The NFL is back, with lingering questions about whether the season that opened Thursday night will run uninterrupted through the Super Bowl.

In early August opened with an even money bet that the season would be shortened, but still had the Super Bowl as a favorite to be played as scheduled on Feb. 7, 2021.

Mercurial San Franciso 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman has gone on the record stating without reservation that he doesn’t see the NFL calling a hiatus to its season, no matter how many athletes or support people test positive for COVID-19.

Sherman went so far as to opine that even if a team had too few uninfected players to compete, games would be forfeited, but the season would continue.

Mathematics argue that the NFL will have COVID-19 cases. 

It is the sport with the largest number of players on the roster and the largest coaching staffs. 

The cast of support people for each team is large, too.

While the NBA and NHL were able to resume their season in “bubble” locations, effectively isolating players from the world at large, Major League Baseball has tried to run with some degree of familiarity by playing road games, albeit on a limited basis geographically and without spectators.

And still MLB has had COVID-19 outbreaks and games postponed.

The NFL would seem to be incapable of going the bubble route down the line.

Already the majority of NFL teams have ruled out fans for the start of the season and project limited tickets being available if and when the gates are opened. The Steelers, for example, have ruled out fans for the first two home games.

The news from beyond the stadiums is not necessarily promising on the COVID-19 front. Vaccine development suffered a significant setback this week. And people being quoted as experts often predict a so-called “second wave” outbreak of the virus this fall, once weather cools and people begin to congregate in more confined spaces.

That predicted second wave would not be expected to crest until winter, making it coincide nicely with the traditional football season.

If the populace in general suffers increased cases of COVID-19, it’s hard to imagine the NFL escaping unscathed.

This brings us back to Sherman’s contention that the NFL basically would operate in a vacuum and keep playing.

But the decision might not necessarily be the NFL’s alone. 

Even if games were played with zero spectators, the more zealous politicians might not allow visiting teams to travel to their locales to play games and possibly import illness.

Although the bubble option doesn’t seem to be viable for the NFL, a point can be made that the league is the only one of the major pro sports that contests its title game at a neutral location.

Still, it is one thing to stage a single-game title event. It’s quite another to play off a season at one, or even a small handful of locations, then run through the playoff rounds in similar relative isolation.

You would imagine there are a lot of crossed fingers among the NFL brass that they somehow can defy the odds and run off a season that looks even slightly like normal amid this backdrop.

If you’re a bettor – and the NFL certainly owes its unrivaled popularity in large part to gambling – you would qualify as the smart money if you put a few bucks down on the season not coming off without some virus-related hitches.

It would seem that the NFL’s worst-case scenario would be having to pull the plug entirely on a season after it had begun and emotional investments had been made by fans and players alike, not to mention the monetary commitments of the leagues and its franchise owners.

Football is unlikely to be able to put its season on hold for an extended period as the NHL and NBA did, and resume with a reasonably acceptable product. Weather and the nature of the game argue against that.

This means keeping those fingers crossed for months on end.

Sam Ross Jr. is a freelance journalist who writes a column for The Tribune-Democrat.

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