Pre-pandemic football game at Bryant-Denny Stadium
The first home game weekend for the Alabama Crimson Tide in 2021 would be conducted in a way that was almost the same as games that occurred before the Covid pandemic.
As Ken Roberts reported in the Tuscaloosa News:
The most notable new thing inside Bryant-Denny Stadium this season will be the return of something old: a full capacity of fans after crowd limits last season because of COVID-19. The stadium capacity is 100,077.
Masks will not be required for fans in the seats or concourse area, unlike last season. However, fans inside the stadium’s enclosed club areas or on elevators will be expected to wear masks. The mask rule is also in effect for fans who take a shuttle bus to the stadium.
“Tailgating” on the Quad would return. No mask wearing would be required in the tents on the university’s quadrangle.
Face coverings are now required inside all non-residential campus buildings in addition to on campus transportation. The rule applies to everyone, regardless of vaccination status. With that, masks will be required in elevators and internal club spaces of Bryant-Denny Stadium, regardless of distancing, unless actively eating or drinking. Masks will not be mandated in any of the outdoor/open-air seating space or concourse space.
Fans who paid for the premium Field Suites and even the Club, Zone and Skybox accommodations would seemingly be more constrained than fans sitting in the open. A Loge Box owner would pay a $150,000 “capitol gift” and have a five year commitment of $16,000 each year.
One fan who had been in the more restricted areas in 2020 said that university employees held signs to remind people that masks were required.
Of course many in the indoor areas had always been “actively eating or drinking.” Permitted consumption of alcoholic beverages, in fact, was limited to those areas in the stadium.
In addition to the mask requirements for indoor areas on campus at the U of A, in other areas in T-Town masking was required. The Tuscaloosa City Board of Education had mandated that students, staff and guests wear masks or face coverings. The wearing of masks in Tuscaloosa‘s Municipal Court and City Hall was required as well.
Employees at Tuscaloosa‘s City Hall on August 30, 2020, were notified that “team members” should “wear a mask if they are in close contact with each other and/or the public.” In office settings a mask would not be required if six feet of social distancing was possible.
The Tuscaloosa City Council attempted to abide with the mask wearing requirement, although not all Council members routinely wore masks during Council meetings. Whether six feet of distancing was always maintained seemed to be a subjective matter.
In T-Town‘s bars, restaurants and other public areas, there had been no such mask wearing requirement. CBS/42‘s Tim Reid wrote that restaurants and bar owners were eagerly awaiting large football gameday crowds. On the streets and in bars near the university, where fans would be packed like sardines, no mask wearing or social distancing would be required.
A staff report in the Tuscaloosa News covered arrests that had occurred on The Strip on the Labor Day weekend before the September 11, 2021 Crimson Tide football season opener. Doubtlessly anticipating the huge influx of fans, the Tuscaloosa Police Department (TPD) had more aggressively patrolled the areas near the campus. The article reported that the “TPD said their beefed-up presence will continue on the Strip, an area with bars and restaurants near the University of Alabama campus.”
Molly Hennessy-Fiske and Jenny Jarvie wrote in the Los Angeles Times that “COVID-19 still complicates game day, nowhere more than in the South. COVID-19 vaccination rates have lagged and hospitalizations have surged, filling intensive care units in Alabama, Louisiana, Florida, Texas and other states that are home to powerhouse college football teams.” They reported that in “Alabama, where less than 39% of residents are fully vaccinated and many hospitals are overwhelmed” that tailgating had resumed. Unlike Oregon, Oregon State and Louisiana State universities, no proof of vaccination for football fans would be required.
USAToday‘s Jorge L. Ortiz, John Bacon and Christal Hayes reported on September 7, 2021, that “on the same day the U.S. reached 650,000 COVID-19 deaths — the world’s highest reported total — the country also registered more cases in 2021 than the previous year.”
AL.com‘s Leada Gore reported that Dr. Anthony Fauci, Chief Medical Advisor to the President, had trepidations about packed football stadiums. He said, “I don’t think it’s smart. Outdoors is always better than indoors, but even when you have such a congregate setting of people close together, you should be vaccinated. And when you do have congregate settings, particularly indoors, you should be wearing a mask.”
To many residents of T-Town, the first Crimson Tide football weekend of 2021 was not just another gameday. Whether it would be a “superspreader” event or not was a question that lingered in their minds.