Outside M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday morning, Chip Christian and his family unpacked their Ravens jerseys underneath a nearby overpass as they prepared to make the walk over to the stadium for the Ravens vs. Pittsburgh Steelers game.
It’s the first time Christian — 72 years old and a season ticket holder since the Ravens' inaugural season in 1996 — has been able to go to a game in person this season.
“It’s been too long,” said Christian, of Charlottesville, Virginia.
But as he and his family prepared to make their way to the stadium, it was anything but a normal “home opener” of sorts, with no large crowds outside and people wearing face masks in response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The Ravens welcomed 4,345 fans to M&T Bank Stadium for Sunday’s 28-24 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, the first time the team has admitted fans this season.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, issued an order in mid-October, relaxing more coronavirus restrictions and allowing outdoor sporting venues to seat up to 10% of their maximum capacity. Outgoing Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young, a Democrat, later announced that he would permit about 3,000 fewer spectators than would have been allowed under Hogan’s order.
The team instituted a list of health measures inside and outside the stadium. Tailgating was prohibited to prevent large gatherings. Only mobile tickets were used for entry, and all transactions were cashless. Face coverings were required for anyone over the age of 2, and pod seating arrangements separated ticket holder groups by 6 feet to promote social distancing.
Dr. Leana Wen, reiterating comments from late September, said she was more worried about viral spread from indoor high-risk locations around M&T Bank Stadium rather than spread at the stadium, which has the benefit of being an outdoor venue instead of a dome.
Wen, an emergency physician and public health professor at George Washington University, described the current landscape of the country as a “COVID storm, and Maryland is no different.”
Maryland capped Halloween weekend and October on Sunday by reporting an additional 864 COVID-19 cases. The state’s health department also reported three more hospitalizations and four more deaths. Daily caseloads this week reached a high since August, and hospitalizations exceeded 500.
“I am extremely concerned about what’s happening, especially as we are headed into colder weather, where people will find it even harder to be socializing outdoors,” said Wen, the former health commissioner of Baltimore.
Christian said he was satisfied with the social distancing and safety protocols put into place at the stadium and said his key priority was making it onto the list of roughly 4,000 people allowed to attend Sunday’s game in person.
“The first [thing] was ‘How do I get in the lottery?’” he said, adding that he and his family — his wife, daughter and three grandchildren all with him Sunday — were ecstatic to hear they’d been selected.
Some in attendance said they would’ve preferred the stadium opened its doors to more fans as others in the league have.
Max Cividini, a 38-year-old from Delaware, said he has been a season ticket holder for many years and hasn’t missed a home game in the past five to six years.
He said when he first saw that the coronavirus pandemic was going to keep fans from attending the first home game, against the Cleveland Browns on Sept. 13, it threw him for a loop as to what ritual would replace it this fall.
“You know, what am I going to do on Sunday?” he said, adding that he’s been to tailgates elsewhere in the weeks before Sunday’s game.
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As the NFL began its season amid the pandemic and with a host of safety protocols, it gave the franchises the leeway to decide on fan attendance. Only a small number of teams started the year with fans, and heading into Week 8, about half of the 30 NFL stadiums had held games with fans.
The Ravens played their first home game Sept. 13 without any spectators. They then welcomed around 200 family members of players, coaches and team staff for a Sept. 28 game against the Kansas City Chiefs and an Oct. 11 game against the Cincinnati Bengals after Hogan signed a previous order allowing up to 250 people at outdoor venues.
Shawn Blowe, 50, of Baltimore said he was coming to the stadium “rain, sleet or snow."