There’s still lots of football to go!
The NFL is not quite halfway through its season and the Big 10 is just two games in. This weekend, two rookie quarterbacks, Joe Burrow of Cincinnati and Tua Tagovailoa of Miami were on the winning ends of their matches against the Titans and Rams respectively. The two highly touted draft picks gave NFL fans a peek into the future. Meanwhile, in week one of the Big Ten season, Wisconsin’s Graham Mertz set a record for completion percentages in his debut game against Illinois.
Despite these milestones the impacts of the pandemic still remain prevalent. In the NFL, positive tests seem just a heartbeat away each week. Practices and facilities have been shut down and a handful of games this season have had to be rescheduled.
To weigh in on this unique and challenging year, I interacted with popular Packers’ broadcaster Wayne Larrivee, who’s also covered tons of Big Ten football during his terrific and decades-long career.
Larrivee is in his 22nd season calling Green Bay games and was previously the Voice of the Bears for three seasons. His first NFL gig was with the Chiefs where he spent seven years. Wayne has also done television for the Bulls, Cubs and Big Ten football. Nationally, he’s covered the NFL for Westwood One.
Wayne focused on various aspects, from the impact of empty stadiums to his experience covering Aaron Rodgers. Based on his thoughts, it seemed that the NFL and eventually the Big 10 were determined to find a way to play this season.
Through the spring and early summer, did you expect the Packers to play or did the uncertainty of the virus make you doubtful?
I always thought the NFL would find a way to play this season. There is a lot of control the league can exert on both its franchises and players. I believe one of the keys is the fact that the league and the NFLPA came together and worked out the details to operate through this pandemic. The NFL had time to digest how the NBA and MLB handled their seasons and in fact learned a lot from baseball on how to handle cases of Covid-19 and the rescheduling process of postponed games.
Give the players some credit in that their discipline away from the team facilities throughout this season is a big reason why the NFL has had so few Covid issues. It is not practical for the NFL to do a bubble like the NBA did because there are too many people involved. From what I understand there is consideration of using a bubble concept when we get to the postseason but that has not been decided as of yet.
What are your thoughts on the NFL’s handling of the pandemic vs. the Big Ten’s? Which of the two had the better approach and why?
I don’t have a real handle on how the Big Ten and PAC 12 are handling the pandemic because the Big Ten season has really just begun and the Pac 12 starts the first weekend of November. They might have been a bit premature in cancelling their seasons early. When it became apparent that the SEC and ACC could get through the process of playing games this season, it made the Big Ten and Pac 12 reconsider their decisions to cancel. The NFL, as mentioned, under the circumstances, has done as good a job through this pandemic as can be expected.
How has the lack of fans impacted your broadcasts of the Packers or other football announcers this season, be it college or pro?
It is strange to see an empty stadium but quite frankly once they kickoff my attention is on the field and not in the stands, so I don’t see a big difference. What the crowd does is provide the atmosphere and their reaction to each play is a part of my description of the action. My call can sometimes rise and fall with the roar of the crowd, so I personally miss the fans. Our games sound better in a full stadium with an engaged fan base.
Don’t think empty stadiums affect the broadcasts all that much from a broadcasting standpoint. But as I said, the crowd and its reactions make a big difference in the sound of the broadcast.
Is covering Aaron Rodgers this year, unlike any other season that you watched him play? How would you stack up his performance to date vs. Patrick Mahomes or Tom Brady?
Aaron Rodgers is a terrific athlete to cover. He is the most gifted overall quarterback I have ever had the chance to follow. His command of the game plan, digestion of information at the snap of the ball and his God-given arm talent are second to none. He is great to watch week after week—it never gets old.
This season reminds me of 2011 when Rodgers set the all time single season passer-rating mark. As for the top QBs in the running for MVP, Aaron, Russell Wilson and Patrick Mahomes are the front runners early this season. Others will emerge for the MVP award and Tom Brady appears to me to be right in the mix of it at 43 years old!
With empty seats, is there still a home field advantage in both the NFL and Big Ten?
Without fans, home field is not as big a factor this year. What we are seeing in the NFL is that offenses benefit greatly in the quiet environs both at home and on the road. Communication and execution are the keys offensively; emotion and aggression are the pillars of defense. A boisterous home field crowd brings out the best in a defense because of the emotion the crowd brings. Players in the NFL are having to generate that emotion especially on the defensive end and some do it better than others. I think this is why we are seeing some impressive offensive numbers in the league this season.
Offense is best in the quiet of a library, defense excels in the noise of a rock concert.