In a normal NFL season, super fan Luka Latty would attend every Vikings home game and multiple road games. In 2017, he went to every single game — home and away — including a trek to London.
But 2020, in case you missed the preceding 4,562 memos, is not a normal year. In-person attendance at Vikings games has been limited to 250 friends and family members of players in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Many other teams have issued similar restrictions.
In some places, however, the rules are different. Tampa Bay, for instance, has allowed fans to attend home games at 25% of stadium capacity. On Sunday, Latty was one of the announced 16,031 fans in attendance at Raymond James Stadium — a Vikings-heavy crowd that watched Minnesota lose 26-14 to the Buccaneers.
It was his first in-person game of the season — a concept that has become very foreign, for good reason, this year.
What is it like to go to a Vikings game in 2020?
The leadup was definitely not normal. Latty said several Vikings fans he knows canceled their trip either for work reasons or COVID concerns.
But for better or worse, to Latty, the weekend itself felt relatively normal.
"The flight that we took Friday, with me and a friend, was pretty full — and a lot of people were going to see Vikings," said Latty, who is 37 and lives in St. Paul. "Maybe it's just because Florida is more relaxed or people wanted a break from COVID news. It felt like a normal gameday weekend. We tailgated with Tampa super fans a couple blocks from the stadium — maybe a few hundred people, minimum."
Latty said fans had to wear masks to get into the stadium and had to fill out an online checklist promising they didn't have COVID symptoms or had been around anyone who did.
There were not temperature checks — something the St. Paul Saints did do this summer when they had limited attendance at some games, including two that Latty attended.
Latty noted that some Tampa Bay fans were nervous about the influx of Minnesotans in Florida because of high COVID numbers here — and conversely, some Vikings fans were nervous about being in Florida because of that state's more lax safety protocols.
Inside the stadium, Latty said that "honestly, not a lot of people were wearing masks." But he said he felt relatively safe because it was outdoors and there was distance between groups.
"There were four rows, vertically, from each group. And horizontally you only had groups of four, maximum, on the ends of rows," he said.
Blake Baratz, a locally based NFL agent who represents multiple players on both the Vikings and Tampa Bay — including star receiver Adam Thielen — echoed that feeling of relative safety. He was at Sunday's game, and it was also his first in-person experience of the season.
"In general, Florida is living by a different set of standards than we are. But I felt safe," Baratz said. "We were wearing masks and staying out of people's way and doing the right thing. But because it was an open area, big walkways, you could avoid people. At the stadium I felt safe."
Baratz said the crowd felt like it was "mostly Vikings fans" and that even though it was only 25% full the stadium still seemed loud. Aside from the empty seats, it felt like a regular game.
"There were quite a few Vikings fans, but everyone is spread out – not sitting on top of one another," he said. The fan experience was different but refreshing. There was less room for chaos. Everybody's intention was just to have a good time. Unfortunately the outcome of the game wasn't what we wanted."
Latty said he plans to get a COVID test later this week after it has been 72 hours since he returned to Minnesota — and then to get a follow-up test two weeks later. He's not planning on seeing friends or family over the holidays to avoid potentially exposing them to COVID.
"I looked at the risk," Latty said. "That was my Christmas right there. I'm choosing to stay away from family and friends. A lot of people I traveled with were in the same boat and wanted to have a little sense of normalcy."
Would the do it again? Both Latty and Baratz said yes, though Latty said he would not feel comfortable attending the Vikings' game in two weeks in New Orleans, an indoor stadium where some fans are being allowed in. Having been to multiple Vikings games there in the past, Latty says the "party atmosphere" would make him leery of the spread of disease.
"If we played Tampa again in the playoffs, if we made the playoffs, I would definitely go again," Latty said.