RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Up until this point, the National Football League has navigated the coronavirus pandemic without too big of an impact on the regular season. I mean, there have been some postponed and rescheduled games, but the league has kept moving forward. Now that cases are surging across this country, the NFL is facing its biggest challenge yet. You need to look just at the Denver Broncos for proof. They played yesterday without a real quarterback because all of the quarterbacks were quarantined.
NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman is with us this morning. Hey, Tom.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi.
MARTIN: Let's start with the Denver story. How exactly do you play a pro football game without the quarterback?
GOLDMAN: Rachel, it ain't easy.
GOLDMAN: To be clear, there was a football player playing the quarterback position for Denver for about half the game, but he was a young wide receiver from the practice squad who had about a day's notice that he would be the quarterback in his first game with the Broncos. His name is Kendall Hinton. He tried his best, but he only completed one pass in nine attempts in Denver's 31-3 loss to New Orleans.
MARTIN: Oh - I mean, this poor guy, right? Explain how Kendall Hinton, playing a position he had no business playing, how did he end up in this place?
GOLDMAN: Well, the team's four quarterbacks met to watch game film at team headquarters early last week. They admitted later they didn't wear masks; they didn't socially distance. And one of the quarterbacks tested positive a couple of days later. The other three were deemed high-risk close contacts and told to isolate. Saturday, they were ruled out of the game, all of them. And after yesterday's loss, Denver head coach Vic Fangio said, by not adhering to strict protocols at that meeting, the four players put the team and the NFL in a tough position. Here's Fangio.
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VIC FANGIO: We count on them to be the leaders of the team and, you know, leaders of the offense. Those guys made a mistake, and that is disappointing.
MARTIN: So Denver playing without a true quarterback is definitely the weirdest thing that happened. But I understand teams in San Francisco, Baltimore, Pittsburgh - they're all having problems. What's happening?
GOLDMAN: Yeah. Well, Santa Clara County in California has banned contact sports for at least three weeks. The San Francisco 49ers practice and play in the county, and suddenly they're homeless. They've got two home games planned during that three-week period. They got to find somewhere else to play. Baltimore - the Baltimore Ravens have the league's largest coronavirus outbreak right now. It's affected more than 20 players and team personnel. The Ravens and Pittsburgh were supposed to play on Thanksgiving night. The game was postponed yesterday. When the Ravens kept turning up positive tests, it was moved again to tomorrow. At least that's the plan right now.
MARTIN: I mean, I just don't get how the season is going to be considered normal, how you don't put a big asterisks next to it. I mean, how is the NFL trying to deal with it?
GOLDMAN: You know, it's trying to tighten up safety protocols several times, imploring everyone to wear masks and distance when they can. Yesterday, you did see more players and coach wearing masks on sidelines when they weren't playing. But still, you saw guys with masks under their chins, masks not covering noses. The NFL has been fining teams and players and even taking away draft picks for rules violations.
Let's do point out, Rachel, there were a lot of games yesterday that went on as scheduled with some great performances. But the NFL is very aware that these next few weeks with the pandemic raging are going to be key as far as whether the season can finish and get to the playoffs and a Super Bowl that's scheduled for early February. And if this week is any indication, it's going to be a challenge.
MARTIN: I mean, are they going to have fake fans at the Super Bowl, Tom? That's just weird. NPR sports...
MARTIN: Right. NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman. Thanks, Tom.
GOLDMAN: You're welcome.
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