By Gregg Bell | McClatchy News Service
RENTON — As you sit back to watch on television this NFL season like no other begin tonight, consider what it’s taken just to get to kickoff.
Pete Carroll sure has.
Days before they fly to Atlanta, the coach and his Seahawks still do not know exactly what the league is going to require of them to play Sunday’s 10 a.m. opener against the Falcons in a fan-less Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Specifically, they don’t know what their new protocols are for COVID-19 testing for road games.
The Seahawks and every other team in the league are by now used to the daily routine of this new pandemic NFL world, from training camp: daily nasal-swab testing, results flown by chartered plane to a testing laboratory, and the results back in about 12 hours to clear each player, coach and staff member to enter the team facility again the next day.
But that was then. And it was wildly, almost unexpectedly successful.
Now, teams are leaving their relative “bubble” of team headquarters, going only to their homes and team camp hotels and back each day.
Friday, the Seahawks will board a bus driven by a driver from the everyday world to the airport they haven’t been to as a team since January.
They will board a chartered jet, disinfected with state-of-the-art cleaning machines and solutions, serviced by pilots and a crew that have flown and interacted outside team headquarters.
They will land and board another bus in Atlanta driven by a new driver to their team hotel, staffed by desk personnel and cleaning crews who have not been in the NFL’s COVID testing protocol for more than a month. Same with meals while in Atlanta … you get the idea.
As of this week, Carroll did not know exactly what the league is going to require of players and coaches for Sunday’s game. Rapid-result testing at team hotels? OK, maybe.
The players got a hint of what’s to come Wednesday. They got not only their daily nasal-swab test but a second one, a “point-of-care” test inside the same testing trailer at team headquarters. They got the results of that new test within 20 minutes.
“The protocols that are coming in are still coming in. They are not as set as we would like them to be going into this first week…but they are close,” Seattle’s veteran coach said. “We’ll have it by the weekend, but there is some stuff on the road, testing on the road and stuff like that, that we have to work out.
“It’s been a tremendous challenge for the administrative side of things to get all of this organized so that we can meet the standards of it. We’ve tried to go on, as much as we could, and not wait for the league to make their final decisions and give us opportunities and choices in ways to handle the challenges that we knew were coming.”
• How do the Seahawks replicate at their hotel on the outskirts of downtown Atlanta on Saturday the daily virus testing screening, check-in, monitors and stations that are set in trailers in the players’ parking lot just outside team facilities in Renton?
• How do the players eat on the road? Prepackaged meals, outside? Grab-and-go back to their hotel rooms?
• How exactly to ensure safety of the players and coaches while taking those buses to and from airports and the hotel in Atlanta downtown for Sunday’s 10 a.m. game?
“We’ve had to do a lot of stuff to get organized. It’s working out OK,” Carroll said. “We are in OK shape. We are ready to take off.”
Then Carroll chuckled.
“We’ll see what happens [with testing results] when we come back next week,” he said.
The Seahawks have had zero true positive COVID-19 tests among all coaches, players, staff members and the handful of media members that have “Tier 2M” access. They have been tested just about daily for the last six weeks. Wide receiver John Ursua had one positive test last month, but two subsequent tests back to back proved that one to be a false positive.
League-wide less than 1 percent of all tests have been positive. The NFL announced Tuesday that for Aug. 30 – Sept. 5 a total of 44,510 tests were administered to a total of 8,349 players and team personnel. There was one new confirmed positive test among players and seven new confirmed positives among other personnel.
But now those players and coaches and “other personnel” are traveling. Every week. Onto buses, airplanes, hotels and stadiums in every NFL city, to play against other teams for the first time since the Super Bowl in February. You know, back when daily life in the country was still as we’d always known it.
And the Seahawks’ logistical issues are for just one team, for one game. The NFL is attempting this with 31 other teams, and 15 other games, each weekend for the next 17 weeks — and then again for the playoffs and, it hopes, the Super Bowl in Tampa in February.
It’s not hyperbole to say if the league pulls this off — all games going off as scheduled amid a pandemic that has shut down the U.S. with a world-leading 6.35 million cases with 190,000 deaths as of Wednesday—it will be the grandest accomplishment in NFL history.
So of course Carroll is competing on it as if it was fourth and 1 in the final minute of the game.
“Really, it does feel different. Feels different to me. It feels different to all of us, to some extent, where we are competing on a whole different level than we ever intended to,” Seattle’s veteran coach said. “We are COVID competition, all the way. We are battling it.
“It has not been a nuisance to us, at all. It’s been different. I can’t tell you…it just feels unique.
“I wanted to make this a competition for us. I wanted to make it where we were competing at every turn, to figure out what would be the best alternative, what would be our choices…there are a number of us who have been together on this the whole time. Really, we have been working on this for months … months before, in preparation for us.
“Honestly, there haven’t been that many surprises. It’s been delayed. Because there is so much at stake and the league is working so hard to figure it out, the decisions haven’t come as early as we would like, to help us out. But I keep going back to, it’s all relative. Everybody has got the same set of circumstances. So we just wanted to make sure we were competing. That’s why I wanted to be in it, and battling the whole time…
“We don’t feel like we’ve missed an opportunity yet. We are just trying to stay ahead of it.”