It’s official. Any buzz at Levi’s Stadium created by the excitement of the first week of the NFL season will have to be created by the 49ers without help from their fan base.
The news, announced by the 49ers Tuesday, wasn’t a surprise and did leave open the possibility of allowing fans at a later date.
But as for the regular season opener on Sept. 13, against the Arizona Cardinals, the 49ers will be on their own. While Levi’s Stadium was sparsely populated and relatively quiet during some lean years following the departure of coach Jim Harbaugh, it came to life last season as the 49ers won the NFC Championship under coach Kyle Shananan.
“It’s disappointing but I also understand it,” Shanahan said via Zoom conference call. “There’s a lot of adjustments that everyone’s got to make with how the world is right now. I totally understand it, but it’s not going to be that fun. I love having the fans in there. They pump you up.”
The 49ers will hold their first practice at Levi’s Stadium Friday as sort of a dress rehearsal for Week 1 in terms of technology and communication. Still to be determined is the level of noise that will be piped in to the stadium, whether it will be music or recorded crowd noise. There are no exhibition games to iron out the details.
“There’s a lot of trial and error that you go through in a preseason game that we won’t be as patient with in Week 1,” Shanahan said. “It gives those guys a chance to do that, and hopefully we’ll have some clarity with the noise and stuff and we can experiment with how we want to do that.”
Pro Bowl tight end George Kittle, who enjoys playing to the crowd, remembers the days when one didn’t exist.
“I played in JV games on Saturday mornings when my mom was the only person in the stands,” Kittle said. “That’s what football is, playing wherever you are, no matter the time.”
Guard Laken Tomlinson, is curious to see what the atmosphere will be like.
“It’s going to be weird having the fans not there,” Tomlinson said. “I’m not sure what that really means for the speakers and stuff. It’s going to be different. You’re not going to have that home field energy. If it’s the safest thing for us, I support it.”
Kittle believes a home field advantage can still exist with the proper outlook.
“I think we have a great team that will rise up to that challenge,” Kittle said. “I kind of think that whoever gives off the best energy every single game as a team will definitely have the advantage week in and week out.”
Shanahan said he’s watched NBA and MLB games without fans but hasn’t spent too much time obsessing over what it will be like on Sundays.
“We’ll have to go through it just like other sports have,” Shanahan said. “Hopefully it won’t last. Hopefully we’ll be able to get our fans in there. But it’s a challenge everyone’s dealing with. I could sit and think about it a lot, but I’m ready to see how it ends up being different, being able to adapt to change. We’ll figure that out.”
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Author: Jerry McDonald