were the same despite the lack of fans in attendance. The in-stadium announcer and video board operator must not have gotten the memo that the seats were empty.

PA announcer, and mayor, Glenn Johnson performed his job as usual. He still announced touchdowns and big plays over the sound system. He even said “And that’s another Cougar first down” each time WSU gained a new set of downs, although the cardboard fans did not chime in.

They also showed videos on the jumbotron just like it was a normal game. There was a hype video showed right before the players took the field. It was a very good video, but unfortunately, almost nobody was there to see it.

They showed replays on the big screen. That may have been for the coaches and players, but I think it’s usually for the fans.

Best of all, right after the first quarter, “Back Home” by Andy Grammar was played and the accompanying feel-good video was shown. What is normally one of the loudest moments of any game, was eerily silent.

For me, my job was pretty much the same. Watch the game, do the postgame interviews and then write it up for the fans that could not be there. It just so happened that there were about 30,000 more people that would fall into that category.

Some things were different though. I had to wear a mask the whole time, which was a new way to take in a football game.

There were far fewer people in the press box. Three chairs to either side of every person were left open and the number of people given credentials was very limited. It was nice to have some space, but it kind of felt like the first week of class when nobody sits next to each other because nobody knows anybody else.

The weirdest part came when the game was over. Usually, the members of the media head down to the press conference following the conclusion of the game. We sit in those chairs with the little desktops attached to them like we are in a lecture hall and take notes in our little notebooks.

This time around the postgame press conference was on Zoom, like so many other things that are normally done in person. We all stayed in our socially distanced assigned spots and joined the same Zoom webinar.

It was unusual with everybody sitting in the same room all on their own computers. I could hear somebody asking their question out loud, and then I heard it again two seconds later in the press conference.

That is when it set in for me. This is not normal. I have gotten used to the empty stadiums and wearing masks, but some things just don’t feel the same right now.

I’m not complaining. I’m not trying to make you feel sorry for me because I have to talk to Nick Rolovich through my computer screen. If I have to do more Zoom press conferences for the world to go back to normal in 2021, I gladly will.