Tattooed and face painted fans have returned in force to stadiums across the country as the NFL opened to capacity for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic.
Some wore masks, others weren’t. Some are vaccinated, others are not.
Restrictions varied by city, with the Seattle Seahawks Las Vegas Raiders and the New Orleans Saints being the only teams requiring fans to provide proof of vaccination to enter.
Defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers welcomed 65,566 fans on Thursday night to kick off the season, and 15 teams were expected to welcome over a million fans in Week 1.
Fans are back as COVID-19 rises due to the delta variant. President Joe Biden has a proposal to require companies with more than 100 employees to vaccinate their workforce and he will also require injections for executive employees and federal contractors without a testing option.
In Nashville, fans were rushing to the usual spaces outside Nissan Stadium before the Titans hosted the Arizona Cardinals. No proof of vaccination or recent negative COVID-19 test was required from fans. Masks were only encouraged inside suites and other enclosed spaces, but not mandatory. The only exception to this is the post-game for journalists around the players and coaches.
The field on opposite sides between 15 and 5 had the words “WELCOME BACK”.
Judy Maag of Hohenwald, Tennessee had tickets for the 2020 season only to sell when the pandemic hit. She has come to Titans games for the past five seasons and was running for her seats on the top deck on Sunday.
“It’s great and I hope we win,” Maag said.
In Buffalo, fans who are not fully vaccinated are required to wear a face cover at all times. Masks are mandatory regardless of vaccination status when visiting the indoor facilities at Highmark Stadium. Unvaccinated clients can only remove their mask when eating or drinking. Places will not be designated according to vaccination status.
The team sent a letter to ticket holders recommending that they go through the gates earlier than usual and open the gates at 11 a.m., half an hour earlier.
Outside the stadium, it was back to normal after fans were not allowed to attend Bills home games during the regular season last year, and only around 6,600 were allowed to. participate in the playoffs. The private grounds around the stadium were already filling up at 8 a.m.
Jeff Boyst made his annual trip from North Carolina to watch the Bills play against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“I think it’s time to get back into the crowd and try my luck. I was vaccinated, ”said Boyst, who was attending a tailgate party in front of the stadium over four before kickoff. “But here I am willing to take the risk to get my life back and try to get back to normal. And it’s a tradition that I missed. I drove 600 miles just to be here and get back to normal, and support the Bills, support the community that I grew up in. And like many of us, we left New York to find ourselves elsewhere. Our hearts are still there.
Bill Langdoa traveled from Long Island, New York, North Carolina to see Zach Wilson make his NFL debut with the Jets against Sam Darnold and the Carolina Panthers.
“We’ve been waiting for this for a long time,” Langdoa said. “We were in Game 6 for the Islanders against Tampa Bay and it was sold out. We are vaccinated. We feel quite comfortable.
Masks were not mandatory but recommended in the stands at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta and they were mandatory in all indoor areas.
Dustin Faircloth came with his wife and two children without masks, ignoring protocols.
“I was hoping they didn’t require it or that I was in trouble,” Faircloth said.
Two-time AFC champion Kansas City Chiefs expected more than 75,000 fans for their late-afternoon game against the Cleveland Browns. Masks were only required in club suites.
“Our goal is the same as we had last year: how do we create a safe environment for our fans? Chiefs Chairman Mark Donovan said. “We are not experts in the COVID space, we are not experts in the vaccination and testing space, so we will have to work with experts on this. I will say this, as an organization we fully support full vaccination. We think it’s the safest way for all of us, and we’ve promoted it.
AP Pro Football Writer Teresa M. Walker and AP Sports Writers John Wawrow, Steve Reed, Charles Odum and David Skretta contributed.
More AP NFL coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL
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