NEW YORK (AP) – NFL players and coaches went home in March and stayed there for the next several months, like many people around the world.

IPads became a fundamental part of sports equipment. Instead of handshakes and slaps, the players showed appreciation with emojis and video conferencing.

When the coronavirus pandemic marginalized all of their usual settings, creativity was key. To work. To continue in communication. And also for those who make a living on the football fields, who ran into the need to strengthen their ties as partners.

So many turned to video games. Others threw themselves into work challenges in the gym. A team organized an online cooking competition. One more designed posters inspired by the movies.

During this time of social distancing, team cohesion became a mission for high technology.

« We have players who are defining their defenses, and we have Jeopardy games, » said Steve Spagnuolo, the defensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs, champions of the last Super Bowl. “There are all sorts of things we do to keep ourselves alert and fun in some ways. We seek to remain focused on (American) football and get things done. It is a challenge in that sense. ”

The teams’ facilities will remain closed for a good part of the players until the beginning of the practice camps, which would arrive next month. Normally, the last few months would have been packed with face-to-face meetings, for players and coaches to meet.

In this year, everything has had to be done through the screens, with videoconferences, phone calls, remote gym sessions and anything else that someone can think of.

You know? I wish more members of the offensive line were in video games, ”said Ronnie Stanley, Baltimore offensive tackle. « I would be totally in favor of that. »

Doug Marrone, the Jacksonville coach, held weekly contests for his team, including a cooking competition last month. The judges evaluated only the appearance of the saucers.

Receiver C.J. Board won « great chef » honors, and the contest was highly successful among the players, albeit one that generated some skepticism at the Marrone house.

« The other night, at the dinner table, they said, ‘How smart are you to organize a contest where nobody can taste the food?’ » Marrone said. « We only talked about the presentation … And then they told me:‘ Was it your idea? Because if it was your idea, it was pretty stupid. « 

But it worked.

The Jaguars held a photo contest from the 1990s to coincide with the broadcast of « The Last Dance, » the ESPN documentary series on Michael Jordan. Tyler Shatley, center and Jacksonville substitute guard, took the award in that competition.

For their part, the Browns held a slam dunk contest (dunks or dunks), won by rookie linebacker Jacob Fhillips by shoving the ball into a bucket of milk, hanging from a tree – all while wearing boots and workman’s overalls.

Cleveland also leaned towards art. Players used their best graphic talents to design movie posters. Rookie Kevin Davidson drew on the Netflix documentary « Tiger King » and used Photoshop to include the Browns’ quarterbacks.

« I think that one won, » said new Browns coach Kevin Stefanski. « The boys are having fun with this. It’s just a way to get away from (American) football a little bit and do something to get people to know each other a little bit more. ”

The Colts have done the same, competing — at a distance, of course — in some traditional board games, including Pictionary.

« One day, we were there with the rookies, playing cat (three in a row, zeros and crosses, triqui or tatetí) just to have fun, » coach Frank Reich said. « We made two boys face each other and have to play fast. »

Denver linebackers and defensive ends were entertained each week by star Von Miller – aka DJ Sauce Von the Don – who has made a full recovery after testing positive for COVID-19 in April.

« You know who Von is, he’s a joker, » said outside linebacker Bradley Chubb. « He’s serious when he needs to be, too, but when he’s not, it’s a lot of fun. Every Thursday she plays DJ for us for a while. He makes sure that we all end the week well, with the energy he is bringing. And the energy that everyone has in those video conferences is incredible. ”

Many teams have broken the monotony of their conferences using the Zoom app, by inviting some celebrities.

Filmmaker Spike Lee discussed social issues with the Saints; Ray Lewis and Ed Reed chatted with the Ravens’ new generation, and actor Will Ferrell pretended to be Seattle tight end Greg Olsen during a game with the Seahawks.

Serious discussions and fun times have been just a « click » away from players on this intersessional recess.


AP reporters Dave Campbell, Mark Long, Arnie Stapleton, Dave Ginsburg, Mike Marot, Steve Megargee, Dave Skretta, John Wawrow and Tom Withers contributed to this report.