A year ago the stadiums were empty. At the U.S. Open, Arthur Ashe echoed like an empty cavern, its silence disturbed by the smash of a tennis racquet on the ball and the grunts of the competitors. Major League baseball completed an abbreviated season in front of empty seats with cardboard cutouts serving as eerie reminders of the people who were not there. Some resorted to recordings in an effort to emulate crowd noise. Olympic athletes conducted opening ceremonies and competed on the track and field trying to imagine the people who were not present.
All that changed last week. The fans are back!
At the U.S, Open tennis tournament in Flushing Meadows both the players and the commentators were in agreement: the most important factor in the tournament was the crowd. 27,000 fans, including past champions and celebrities packed Arthur Ashe stadium to cheer two previously unknown teenagers in the women’s final. 19 year old Leylah Fernandez and 18 year old qualifier Emma Raducanu gave credit to the crowds for their unparalleled success.
Novac Djokovic’s statement after his heartbreaking loss, falling one match short of completing the Calaendar Grand Slam, captured the importance of the crowd. “I would like to say that tonight, even though I have not won the match, my heart is filled with joy and I am the happiest man alive because you guys made me feel very special on the court."
71,829 showed up at the Chick Fil-A Kick Off game in Atlanta to watch #1 Alabama route 14th ranked Miami. In Fayetteville, Arkansas 76,000 fans went ballistic as the unranked Razorbacks dismantled 15th ranked Texas. 84,000 turned out at Neyland stadium in Knoxville, TN to watch the University of Tennessee battle Bowling Green.
The Super Bowl defending Tampa Bay Bucs opened the NFL season at home against Dallas on Thursday in a packed stadium with official attendance at 65,556. The largest NFL attendance showed up in New York where 74,119 watched the Giants fall to the Denver Broncos 13-27.
Coaches, teams, competitors and commentators all agree, the crowd makes a difference. We always suspected it was true, but now, after a year of empty arenas, we know without a doubt the power of the home field advantage. There are no spectators. Everyone present is a participant.
At Texas A&M it is known as the 12th man. Each and every game the student body stands for the entire game, a symbol of the 12th man ready to play dating back to 1922 and the legend of E. King Gill.
The book of Hebrews draws on this metaphor to inspire and encourage every believer in their devotion to Christ, “Seeing we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the initiator and the finisher of our race.” (Hebrews 12). The Apostle Paul makes a similar reference, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize. Run in such a way that you may win!”
Can you hear them? Those who have gone before, those who have paid the price, those who have finished well, they are cheering from the ramparts of heaven. We are all participants. Each and every one makes a difference each and every day. Whoever you are, wherever you are, whether young or old, there is a race to be run and there is a race to be won.