The world changed a year ago. It’s now changing back

Florida State players leave the court after games at the ACC Tournament in Greensboro, N.C., were canceled Thursday, March 12, 2020, due to the coronavirus. A year after the worldwide coronavirus pandemic stopped all the games in their tracks, the aftershocks are still being felt across every sector.  (Gerry Broome/AP)
Florida State players leave the court after games at the ACC Tournament in Greensboro, N.C., were canceled Thursday, March 12, 2020, due to the coronavirus. A year after the worldwide coronavirus pandemic stopped all the games in their tracks, the aftershocks are still being felt across every sector. (Gerry Broome/AP)

Credit: Gerry Broome

Credit: Gerry Broome

So much happened over those 24 hours that you’d think it would defy definition or categorization or simple belief, but somehow you knew. This was something you’d never experienced. You knew you’d remember those 24 hours forever.

You’d gone to Nashville on Wednesday to cover the SEC Tournament, which was supposed to last until Sunday. You were back in Georgia by 5 p.m. Thursday. You had stuff in your car you’d never packed before — a bottle of hand sanitizer, a cannister of Clorox wipes and a bag of disposable gloves. You had learned to wash your hands while humming “Happy Birthday” twice, that being how long a proper washing should take.

You looked at everyone as if he/she was an enemy. The same applied to you. After breakfast Thursday in the Omni’s restaurant, you coughed — once — while walking toward the elevator. A man 30 feet away glared at you. You wanted to say, “I just took my temperature!” Or: “I’m 30 feet away!” Which you had, and you were. But still. One cough could mean COVID.

ExploreThe day sports shut down: A look back at unthinkable one year later

On Wednesday, March 11, the World Health Organization used the word “pandemic” to describe our global state. You got that bulletin on your phone when you stopped for gas an hour south of Nashville. A calendar year later, you’ve bought gas three times since. You haven’t eaten in a restaurant since March 15. Your last proper haircut was 53 weeks ago. You haven’t interviewed anyone in person since the night of the 11th in Bridgestone Arena, when Georgia beat Mississippi in the first — and the next-to-last — game of the tournament.

Those 24 hours remain a vivid blur, if that’s possible. You remember when you were – in the hotel room, dressing for the game — when word came Wednesday that the NCAA planned to play its basketball tournament without fans in attendance. You remember who told you — an SEC higher-up, speaking not for the record — that his conference would soon announce its intention to do the same. You remember where you were — again in the room, writing an installment of the Greatest Final Four series the AJC had planned for the Final Four in Atlanta – when the SEC canceled its tournament via Twitter.

(Editorial note: Even though there was no 2020 Final Four, we ran the series. All 10 parts.)

Georgia guard Anthony Edwards (5) drives against Mississippi's Breein Tyree (4) in the second half of their SEC Tournament game Wednesday, March 11, 2020, in Nashville, Tenn. Georgia won 81-63. (Mark HumphreyAP)
Georgia guard Anthony Edwards (5) drives against Mississippi's Breein Tyree (4) in the second half of their SEC Tournament game Wednesday, March 11, 2020, in Nashville, Tenn. Georgia won 81-63. (Mark HumphreyAP)

Credit: Mark Humphrey

Credit: Mark Humphrey

You wrote something about the SEC cancellation and checked out of the hotel posthaste. For one thing, you didn’t want to get charged for another night. Mostly, though, you wanted to get out of town. The story of the Utah Jazz being quarantined in their locker room in Oklahoma City after Rudy Gobert tested positive the night before was fresh in your mind. If there was going to be a lockdown, you wanted to be locked down at home.

“To call it the most incredible day in the annals of American sports is an understatement,” you wrote. “It was among the more dizzying days in the history of this nation.” And that was before the NCAA got around to its full-blown cancellation, which happened just after you’d crossed the state line. (Whew. No being locked down in Tennessee.) You stopped at Shoney’s in Calhoun to write something about that momentous new development. By then you were numb.

And then you were home, wondering a million things. Might you have been exposed to the virus on your 30-hour trip? Should you isolate yourself in an upstairs bedroom? Oh, and this, too: With sports shuttered, how might a sportswriter earn his keep?

There was so much unknown as of March 12, 2020, but this you knew: What was happening would be the biggest story of your life. We weren’t sure where we were headed, but it was clear we were bound for a place we’d never been.

One year later, you look back in wonder: Was there really a shortage of toilet paper? (Yes.) A political divide over masks? (Oh, yes.) Were there days when you weren’t sure anyone would make it through? (Absolutely.) But here our world sits, having completed a full trip around the sun and developed several vaccines en route, and it’s now possible to envision life after COVID-19. It’s also possible — and fitting — to say a Hail Mary for those 528,000 Americans who died.

The pandemic isn’t over. Grim numbers, however, have become less grim. You still wear two masks when you go out, and you still don’t venture out often. But you’ve been vaccinated, and you’re not as scared as a year ago, when nothing seemed to be working and it was unclear if anything would.

You’ve continued to write about sports, all of which shut down, all of which are up and running again. A year ago, you wouldn’t have characterized sports as an essential industry. Today, you just might. The world is a better place when our diversions actually divert us.

As a society, we began to take the virus seriously March 11 and 12, 2020. When sports began to return — the NBA and NHL in bubbles, baseball without fans, football with a few fans — it seemed the end of a bad beginning. Today the prospect of March Madness reclaiming its hold on the USA heralds the beginning of an end. We might just make it after all.

About the Author

ajc.com

In Other News