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Love in the time of the virus: College football is underway, God bless the children and save the land

This is two teams playing football in a 4/5 empty stadium in the Time of the Virus. Somebody won, somebody lost, but we won’t know the real outcome until two weeks or so from now when we learn how many, if any, developed COVID-19 because of their participation or attendance.

A nasty virus spawned in the guts of Chinese bats has swiftly infected millions of people from every nation on earth. The old, the young and the in-between have caught it from tiny, virus-packed droplets of human sweat, spit and snot that float on the air like falling leaves and flakes of snow will in a few more weeks. The virus causes a disease called COVID-19 that on occasion, blithely disables or kills people.

The college football season kicked off today.

The players weren’t wearing masks. I was sitting on my couch, as usual, watching the games and thinking, “For Jesus’ sake. Give those kids masks, and face shields while you’re at it.”

I love football like the Lord loves his Church. This is my favorite time of the year. I really wonder if playing at all is a good idea.

Why aren’t the players wearing masks in the sport built on those most violent expressions of intimacy, blocking and tackling, which knock droplets of sweat, spit and snot all over the place? Well, they’ve been tested, or so the grownups say, so they may well be the safest people in the stadiums filled to 20% capacity. That’s not to say they’re safe, because the virus is an insidious little bastard that has a tendency to crash parties and go up everybody’s noses into their lungs and various other places.

Maybe it’ll be OK. I hope so. But there’s that feeling again, the one I get way down in my creaky, old ex-newspaperman bones, when I know a terrible thing is about to happen, and there’s nothing anybody can do about it. Figuratively.

In games whose scores will be little noted nor long remembered, 20 small-college teams from across the land appeared in their annual roles as lambs slaughtered on the altar of college football but this year, they won’t be rolling up into big schools’ cathedral-like stadiums and getting massacred for a seven-figure check and the glory of the athletic department’s budget. No. This year, for some TV money, they charged the coronavirus machine gun nests with no weapons but their own bodies, and hurled themselves over the barbed-wire fence so that three weeks from now, major conference teams who opted to play ball this season can run over their backs and into the marvelous fire. Figuratively.

Maybe it’ll be OK. Maybe a only few kids will get sick and in two or three weeks they’ll be back in the lineup bursting with antibodies and right as rain. Maybe the fans won’t take off their masks and inhale clouds of microscopic pathogens.

Maybe the fans won’t carry it home and sicken the vulnerable hoards. Maybe it won’t result in a spike in the numbers of the sick and the dead, and that CDC prediction this week of up to 400,000 dead by Christmas will prove to be a fake news and a hoax.

Maybe the dread that comes from decades of watching things swiftly fall apart then slowly, painfully get put back together is the overreaction of an old fart with a negative attitude.

Maybe not.