FEDEXFIELD -- Throughout a bizarre 2020 marred by the rise of the Coronavirus, the NFL continued to push forward with their schedule and their season. On Monday, the Washington Football Team returned to FedExField for the first time since 2019, and while it was weird, it was football.
The stark differences from coming to FedExField for a regular season game were immediately obvious. Even comparing Monday's practice to a preseason game would be absurd.
There was no traffic. No tailgating. No visiting fans and no barbecue smoke.
The media that were allowed to attend parked next to a specific entrance, and if there's one way to make the media happy, it's to provide good parking. A quick walk from the car into a socially-distanced bag check was next, where police dogs sniff any bags or equipment going into the stadium.
Normally, the police dogs sniff the bags at a major entrance, where the teams, production crews, pregame and halftime entertainment, cheerleaders and government officials all come in the same spot. That scene is usually crowded and chaotic.
This year, there was none of that. Just walk in, answer some questions about your health, put your forehead in front of a computer monitor for a temperature scan and you're in.
From there, it was a relatively quick walk up the stairs to the press box.
Typically, that walk is long and packed with fans. Gameday smells of hot dogs and brats and beer usually fill the air. There was none of that, either — just quiet.
It's weird being in a cavernous football stadium with no crowd. No noise.
Before practice started the loudspeakers blared hip hop, very normal for pregame in the NFL. But once the team came out of the tunnel, the music turned off, and head strength coach Chad Englehart ran the team through pregame warmups.
Lost in the weirdness of everything on Monday, for many players this was their first time at FedEx Field. Chase Young had never been on that field. Hell, Ron Rivera had never been in the home locker room with the team.
Beyond just getting used to the new surroundings, the team had to learn how Rivera wants them to warm up. In general, football warmups are mostly alike. But on the micro scale every head coach likes a few things done a particular way, and with no preseason games to work out the kinks, this was an important part of the Washington team's day in advance of Week 1 against Philadelphia.
Eventually, things kind of normalized. Sorta.
The press watched the game from the press box, but every person was spread out six feet apart. Masks were mandated and worn. There were no fans banging on the glass in front of the press box either.
There was press food, which was pretty good, and of course diet soda. After good parking, diet soda might be the most important gameday tool for the media. I even had a slice of Oreo cheesecake.
It was odd being back at FedEx, and interesting to hear the stadium operations crew simulate crowd noise. That will happen on game days, too. It was also weird to notice where the old logos and team name had been removed, and where it hadn't. It seems clear the initial removal focused on what will be on television, and there's likely still work going on removing the logo on the interior of the stadium.
In all, the return to FedExField was another step in the NFL's march back to normalcy. The media won't get to talk to players or coaches after games, which is going to impact coverage, but there will be postgame Zooms. That decision is understandable given the threat of Covid, but it still stinks.
It's 2020. Nothing is normal, and it's entirely possible things will always be different.
But watching football sitting in the FedExField press box seemed at least a bit normal. Dwayne Haskins threw passes, Terry McLaurin ran routes. Coaches yelled and linemen grunted.
Sports are meant to be a fun diversion, and on Monday, that seemed close to possible. See you Week 1.