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The 2020 NFL season taught us more than ever that fans shouldn't be taken for granted

(Photo by Andy Cross/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected so many aspects of life -- emotionally, psychologically, economically, etc. It's been about a year and a half since the virus ran rampant in the United States, and things are still not fully back to normal. ... But it's getting there.

When it pertains to the NFL, the league plans on having stadiums at full capacity this year, and across the NFL teams have held fans at training camp practices, provided that they're fully vaccinated.

It's a common cliche said by some fans about how without them paying for tickets, merchandise, concessions and parking at games, a good majority of the players wouldn't be making millions. TV revenue is the biggest source of income for the NFL, but the point stands, if no one was interested, the NFL wouldn't be a multi-billion dollar industry.

And the fans make up a big part of the game. We saw it last year with an empty Heinz Field for most of the games. It was absolutely lifeless. David DeCastro was famously quoted saying, "What are we doing here?" in regards to playing a game with no fans in the stands.

On Friday, prior to the Steelers "Friday Night Lights" practice at Heinz Field, Mike Tomlin addressed the fans and thanked them for their support over the past year, while dealing with obstacles and challenges through a pandemic.

"Good evening. What's up Steelers Nation? It's my honor to introduce this collection of men to you in 2021," Tomlin said to the fans in attendance. "We just wanted to acknowledge and be thankful of the support that we get from you this evening. In the last 12 months we've all been challenged in ridiculous ways. We were blessed enough to still have an opportunity to pursue our passion and do our jobs.

"We understand a lot of people were less fortunate than us. We thank you. We see you for your courage and spirit in the face of the pandemic and the challenges that it caused."

Tomlin also touched on the Steelers' continued commitment to social justice.

"Also, 12 months ago we acknowledged that our nation was ravaged by social unrest," Tomlin said. "We stood right here 12 months ago and made a commitment to be positive contributors to the development of a more perfect union. We formalized our efforts with social justice committees and got out into our community.

"Twelve months later we affirm that commitment. We still intend to be positive contributors to our community, here and in the communities in which we come from.

"We thank you for your support, not only on nights like tonight but as we work hard to utilize our blessings and the platform that we have to be positive contributors.

"We thank you tonight. We hope you enjoy our work. Thank you."

Tomlin addressed the fans during the Steelers "Fan Fest" practice on Saturday, as well. Stating, "We got the greatest fans in the NFL right here in Pittsburgh, Pa." Joe Haden also addressed Steelers Nation following the practice saying, "This year's going to be a lot different having y'all in the stadium." It sure will be.

Even though I was watching the games on TV, I'd be lying if I didn't have the same thoughts as DeCastro at times. It just didn't feel right last season with stadiums not at full capacity. I mean, a touchdown would be scored and there was dead silence. The pumped-in crowd noise that the networks used didn't do any justice.

What we learned from the 2020 NFL season with stadiums not at full capacity or in some cases empty, is that the players and organizations should now more than ever not take the fans for granted. And the Steelers understand that completely.


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