Chris Blair's plane landed in Nashville, Tennessee, on the afternoon of March 11, and already, it was evident that LSU's play-by-play radio broadcaster wasn't going to have a business-as-usual trip to the Southeastern Conference men's basketball tournament.
As phones switched on from airplane mode, news trickled in that the NCAA was considering playing its Division I men's tournament without fans in the face of the ever-spreading coronavirus.
From the plane to the team bus, from the bus to the team hotel, Blair stuffed his luggage in his room and left for Bridgestone Arena to scout the Arkansas-Vanderbilt game that night.
As Blair watched the Razorbacks beat the Commodores in what would become the last SEC men's basketball game of the season, he began to realize he might not be calling any games any time soon.
"Once I got inside the arena, it quickly got around that there was going to be an announcement tomorrow morning from the SEC," Blair said. "That pretty much told you what was coming."
Meanwhile, at Alex Box Stadium in Baton Rouge, LSU center fielder Giovanni DiGiacomo struck out on a hit-and-run against South Alabama in the bottom of the sixth inning.
Inside the stadium's broadcast booth, Doug Thompson, subbing in for Blair on the radio, read the jarring words of the SEC's first major announcement: From March 12 to March 30, no fans will be allowed to attend any of the league's sporting events.
"That's some big news coming out of the SEC," Thompson said on air.
"Yeah, it's gotta be," Thompson's broadcast partner, Buzzy Haydel, began. "I wouldn't say a little unusual. Going to be a very unusual."
"I would say unprecedented," Thompson said.
"Whenever you're going to be calling a game," Haydel continued, "and you're going to have nobody in the stands but, I would assume, people that are working, people that are calling games, people on the P.A. system."
Haydel's assumption was thwarted within a week, when it became official that he and Thompson had called their final baseball game of the season.
As Arkansas-Vanderbilt and LSU-South Alabama ended, SEC Network host Peter Burns watched the monitors inside the SEC Network studios in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Burns, a Baton Rouge native, was the emergency backup while the network's live show ran at the SEC men's basketball tournament in Nashville.
An NBA player had tested positive for coronavirus: Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert. Burns watched as the TV showed footage of Gobert's postgame interview from March 9, when he made light of the warnings of the sickness' spread by touching all the microphones and recorders on the table.
The Jazz suspended its game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. By the end of the night, the NBA had suspended its entire season.
"Once the Jazz-Thunder game happened, you knew it had changed forever," Burns said. "You knew, all of the sudden, something is going on."
There are voices that narrate sports as we know them. Blair and Thompson and Burns are a small collection of the sports media industry that existed with the events and practices and games, which all came to a crashing halt in Louisiana on Tuesday, when the SEC canceled all remaining spring sports because of coronavirus concerns.
The U.S. is restricting travel along its border. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards has ordered the closing of bars, gyms and casinos and banned gatherings of 50 or more. As of Saturday afternoon, there were 585 positive cases of coronavirus in Louisiana, including 16 deaths.
It is uncertain when the normalcies of life, much less sports, will return. Sports once offered public relief and distraction, and the voices that narrated those events are figuring out what they will say now.
There are still TV shows on the programming schedule. There is still airtime to fill. And from now until those normalcies return, the sports media industry is entering unprecedented territory.
"Everybody's in this together," Blair said.
A lane that leads home
Matt Moscona prays hard for the LSU baseball team to reach the College World Series every year.
If the Tigers reach Omaha, Nebraska, in June, that means Moscona only has a week of airtime to fill during the worst sports drought of the year, before the SEC's media days drum up football interest in mid-July.
He'd take a week's vacation, talk about essentially nothing for another, then everything would be back to normal for his three-hour afternoon show, "After Further Review," on WNNX-FM, 104.5 in Baton Rouge.
Now Moscona is staring at the worst sports drought of his career.
There's no LSU baseball at all, not even spring football. There's no NBA. No March Madness. No spring training in the majors.
How will he fill the time in the future?
"Sometimes you might have to look a little deeper to find the story, the angle that's relevant to your audience," Moscona said, "but we're living through a time right now where I still think we're in the peak of height and awareness because of how unprecedented this is, that so many sports fans are wondering, 'What are my favorite athletes doing? Is anybody affected? How is this going to affect things in the short or the long term?' So there are most definitely storylines there that I think people are very interested in."
On Thursday, Moscona interviewed former LSU shortstop Josh Smith, currently in the New York Yankees minor league system, who, instead of playing exhibition games in Florida, is in quarantine since two teammates tested positive for coronavirus.
It's both a comical and sobering nine-minute segment.
Smith, who received a reported $967,700 signing bonus from the Yankees, was on Day 5 of a 10-day quarantine, watching Netflix and gaming and doing push-up contests with two other teammates.
Yet Smith is unlike anyone else directly affected by the coronavirus cancellations; he's been cast into the wait-and-see purgatory in which many of Moscona's listeners are also experiencing.
And that brings up a fundamental question: Does Moscona, a sports show host, a man with a microphone, feel any social responsibility with his captive audience in the midst of a global pandemic?
"I think that we all have, on-air, a duty to be responsible broadcasters for our audience," Moscona said Tuesday. "I think so much of that is knowing how to stay in your lane. I'm not an expert on this coronavirus and I'm not going to pretend to be. When a listener comes to my show, they're not expecting to hear me discuss the nuances of a respiratory virus. Now, how that hacks the sporting world? That's my lane."
And it's a lane he frequently kept last week, which turned out to be a heavy news period.
He discussed Saints coach Sean Payton's contraction of coronavirus, interviewed a sports agent about negotiating contracts in the middle of cancellations, talked about a football recruit who committed to LSU, criticized the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for raising ticket prices in the middle of a pandemic after they signed future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady.
Then, Baton Rouge General hospital announced Thursday that it was critically low on protective masks, safety goggles and gloves. Moscona brought the crisis up on his show and urged for donations.
On Twitter, he mentioned his sister-in-law was a science teacher at a local school, and asked that his followers tag other teachers, administrators and schools who might be able donate unused supplies.
The lane had led home.
"They were in need," Moscona said Friday, "and so I was happy to use whatever platform I could to help them. If those opportunities arise, then I am more than happy to spread those messages. But as far as being singularly focused on talking about the coronavirus, the pandemic, the content of the show, I can never see that going that direction."
The same boat
Burns, like Moscona, isn't embracing the "Oh, we don't have the games" excuse.
Burns is actually re-energized, he says, because the cancellations have forced him to think creatively.
Out in Charlotte, the SEC Network crew had grown used to everything being planned so far ahead in advance. Now they're planning for every individual day with multiple brainstorm teams.
Burns is restricted from sharing full details about the SEC Network's future programming, but he did say there'll be a focus on the aspects the network wanted to dive into when it launched in 2014: the culture, the personalities, the stories of teams and players and fans within the conference's rich history.
It's an almost anthropological approach — one that still taps into the public's interest and thirst for sports, an escape that avoids the necessity to remind the public of the global pandemic that surrounds them.
"What makes this conference so unique and so different from anybody is that we have more culture, we have more personality, we have more crazy fans than anyone," said Burns, who hosts "SEC Now" on the network. "But in a weird way, we've never really had the time or the opportunities to really dive into it because we're so busy with games."
However, in the mornings, Burns is faced with the same issue as Moscona; he's a national radio host for ESPN Radio, a co-host of "SEC This Morning" on SiriusXM SEC Radio.
Burns and Moscona have both found that guests are easier to book than ever. Just like everyone else, they're at home, available upon the ring of their cell phone.
"I've learned more about the guys that I've interviewed in the past week and a half than I ever would have in the middle of a season," Burns said, "because we have a little more time and freedom to go a little bit deeper."
This week, he spent a half-hour interviewing LSU football coach Ed Orgeron. He had another lengthy segment with Texas A&M athletic director Ross Bjork. Popular basketball sportscaster Dick Vitale opened up to Burns about how he got into the broadcast industry, how, when he was fired as the coach of the Detroit Pistons, he sat in a bathtub for a day and a half weeping because he thought his career was over.
The sporting events may have stopped, Burns said, but the world of sports didn't.
How long could this go? As long as it needs to, he said, which hopefully isn't too much longer.
"We hope this is only a couple-week to a couple-month deal," Burns said, "and we're getting back ready for football in the fall."
He knows the implications of suspended play reaches far beyond the fate of sportscasters. Even among his colleagues, there are play-by-play announcers with no games to call.
Blair knows he has broadcast the final game of the academic year, but he said he knows he can count himself among the lucky who have a full-time, salaried job.
Thompson, who is a part-time broadcaster, has a full-time job at a local clinic. He and Blair keep wondering and worrying about the others in the sports industry: the security men and women they used to see every day at the ballpark gates, the concession-stand workers, the ticket operators.
LSU athletic director Scott Woodward said Tuesday there would be no change with the school's permanent employees and they are working with their contractors "to make sure that we take care" of the part-time employees.
"I can't stop thinking about those people," Thompson said, "especially the hourly people who don't have anything and they don't have an option. I'm very hopeful that the government can help those people, all of us, who, eventually, if this lasts long enough, what will everyone do? Because eventually businesses will not be able to pay their employees anymore."
"So, again," Thompson added, "I don't think what we're going through is any different than anyone else in the United States right now. It just happens to relate to sports and LSU, and there are so many people who are in the same boat."