Empty Ford Field, few tailgating opportunities leave Lions fans 'heartsick'
Detroit — There’s excitement about the return of football in Detroit.
It’s just hard to find it.
On the opening Sunday of the NFL season, with the Lions set to face the Chicago Bears at Ford Field, there would normally be thousands of fans in and around the stadium hours before a 1 p.m. kickoff.
"It's eerie. It's usually packed by 8 a.m. and you're fighting for a spot in a tailgate lot but there's plenty around here now," said Cameron Fauver, 26, who tailgated with friends in a parking lot Sunday morning. "It's definitely weird because thick or thin Detroit Lions fans like to tailgate."
Because of the pandemic, there won’t be any fans in attendance for at least the first two home games of the season, Sunday and Oct. 4 against the New Orleans Saints. It’s unclear whether fans will be allowed for the third home game, Nov. 1 versus the Indianapolis Colts.
Less than two hours before kickoff, there were barely any fans anywhere in the streets and areas surrounding Ford Field — which usually would be brimming with tailgaters on a football Sunday.
Fauver and five of his friends found a parking lot that was almost empty down the street from Ford Field. Their tailgating set up included regular cornhole and a version using washers and cups. They also had a plasma TV and radio arranged on the flatbed of a pickup truck.
"We tailgate almost every home game so it was good weather and we thought why should this be any different," said Fauver's friend Teresa Fiting, 26, of Royal Oak.
Another group of about 10 people at a lot about two blocks from the stadium had a seemingly normal setup, with food, beverages, cornhole and a football to throw around.
“We’re having a great time, but we’re heartsick,” said Derek Glenn of Garden City. “We’ve got a good group of friends, so we’re good.”
The Lions announced last month that team-owned lots and areas would be closed for tailgating, but Glenn and his friends found a private-owned lot to congregate and carry on their tradition.
Glenn, 32, has been a season-ticket holder for three years and found one of his usual hanging spots to start the season this year.
“It’s heartbreaking that we can’t be in (Ford Field) today,” Glenn said.
With a couple of cars playing music and their close friends, they didn’t seem to mind that they were the only ones in that lot — and all the adjacent lots in the area of Madison and Beaubien.
“If you build it, they will come,” said Jimmy Kennedy, 32, a friend of Glenn’s since middle school.
Laura Mata and her family of Chicago Bears fans made the five hour drive from the Windy City to Detroit to celebrate the start of the season. The Mata family decided to watch the game just minutes from the stadium to honor their father who died last month and was a huge football fan.
"Football is the one thing that brings people together... every Sunday we always watch football together so we thought 'hey, if we can't be at a football stadium we might as well be in the city it's taking place,'" said the 31-year-old Chicago resident. "When you see fans from a whole different state, we thought that we would get booed but people here are very nice."