From KBO to frisbee golf: What we watched when sports stopped originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
Editor's note: This week marks one year since the COVID-19 pandemic temporarily stopped, and in some ways permanently changed, sports in North America. This is one part of a content series running on NBCSportsWashington.com.
When the NBA suspended its 2019-20 season last March — and then others, such as the NHL, PGA Tour and NCAA Tournament followed — sports fans came face-to-face with a simple yet startling question: “What are we going to watch now?”
Of course, there were far, far, far more important problems — and three “far”s probably isn’t nearly enough — to figure out in the world, but for the millions of people who spent their afternoons and evenings locked into whatever games or matches were on the slate, there was all of the sudden just… nothing.
But soon, a phrase that you hear consistently from pro and college coaches and players in relation to lineup changes became applicable to sports on television. And that phrase is: “Next man up.”
In an effort to fill its diamond-sized void, ESPN inked a deal with the Korean Baseball Organization in May. This led to countless folks waking up anywhere from 1:00 to 5:00 a.m. in order to tune in and hear the sounds of a bat making contact with a fastball and an umpire announcing that a pitch was outside.
Even though the KBO teams and rosters were almost totally unfamiliar, it helped.
On NBC Sports Washington, meanwhile, the Wizards and Capitals soon resumed — albeit in digital form. Chris Miller, Joe Beninati and Craig Laughlin contributed their real voices to the coverage of simulated action that was taking place on a Playstation instead of the actual hardwood or ice.
Even though Bradley Beal’s threes and Alex Ovechkin’s goals didn’t actually count for anything, it helped.
Then, as the pandemic continued on, non-mainstream activities like frisbee golf, cornhole and Spikeball made it into the country’s living rooms. At first, a viewer might scoff at the idea of devoting any time to the extremely-niche products that they stumbled upon while channel surfing — but 30 minutes later, they’d still be on their couch or in their chair, eyes glued to something they didn’t know existed until that moment.
Even though the rules were beyond confusing and the announcers seemed like they were speaking a different language, it helped.
Lastly, replays of classic contests and memorable individual performances started popping up again on various evenings. Remember that one Monday Night Football showdown in 2007 where Tony Romo was picked off five times yet still led Dallas to a come-from-behind victory over the Bills thanks to a late touchdown, an onside kick recovery and a last-second field goal? You did? You didn't? It was irrelevant.
Even though the outcomes could easily be Googled and some of them were so popular they didn’t require any memory jogging, it helped.
Eventually — like, eventually — the biggest leagues made their comebacks, and others, like the NFL, arrived as desperately-needed reinforcements. Some took to bubbles to ensure they could complete their schedules, and fans were kept away from nearly all just to be safe.
Today, things are becoming more normal by the month. People, depending on the site of the stadium or arena, are once more in the stands and bleachers in growing numbers, and the bubbles are mostly gone. The Super Bowl just happened and March Madness and The Masters are on the horizon. It's far from perfect, but it's getting better.
Yet as this section of day-to-day life returns to what everyone’s accustomed to, it feels appropriate to look back at the unknown athletes and, yes, the virtual ones, as well as the bizarre events that acted as the bridge to the present.
Even though they aren’t at the forefront any longer, they helped us all get through those difficult weeks and months.